Monday, June 23, 2008

The Zach T-shirt saga: Autism speaks' side of the story

As some people in the neurodiversity movement know, an individual named Zach is alleging that autism speaks contacted an internet service provider saying they would no longer allow him to post ads selling the t-shirts on their web site. I posted something about this previously, in my last post about Amanda Baggs' grossly inconsistent behavior in crying "censorship" on zazzle's part when she herself advocates censorship of any comment that does not agree with what she believes in on ANI's mailing lists on some of's lists, etc.

Afterwards, I was wondering, could this story be real. Autism speaks was being vilified by all of these neurodiversity afficianados without being allowed to tell their side of the story. They were calling autistic speaks "bullies". The veracity of the story seemed far fetched to me as it would not seem worth the while of autism speaks to actually try to engage in this type of behavior and considering all the bashing they get on the internet all of the time if they would really contact zazzle and give some sort of directive that zach's ads be pulled. Zach claimed to have proof of this but as far as I could tell this "proof" only consisted of a letter he alleges Zazzle wrote him saying that they were contacted by autism speaks. Clearly this guy has an ax to grind against autism speaks it certainly seemed conceivable he could be fabricating the whole thing. Another explanation is that someone at Zazzle had an autistic child who they wanted a cure for their child and was offended by these t-shirts was just trying to get zach's goat and claimed that the directive came from autism speaks when it really did not. Of course I realized it was possible that Zach might be telling the truth, though I had no way of verifying this as no one from autism speaks wanted to come forward and post their side of the story on the internet.

I decided that in all fairness that I should contact autism speaks and find out what their version of the event was. I talked to a woman in their communications department named Dana Marnay. She stated that Zazzle felt that Zach was violating their terms of service policy for some reason and that autism speaks had nothing to do with this THEY IN NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM CONTACTED ZAZZLE PERIOD! The decision to pull zach's t-shirt ads they said was entirely Zazzle's autism speaks had nothing to do with it whatsoever.

I don't know whether Zach is lying about this or not and I don't know if the letter zazzle sent to him was a fabrication or not. Assuming this letter is not an out and out fabrication on Zach's part, then maybe the representative of zazzle was lying when he told this young man that they were contacted by autism speaks.

I know that I am not lying. Those skeptics can call Dana Marnay at autism speaks at (212) 252-8584 and ask her themselves.

Clearly Wrong Planet, autism bitch from hell, Ballasexistenz (AKA Amanda Baggs) just wanted to assume that this story of Zach's is true.

If Zach or anyone else from the neurodiversity movement has proof that I am making this up or the communications lady at Autism Speaks is lying when she told me that autism speaks never ever contacted Zazzle, I say bring it on!! Seems that now if Autism speaks really wanted to stifle the speech of the autistics who don't like them, they would very possibly have a legal basis for suing Zach for libel, I am pretty sure they won't do this. If this story is also true, then Amanda should have no objection to Zazzle not allowing content on their sites that they don't deem fit just as Amanda feels she has that right.

In the meantime for those old enough to remember the TV show from my youth To Tell The Truth that was on TV during the stone age: Would the real bully please stand up!


Rachel Keslensky said...

The curious part seems to be that you want to take Autism Speaks's word over that of Zazzle's. Surely if one corporation can lie, so can another (and given how much money flows through Autism Speaks they certainly count as a corporate entity in some fashion).

Zazzle's responses have been nothing short of credible insofar as their textual accuracy / langauge, which leaves me to believe that the letter is in fact from Zazzle, (and thus Zach is reacting as one would expect him to), which leads me to two possible conclusions:

1) Zazzle acted wholly on their own and pulled a product which made them some amount of money in favor of using Autism Speaks as a scapegoat.
2) Autism Speaks does not want to admit that they did in fact threaten legal action over some minor t-shirt because while the t-shirt was certainly negative publicity, the press they are gaining from the lawsuit would be far worse.

All things considered, I would be far more inclined to believe the second conclusion than the first, if only because Autism Speaks not only has a history of such actions, but also because they have far more to lose by actually admitting wrongdoing than Zazzle would.

(And quite frankly, I'm curious as to how you can claim an email that was reproduced in full is less credible than a phone conversation you can only relay second-hand. Surely an audio recording of this lady saying these things would be far more plausible / authentic than mere hearsay?)

jonathan said...

Well i really did do the phone call, there is no evidence that this email is valid just because Zach says so. I tried to get Zazzle's side of the story, but they said they would not deal with me because I am a third party. I am not taking Autism speaks word over Zach's. It is Amanda Baggs and autism bitch from hell and alex plank who are taking zach's word over autism speaks. Also, a recording is not necessary. I provided autism speaks phone number on here as well as the person I contacted, you can contact them yourself.

Ithink the burden of proof is on Zach's supporters, prove that this letter really was written by zazzle or if it was that zach did not edit it. Prove that autism speaks lied to me when they said they never contacted zazzle.

Unknown said...

I wrote an alternative post on LJ; however, Jonathan, thank you for pointing out some flaws in all this that others (including myself) have missed: 1) we assumed that Zach's reproduction of the Zazzle emails were true, and 2) we assumed Zazzle was being utterly forthright in its reporting.

I do suspect, given probability, given the format of the reproduced emails, given Autism Speaks' past behaviors regarding threat of legal action online, that all of this can be taken at face value.

However, your critique (while as opposingly biased as mine was) has brought to our attention that Zach needs to contact Zazzle and get a hardcopy of the original letter/email from Autism Speaks to Zazzle so that, if Autism Speaks did indeed instigate this entire mess (as they claim not to have), they are not able to cover their tracks.

Thanks. (And I mean that sincerely.)

Rachel Keslensky said...

What constitutes a "burden of proof" here? If neither a phonecall or an email is proof enough, what will be?

What we essentially have are two pieces of contradictory evidence, and some previous evidence that Autism Speaks has in fact dabbled in this kind of legal action before and gone for the "money shot" in doing so, pun intended. If Autism Speaks has not in fact taken action, it's certainly plausible that they would given this past history.

Granted, a little more concrete evidence regarding what Zazzle was specifically targeted with (if anything) would be nice, but I have a hard time believing that they will turn over such evidence.

Unknown said...

At the very least he can try requesting it. If the lawsuit could've potentially involved him (i.e., AS threatened legal action against both Zazzle and Zach), he may have legal right to a copy of the threatening letter.

But then again, I'm no lawyer.

Unknown said...

I should clarify that he should be requesting the hardcopy from Zazzle, not from Autism Speaks. (Just in case that wasn't understood.)

jonathan said...

Rachel-Though I am not an expert in copyright law I do know that website graphics and logos are protected under copyright law. NT speaks was certainly a violation of these and I don't believe there is an exception for parodies. I do not believe anyone who claims NT speaks was in the legal right is really an expert or is correct about this. If you or anyone else can provide me with some legitimate documentation, I will certainly stand corrected. In the meantime, I will continue to believe at least in that case autism speaks did in fact have the legal position and they had a right to shut down that web page.

Emily-Thanks for the support. I don't seem to be getting too much of that around here. Another scenario that I did not think of before that could explain all this is someone like John Best or some other person who really despises the neurodiversity movement could have called Zazzle and claimed that they were from autism speaks and felt Zach's t shirts using their name was a copyright violation of their name. Also, the person at Zazzle who contacted Zach may have been confused. There are many possible scenarios, but Amanda Baggs, the autism bitch from hell, Alex Plank and others seem to think we live in Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany where the person being accused has no right to tell their side of the story.

Ivar T said...

Wouldn't Zach come into trouble if he misquoted Zazzle?

It seems like Zazzle is aware of this thing.

jonathan said...

Yes, Ivar, it is very possible he would be in trouble and it is not inconceivable that he will end up in trouble as possibly Alex Plank and others will be who have no regard whatsoever for pursuing the truth with their absolutely one-sided account of the event

Ivar T said...

It's a reason to believe that Zach would avoid fabricating mails from Zazzle.

Rachel Keslensky said...

As stated before, I have no reason to believe Zach would be so clever as to fabricate several pieces of writing from Zazzle in a completely different writing "signature/flavor" just to vilify Autism Speaks, especially as one hardly needs to fabricate anything if they wanted to find reasons.

Ergo, someone's not telling the truth here, but it's not Zach at least.

Unknown said...

I do believe that Zach is telling the truth. However, if Autism Speaks did actually start this whole mess off, and if we ever want them to be held accountable for their actions, then we do need some more solid proof of their involvement.

I also think it's unlikely that Zach fabricated the Zazzle emails, particularly given his writing style and given the style of the emails.

But BOTH Autism Speaks and Zazzle need to make some sort of official statements.

jonathan said...

hi again Rachel and Emily-All I can say is that you are so convinced that autism speaks was behind all of this then prove it. So far you nor anyone else has any credible evidence whatsoever. Until you have that proof, we have something in this country called due process where people have a right to a fair trial, to tell their side of the story. This is not stalin's russia or hitler's germany.

I believe that the anti-cure neurodiversity community should either put up or shut up. If you or anyone else can prove that autism speaks contacted zazzle and pressured them to discontinue zach's shirts all the power to you!! Best of luck and Emily, I am glad that I was able to give you some leads you did not think of before. I hope you can find what you are looking for, Emily. In the meantime I suggest you, Alex Plank or anyone else take down the posts on their web pages or amend them saying Autism speaks was definitely involved

jonathan said...

just one more thought on the matter, I don't believe the letter from Zazzle was a total fabrication either. I was not able to get much out of them but they did tell me that someone named marcos does work on their content team who signed the letter. Even the person I talked to at autism speaks told me that Zazzle chose for one reason or another to discontinue the shirt because they felt Zach was violating their terms of service so that is not in question. I am fairly certain Zazzle would send someone an email explaining why their product was being discontinued and give a reason. However, that does not mean Zach could not have conceivably done some editing which would be easy to do with a text editor and most of the letter would be real. I am not saying he did this, as i said before there are several possible explainations, but again, I feel some more concrete proof should be offered before wrong planet or others outright accuse autism speaks of being involved in this.

Unknown said...

Despite that my blog posts are biased against Autism Speaks-- and as commentaries I won't pretend they aren't meant to be-- I will not remove them. But I have tried, especially in the second post, to the best of my ability to indicate that it is not certain that Autism Speaks indeed had the hand to play in all this that those emails from Zazzle to Zach imply.

As you say, innocent until proven guilty. --But with a similar analogy, I think there's enough evidence to put out a warrant on Autism Speaks. ;)

If, after we get the documentation (which hopefully Zach will request) and it turns out that Autism Speaks did not do as those emails said, then I will post exactly that and a retraction.

But I won't remove my posts. People need to know about this situation, even if everything is still somewhat up in the air and confusing at the moment. The more people that know, hopefully the faster the facts will come out, whatever they may be.

I have also contacted Zazzle and spoken with a representative. She informed me that all correspondences such as those alleged between Autism Speaks and Zazzle are kept on record and Zach would be able to request a copy.

Unknown said...

I see now that Zach has contacted Zazzle and is waiting to hear back from management.

Hopefully this will be cleared up soon.

Bob King said...

"I am fairly certain Zazzle would send someone an email explaining why their product was being discontinued and give a reason."

You'd think so, wouldn't you? Nope, doesn't work that way. If you are persistent, you can get a direct reason - as Zach did. But the first response that he published is the boilerplate form they send out for all takedowns.

I know this as I'm a zazzle shop owner myself.

As for which corporation is more likely to be misrepresenting (or compartmentalizing) the truth here, I suggest that you go with history and corporate culture.

Besides, Autism Speaks had something to gain - one less visible critic with a well-presented, visually catchy criticism.

On the other hand, Zazzle had something to lose - their cut of all those shirt sales that would have come had this level of publicity been pointed to shirts still online. (Although no doubt it has provoked many folks to create them for themselves, and Zach's revised version is online. Oh, and Zach, it's a far BETTER design!)

Stating my bias: I do not care for Autism Speaks, or Cure Autism Now (before Autism Speaks ate it) or any of the really militant curebies.

But that being said, if there were a pill I could take that had acceptable side effects that did better at treating the comorbid effects of autism (that I personally suffer from), I WOULD be down with that. Even if it slowed my brain down.

Hell, sometimes especially.

...and if you could do that, well, maybe you could make a pill that would put autistic focus in the hands of everyone.

Not only do I support Neurodiversity, I support universal non-compulsory access to Neurodiversity.

Sam said...

Two concerns that I would like to point out that people haven't noticed:

Not only does Zazzle have something to lose in terms of losing face, but they could also potentially be sued for issuing a frivolous takedown order. I have a friend who did, in fact, countersue a corporation that had frivolously told an internet content provider (which Zazzle could be seen as) to take down "copyrighted" content that they actually had no legal copyright claim over. If, say, a careless Autism Speaks employee did in fact tell Zazzle to take the shirt down, then Autism Speaks would have every incentive to deny that it ever happened.

The shirt is almost certainly fair use and is not a copyright violation, which means that any request to take it down is frivolous. Honestly, I think that the NT Speaks web site is also fair use as a parody.

Anonymous said...

Jonathan, you seem to be doing a great job of following up and checking what really happenned. I appreciate that.

But I have to strongly disagree with your statement "THEY IN NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM CONTACTED ZAZZLE PERIOD!" In fact zazzle says that Autism speaks did contact them in the past, just not about this particular issue. I think it's safe to assume they didn't contact zazzle to offer commendations; it's clear that AS in the past asked zazzle to remove products. This is the story that everyone seems to be ignoring, and I would like to encourage you to get to the bottom of it. Since you clearly have a good relationship with AS, please find out from them why they contacted zazzle in the past. Specifics about exactly what text or images they contacted zazzle about would be very helpful.

The question is whether Autism Speaks is just doing prudent copyright/trademark protection, or whether they are using copyrights and trademarks as wedges to bully and censor speech they don't like.

AS is also rumored to have sent a cease and desist letter to the 14 year old author of the ntspeaks parody website. The ntspeaks website sounds like it was so similar to the AS site that it did actually infringe; it sounds like someone could have legitimately been confused about whether they were looking at AS or a parody. So I think it was reasonable of AS to try and remove the offending site. But I don't think the way they did it was reasonable or moral: They are rumored to have asked for damages of $90,000 and claimed a million dollar loss, despite the fact that the parody only got a hit or two per day. Making up ridiculous numbers, even to support a valid case, is not ethical.

So Jonathan, this is something you may also want to get to the bottom of: Did AS actually claim a million dollars or $90k worth of damages in their letter to abscout? If so, how did they determine that figure? If AS has nothing to hide I'm sure they'll provide this information to clear it up.

As an aspie, I really like your attitude of impartiality and investigation, Jonathan.

jonathan said...

Well, Tom, if you are so interested in it, why don't you investigate it and blog about it