Koch Industries has filed a lawsuit in Utah seeking the names of people behind a bogus website and news release that said the company had altered its policies to support environmentally friendly efforts.
The lawsuit by the Wichita, Kan., company, which Greenpeace says is funding efforts to discredit climate change science, seeks the names of people behind the apparent hoax. The suit was filed here because Utah companies registered the domain name and hosted the fake website.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball granted a motion by Koch to accelerate the process for uncovering the names of those people from Bluehost Inc., parent of Bluehost.com, where the site was hosted, and Fast Domain, which registered the site. Matt Heaton is president and chief executive of the two Provo companies. He did not return a phone call and an e-mail seeking comment Tuesday.
Koch Industries is one of the largest privately held companies in the nation and is involved in oil refining, manufacturing of fertilizers and chemicals, and markets and trades minerals. Greenpeace called it "a financial kingpin of climate science denial and clean energy opposition."
A New Yorker article in August said brothers David and Charles Koch, who own the company, are financial patrons of and true believers in conservative politics and recently helped to fund tea party activists.
The lawsuit says someone created a website koch-inc.com as an exact replica of Koch's website at kochind.com, even linking from the fake website to the real one. They then issued the news release with links to the fake website.
"Based on recent internal evaluations of Koch Industries priorities, the company will be restructuring its support of climate change research and advocacy initiatives and will discontinue contributions to groups whose positions on climate change no longer match those of the company's leadership," said the news release, which referred readers to thekoch-inc.com website.
The company filed the lawsuit against unknown persons accusing them of violating federal laws on trademarks, cybersquatting, unfair competition and violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
After the fake news release was issued on Dec. 10, the lawsuit said Koch acted quickly and it was taken down. Nevertheless, Koch said its business and reputation were harmed by the fake release published by news organizations.
"Koch Industries Inc. is a firm believer in our nation's First Amendment and the right to free speech," Melissa Cohlmia, Koch Industries director of communication, said in an e-mailed statement. "This lawsuit was filed in response to a willful act of identity theft, theft of intellectual property and impersonation that extends beyond the boundaries of free speech. It was a publicity and fundraising stunt perpetrated with the intent to deceive and confuse the public, and disrupt and harm Koch Industries' business and reputation."
Marc J. Randazza, a San Diego attorney specializing in free-speech and intellectual-property issues, said the issuers of the news release and creators of the fake website may have gone beyond the bounds of free speech by too closely copying the website and logo of the Koch Industries and because it wasn't apparent the stunt was intended as criticism or as a parody.
"This would be another story if they had a parody website and it wasn't set up in this way," he said. "This is set up to make people actually think it's Koch Industries. If this were just mocking them or just criticizing them … If you have criticism of someone's environmental policies, you have every right to make fun of them and criticize them. You just can't go and impersonate them while doing it."
But Randazza also said the cybersquatting and computer act violations alleged in the lawsuit may have gone too far. The attorney said he saw little incentive for Bluehost and Fast Domain to resist turning over the names of people behind the website but it needs to notify those persons about the lawsuit so they can protect their interests.
Check it out
O Read the lawsuit and fake news release at: http://tinyurl.com/3yvj9gg.