There is an old Chinese proverb which cautions against drawing attention to something you are trying to conceal. As the story goes, a man named Zhang built a small fortune of 300 ounces of silver through hard work. Fearful that someone might steal his fortune, Zhang decided that the best thing to do was bury it. After burying the money, Zhang then had a brilliant idea to further ensure his money’s security. He decided to mark the spot with a sign that read: “This land does not have 300 ounces of silver buried here.”
Needless to say, Zhang did not retain his fortune for very long.
In today’s world, it is often tempting for companies to try and conceal criticism of their practices by eliminating it with tools like defamation lawsuits or the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Unfortunately, as Nestlé discovered a few weeks ago, sometimes using these tools can attain the opposite effect and simply draw more attention to those criticisms.
Nestlé’s woes first began when Greenpeace posted a YouTube video of an office worker taking a break at work to enjoy a Nestlé Kit Kat chocolate bar. In the video, the worker opens the Kit Kat bar to find an orangutan finger, then goes on to obliviously munch on it until his face is covered in blood. Cut away to a scene of an adorable orangutan in a tree, followed by horrific images of his rainforest habit being destroyed by the evil tendrils of the Nestle empire, whose only desire is to ravage the earth for its palm oil supplies. Stylishly subtle.
YouTube immediately caved to Nestlé’s take-down demand, but the video soon resurfaced. CNN’s Paul Armstrong covered the story in the “going green” environment section of CNN’s website, reporting that the video got over 300,000 hits since being reuploaded by YouTube users. One YouTuber even spoofed the conversation that Nestlé executives must have had before they sent the DMCA take-down notice.
Ralph Lauren made a similar faux pas back in September when it sent DMCA take-down notices to the ISPs of two blogs, Photoshop Disasters and Boing Boing, over an overly photoshopped picture of a Ralph Lauren model (pictured right). Although the ISP for Photoshop Disasters gave in, Boing Boing’s ISP did not. In a retaliatory blog post, Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow excoriated Ralph Lauren’s tactics:
Copyright law doesn’t give you the right to threaten your critics for pointing out the problems with your offerings. You should know better. And every time you threaten to sue us over stuff like this, we will:
a) Reproduce the original criticism, making damned sure that all our readers get a good, long look at it, and;
b) Publish your spurious legal threat along with copious mockery, so that it becomes highly ranked in search engines where other people you threaten can find it and take heart; and
c) Offer nourishing soup and sandwiches to your models.
As Arthur Bright observed, “the legal foofaraw drew the attention of ABC News, FOX News, The Times of London, Forbes, and various other mainstream news agencies who all, of course, reposted the freakish photo.”
As the Pulitzer prize winning editorialist Phil Kerby once said, “censorship is the strongest drive in human nature; sex is a weak second.” That being the case, although defamation lawsuits and DMCA take-down notices have their uses, sometimes it is wise to refrain from drawing attention to what otherwise might go unnoticed. Or in other words, if you have something you want to hide, just remember Zhang and his sign which read: “This land does not have 300 ounces of silver buried here.”