Return of Reverend Eleven
My old buddy from college, Kembrew McLeod (a.k.a. Reverend Eleven), is at it again. McLeod sent me an email about his recent press conference in Chicago, where he formally announced plans to pursue legal action against AT&T for trademark infringement.
You see, good ol’ Kembrew—whose national-scale media pranks I have enjoyed since I was a blurry-eyed freshman—now has his Ph.D. and is an assistant media professor at the University of Iowa. A few years ago, while living in New York, he had one of the funniest zines ever, called Freedom of Expression. It was beloved by hipster customers from Thurston Moore to the Beastie Boys (there were some great issues, like “Rush: A Girls’ Guide to Sorority Success” and “Kembrew’s Soul,” an account of when McLeod sparked a bidding war by selling his soul in a jar on eBay). Around the time, McLeod created a federally registered trademark for the phrase “Freedom of Expression.” And now, AT&T has fu*$!ed up in a recent print ad.
From his press release: “Yesterday, Mr. McLeod sent AT&T a ‘cease and desist’ letter, asserting that consumers might infer a link between the company and his anti-corporate publication, Freedom of Expression,” wrote Nat Ives in a Jan. 23 New York Times column. McLeod objects to the fact that AT&T, in reality, cares little for freedom of expression; he is also concerned with the way intellectual property law is accelerating the privatization of our culture. You can read Ives’ piece at http://www.nytimes.com/ 2003/01/23/business/media/23ADCO.html.
“Your company has usurped my client’s registered trademark in its attempts to sell long-distance telephone service to college students,” McLeod’s Iowa City-based attorney Gregory Williams wrote in the letter mailed on Jan. 22. “Consequently, we demand that you immediately cease and desist from further use of the registered mark ‘Freedom of Expression.'”
“I want AT&T to think twice the next time they try to use ‘Freedom of Expression’ without my permission,” states McLeod. He acknowledges the irony of trademarking the very phrase that sums up the American commitment to free speech. “But 99.999 percent of the time it is corporations that shut down individuals’ freedom of expression,” he said, “so it’s satisfying that trademark law allows me to do the same to AT&T.”
McLeod has written about the impact of intellectual property law and the privatization of culture in his book Owning Culture (2001).
We at Cheesespread applaud our old friend Kembrew (who originally led us to the Church of the Subgenius)—if only there were more educated muckrakers like you out there capable of working the media, dammit.
McLeod’s press conference was part of the Chicago opening of Illegal Art: Freedom of Expression in the Corporate Age (an exhibit that also features director Todd Haynes’ Superstar and Negativeland cover art for the U2 sound collage). Should be coming to San Francisco soon.
2. Kings attending Mrs. Jackson’s funeral
4. State of the Union protest featuring Mr. Lif, Funk DC, and Barbara Lee
5. Osbournes’ Diet Pepsi commercial