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SXSW Is Accused of Using Copyright and Trademark Claims To Suppress Criticism

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In a contentious battle over the use of copyright claims to suppress speech, South by Southwest (SXSW), an organizer of a popular annual conference and music festival in Austin, has found itself facing some backlash due to its connections with arms manufacturers that supply Israel.

Rather than responding to the criticism directly, or simply ignoring it, SXSW attempted to get the criticism hidden with questionable legal tactics against a local advocacy group, Austin for Palestine Coalition.

Related: Netflix’s Beef actor David Choe uses copyright strikes in an attempt to kill criticism

This group has been organizing protests against SXSW, employing strategies such as organizing rallies and spreading awareness through social media.

Austin for Palestine’s social media campaign notably includes altered versions of SXSW’s arrow logo, now featuring fighter jets stained with blood, and other images that mimic SXSW’s marketing style but juxtaposed with stark symbols like bombs or bleeding doves.

This bold visual commentary quickly drew a legal reaction from SXSW. The festival sent a cease-and-desist letter to the advocacy group, alleging trademark and copyright infringement, demanding the removal of these posts.

Additionally, Instagram notified Austin for Palestine about SXSW’s claim on their posts.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), SXSW’s copyright infringement claims are baseless. Fundamental elements like their arrow logo do not qualify for copyright protection. Even if SXSW’s allegations targeted the group’s adaptation of their promotional style, such mimicry is arguably not eligible for copyright protection.

Read the EFF’s letter to SXSW here.

Moreover, these posts exemplify non-infringing fair use. Notably, the advocacy group’s use of these materials serves a distinctly different purpose from their original intent, causing no harm to SXSW beyond potential reputation damage, which does not constitute a valid copyright complaint.

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