What do you do when RBC’s lawyers threaten to sue you?

posted by Josh Ran

Several weeks ago – while we were busy organizing a banner hang at the headquarters of Royal Bank of Canada, the world’s biggest funder of the tar sands – a senior lawyer from RBC faxed us a very polite letter, letting us know that if we didn’t stop using their corporate logo in our campaign materials they would consider suing us.

RBC letter page oneRBC letter page 2

Now, the idea that they’d actually sue us is fairly ridiculous. Activists use and parody corporations’ logos all the time (see here, and here, and here, and here), but lawsuits against activists for copyright infringement are few and far between. Why? Well, partly because copyright law is written to stop companies from using other companies’ brands to make a profit – not to stop activists from using companies’ brands to make a point. But mostly because, pretty much whenever companies sue us, we use it as an opportunity to create such a huge publicity stunt that they end up dropping the lawsuit.

But that doesn’t stop companies like RBC from using the threat of lawsuits to try to scare groups like RAN into going away. But in this case, they clearly don’t know who they’re dealing with. So, we decided to have some fun with this.

First, we took their letter and rewrote it, using the same wording and format, changing it into a letter from RAN, politely asking RBC to stop funding the tar sands – failing which we would have no other option than to continue campaigning against them. Then, we got the fax number and email addresses of two of their top lawyers, as well as of one of their top PR people (how do we do it? Don’t ask). Then, we emailed thousands of RAN supporters, and asked them to fax and email this letter back to RBC’s lawyers.

As of this morning, 2,400 awesome RAN activists have sent emails and faxes back to RBC. (That’s 2,400 emails cluttering each of their inboxes, and 2,400 faxes sitting in an office somewhere.)

To see the letter we sent back to them, click here. (And please go ahead and send it, if you haven’t already!)

I doubt they’ll try this again. And if they do, we’ll think of something even more clever.