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An attorney for an anonymous group of environmentalist pranksters argued Thursday that one of the leading opponents of climate change science, Koch Industries, overstepped its bounds in suing the pranksters over a false news release issued from a near-exact copy of the company's website.
Deepak Gupta, an attorney representing the environmentalists, told a federal judge in Salt Lake City that the case was merely about opposing political views and did not involve commercial competition necessary to claim damages under federal law.
"The only competition was in the marketplace of ideas," the attorney told U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball, while asking the judge to dismiss the Koch lawsuit that claims the group violated its trademarks and federal anticomputer hacking laws.
But Juliette White, attorney for the Kansas-based oil refining and chemical manufacturing company, told Kimball that although there might not be direct commercial competition, the group was using the website copy to gain recognition.
"What they were doing was using our domain to gain attention to themselves," said White.
Kimball said he would issue a decision soon on the request to dismiss the lawsuit, quash subpoenas issued by Koch and order the company not to do anything with the information it has gathered so far.
Koch Industries is one of the largest privately held companies in the nation. The environmental group Greenpeace has called it "a financial kingpin of climate science denial and clean energy opposition."
The company sued in December after a fake news release referring to a Koch-like website said the company had changed its policies to support environmentally friendly efforts. Koch filed the lawsuit in Utah because the company that played host to the website and registered the domain was based in Provo. Koch is seeking the names of people behind the hoax.
But Gupta, of the Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen Litigation Group, pointed to a 2007 ruling Kimball had made in a case in which a pro-LDS group had been sued for using websites addresses similar to the anti-Mormon Utah Lighthouse Ministry. The judge said in a ruling upheld by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that the false websites were a parody and did not infringe on trademarks because they were not done for commercial gain.
Gupta warned that if Koch's suit prevailed, "it would criminalize speech on the Internet."
White said the company should be allowed to gather more evidence in the case to establish a basis for a decision on whether the lawsuit should go forward or be dismissed.