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Cries of Censorship as Brazilian Satire Blog Ordered Shut Down

A Brazilian court has ruled that satirical blog Falha São Paulo [pt] must remain shut down because its name is too similar to the newspaper it mocks, a move that critics decry as a dangerous legal precedent for freedom of expression.

The dispute began in September 2010 when newspaper Folha de São Paulo, one of the largest in Brazil, won a court order to have the blog shuttered, claiming that the site, which parodied the newspaper, its reporters, and its directors, was an infringement of the newspaper's brand. The two parties met for their first court battle in September 2011, which resulted in a tie.

The following year, brothers and creators of the site Lino and Mario Bocchini countersued the newspaper to unfreeze the site's domain and overturn the censorship.

But on February 20, 2013, the brothers lost the case in court to the newspaper in what the Bocchini's and their supporters call a defeat of freedom of expression.

Lino Bocchini antes do julgamento da Falha de São Paulo. Foto do coletivo Fora do Eixo/PósTV. Uso livre.

Lino Bocchini before the Falha de São Paulo trial. Photo by the Fora do Eixo/PósTV collective. Free to use.

Journalist Felipe Rousselet explained [pt] the consequences of the ruling:

O Tribunal de Justiça de São Paulo decidiu nesta quarta-feira, 20, que o blog Falha S. Paulo deve continuar fora do ar. 

A decisão de manter a CENSURA ao Falha de S.Paulo deixou de lado todo o debate sobre liberdade de expressão e se baseou apenas nas leis de Mercado. O desembargador Edson Luiz de Queiróz manteve o blog fora do ar com a justificativa da similaridade entre o nome Falha de S.Paulo e a marca registrada pela Folha de S.Paulo.

Além de um caso óbvio de censura judicial, a manutenção da CENSURA ao Falha de S.Paulo abre um precedente perigoso para a liberdade de expressão, principalmente em relação a sátira e a ironia.

The Court of Justice of São Paulo decided on Wednesday, 20, that the blog Falha S. Paulo should remain shut down.

The decision to keep the Falha de S Paulo CENSORED set aside any debate about freedom of expression and relied only on the laws of the market. The judge Edson Luiz de Queirozg kept the blog shut down on the grounds of similarity between the name Falha de S Paulo and the trademark by Folha de S. Paulo.

Besides a clear case of judicial censorship, the maintenance of the CENSORSHIP against Falha de S Paulo sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of expression, especially in relation to satire and irony.

Folha de São Paulo's argument rested on the claim that the blog was an “imitation” and therefore an “unacceptable” misuse of the newspaper's trademarked brand.

The Bocchini brothers, on the blog Desculpe a nossa falha (Forgive our Failure) and in court, countered the accusation [pt]:

De nada adiantou o defensor da Falha, o advogado Luis Borrelli Neto, defender que, fosse essa a interpretação, “nomes como UOL, Bol e AOL, por exemplo, jamais poderiam conviver na internet”. Também não adiantou lembrar que o próprio juiz de 1ª instância, Gustavo Coube de Carvalho, já havia afirmado que “nem mesmo um tolo apressado seria levado a crer que trata-se de um blog ligado ao jornal”. Também não foram dado ouvidos ao argumento de que programas de TV e tantos outros sites, jornais e revistas fizeram ou fazem o mesmo, no Brasil e no exterior, sem problemas. Borrelli Neto ainda lembrou que “a paródia não está apenas no conteúdo, mas também no domínio. Subtrarir [sic] do apelante o direito de utilizar o domínio significa atentar contra a liberdade de expressão ou, pelo menos, enfraquecer a paródia”. Vale lembrar que a Falha não tinha sequer banner publicitário ou fim comercial, o que também enfraquece –ou derruba– o argumento de “concorrência parasitária” utilizado diversas vezes pelo jornal.

It did not help Falha's attorney Luis Neto Borrelli, to argue that, [if Folha's claim is imitation], “names like UOL, Bol and AOL [internet service providers with similar names], for example, could never coexist on the Internet.” It also did not help remembering that the judge in the first round, Gustavo Coube de Carvalho, had already stated that “not even a fool in a hurry [pt] would be led to believe that this is a blog linked to the newspaper.” Nor was the argument heeded that TV shows [pt] and many other sites, newspapers, and magazines [pt] have done or are doing the same in Brazil [pt] and abroad [pt], without problems. Borrelli Neto also noted that “the parody is not only in content but also in the domain. Subtract from the appellant the right to use the domain means attacking the freedom of speech, or at least weakening the parody”. It's worth remembering that Falha had not even an advertising banner or commercial purposes, which also weakens – or knocks down – the argument of ”parasitic competition” used several times by the newspaper.

Worse than the decision itself, say the Bocchini brothers, is the jurisprudence opened in which newspapers can legally prohibit parodies and critiques by removing websites and blogs from the Internet, using their economic power to persecute those who dare to raise a voice against information published by the mainstream media.

At the decision “it was determined that Falha remains censored. According to the understanding of Folha and the judges, it is forbidden to use the Internet address falhadespaulo.com.br, Falha's logo, or any partial reproduction of stories – even if the original purpose was to criticise”.

Journalist Renato Rovai from the alternative portal SpressoSP added [pt]:

Este julgamento transformou uma questão de liberdade de expressão em um debate comercial com um único objetivo: calar os críticos do jornalão da família Frias. Ou alguém consegue ser ingênuo o suficiente para acreditar que o que incomodou a Folha foi a questão comercial, a similaridade do seu nome com o domínio de um blog sem nenhuma publicidade ou outra modalidade de retorno financeiro?

This trial transformed a matter of free speech into a business debate with a single goal: to silence the critics of the newspaper owned by the Frias family [which owns the publication]. Or can anyone be naive enough to believe that what bothered Folha was the trade issue, the similarity of its name with the domain of a blog with no advertising or other form of financial return?

Irmãos Bocchini antes do julgamento. Foto de Beatriz Bevilaqua, usada com permissão

The Bocchini brothers before the trial. Photo by Beatriz Bevilaqua, used with permission.

The entire hearing was recorded [pt] by the team of PósTV and can be seen on YouTube. PósTv also chronicled [pt] the trial on its Facebook page:

Em um voto mais do que simbólico, um desembargador, de dentro de sua toga, disse o lugar comum mais equivocado do direito: “um direito acaba onde começa o do outro”. E deu ganho de causa à Folha alertando que paródias como a da Falha de S. Paulo poderia “abrir caminho para a anarquia”.

In a more than symbolic vote, a judge, from inside his robe, said the most misguided common place of law: “a right ends where the other begins.” And gave the victory to Folha warning that parodies such as the Falha de S. Paulo could “pave the way for anarchy.”

Psychology doctoral candidate Matheus Paul, writing for the blog Vi o Mundo, talked about [pt] the reasons for censorship and the real concerns of the newspaper Folha de São Paulo:

[...] se o blog visasse tão somente gracejar de forma pueril e light com o jornal alvo, enfocando em questões menores, como somente os nomes dos cadernos, por exemplo, repetimos: o jornal, muito provavelmente, não daria atenção alguma ao pequeno sítio paródia. O escárnio propagado pelo blog, porém, teve uma ressonância quase que imediata, uma vez que questionava algo caro aos veículos jornalísticos de comunicação: a tão propalada (e diríamos até ilusória) isenção total.

[...] If the blog were merely intended to joke in a childish and light way with the newspaper, focusing on minor issues like only the names of the sections, for example, we repeat: the newspaper, most likely, would not give any attention to a small parody site. The derision propagated by the blog, however, had an almost immediate resonance, since it questioned something expensive to journalistic vehicles of communication: the much touted (and we might say delusional) total exemption [of news reporters who claim to not promote any ideology from criticism].

Ivan Valente, a Socialism and Freedom Party congressman from São Paulo, issued a statement [pt] of condemnation the ruling:

Não parece difícil entender que paródias, vistas em grande volume nesta mesma mídia, são recursos legítimos do debate democrático, a que todos nós estamos sujeitos. Artistas, celebridades, jornalistas, políticos, todos são alvos da livre manifestação do humor crítico. Por que não a própria mídia?

It's not difficult to understand that parodies, which are seen in a very large volume in this same media itself, are resources that are legitimate in the democratic debate, to which we are all subject. Artists, celebrities, journalists, politicians, all are targets of the free expression of critical humor. Why isn't the media itself?

Irmãos Bocchini e apoiadores posam para foto antes do julgamento. Foto de Beatriz Bevilaqua, usada com permissão.

Bocchini brothers and supporters posing for a photo before trial. Photo by Beatriz Bevilaqua. Used with permission.

Journalist Beatriz Bevilaqua talked [pt] with Lino Bocchini after the trial, who said they will try to continue the legal battle together in the Supreme Federal Court:

Não é simples, o STJ (Superior Tribunal de Justiça) e o STF não recebem uma ação qualquer. Mas a gente vai estudar de que forma se pode recorrer. Nossa intenção é ir para os tribunais superiores

It is not simple, the STJ (Superior Justice Court) and the STF (Supreme Justice Court) do not receive just any action. But we will consider how we can appeal. Our intention is to go to the higher courts.

Global Voices will to watch for any developments in the case.

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