FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WTO ATTACKS WEBSITE, REAPS HUNDREDS OF OTHERS
Contacts: Jonathan Prince (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last Friday, Jonathan Prince, who owns the Gatt.org domain, received a call from Verio, Gatt.org's upstream provider. The World Trade Organization had just asked Verio to shut down the domain for copyright violations, and Verio told Prince that it would do just that if nothing was changed by November 13--the last day of the Doha Ministerial, as it would happen. An official email followed (rtmark.com/verio.html).
(Update: Verio will apparently not be shutting down Gatt.org. The WTO seems to have misread the "whois" record and decided that Verio was hosting Gatt.org, which it isn't. Because Verio is merely the "upstream provider," it has decided it has no legal obligation to honor the WTO's request, and will not do so.)
"It's the war," says Prince. "Bush has popularized zero-tolerance, and it's open season on dissent of any kind. So just when they're meeting in Doha, the WTO has decided to divert attention from its problems by attacking a website."
"Or maybe they really do want to make it so that protest has as little place on the web as it does in Qatar," adds Prince.
Oddly enough, the WTO has been aware of the parody website since before the 1999 Ministerial in Seattle, when it issued a public statement claiming the site misled visitors (www.wto.org/english/news_e/pres99_e/pr151_e.htm).
Two weeks ago, the WTO issued another release (www.wto.org/english/news_e/news01_e/gattdotorg_e.htm), this one claiming that Gatt.org was harvesting e-mails, an allegation reprinted as fact in some newspaper articles (rtmark.com/pressgat.html).
While it may be puzzling why the WTO chose to issue a second press release about Gatt.org two years later, it is even more surprising that they are now taking concrete steps to stop the critical site. In statements made just last week to the French daily newspaper Liberation and to others, WTO spokesperson Jean-Guy Carrier stated that "It's not our job to use legal means against people. We appreciate dissidence and honest criticism."
Why the sudden change of attitude?
"They got nervous, it's only human," said Elaine Peabody, a spokesperson for The Yes Men (www.theyesmen.org), the group that maintains the Gatt.org website. "The WTO remembers what happened the last time they had one of these meetings [in Seattle]. They felt like tackling something they knew they could handle--and a satirical website fit the bill."
BATTLE HEATS UP
But the WTO could well have stepped on a hornets' nest. To counter the attack, the Yes Men have released a piece of open-source "parodyware" (theyesmen.org/yesiwill/) that will "forever make this kind of censorship obsolete," according to Peabody.
"Using this software, it takes five minutes to set up a convincing, personalized, evolving parody of the WTO.org website, or any other website of your choice," said Peabody, who helped to develop the software. "All you need is a place to put it--say, WTOO.org, WorldTradeOrg.com, whatever."
The software, called "Yes I Will!", automatically duplicates websites as needed, changing words and images as the user desires--with results that can be very telling. The WTO site can be made to speak of "consumers" and "companies" rather than "citizens" and "countries." Unleashed on the CNN.com website, the software can simplify the reporting even further by referring to Bush as "Leader," and the war in Afghanistan as one between "Good" and "Evil"; a Time.com article linked from the site then discusses "The Poor Way of War". The parody site updates itself automatically as the target website changes.
"The idea is to insure that even if they shut down our website, hundreds of others will continue our work of translation," said Peabody. "The more they try to fight it, the funnier they're going to look."
"Such heavy-handed tactics work as poorly in cyberspace as they do on the geopolitical stage," said Cliff Soney, another Yes Man. "At least Gatt.org was transparent," he said. "You could tell what it was by reading a line or two. These other sites may not be so obvious."
Prince thinks the software, while interesting, is not a solution. "With their attack on Gatt.org, an unelected, unaccountable organization is running roughshod over the USA Bill of Rights," said Prince. "But every day they violate people's rights in the Third World, or enable corporations to do so. This time it's just closer to home."
For more on the legal basis of the WTO's attack, see