Bill Cosby has been parodied on The Simpsons, South Park and The Family Guy, caricatured a dozen times in Mad Magazine and portrayed by three generations of cast members on Saturday Night Live - Eddie Murphy, Kenan Thompson and (!) Adam Sandler.
So why are his lawyers zeroing on a popular Web-based animated series called "House of Cosby" that's written for free by a 25-year satirist?
That is a question blogger Andy Baio wants to know.
Baio received a cease and desist letter from The Philadelphia-born Coz's lawyers, informing him that by linking "The House of Cosbys," he is violating the comedian's rights of publicity and misappropriating his name. They describe the series as "deeply offensive." Baio isn't buying it.
The blogger, who started posting the animations on his site in November after Cosby's attorneys went after the series creator, Justin Roiland, and Channel101.com, the site that distributed it, says the First Amendment protects him. It's satire, he writes, and fair play. Baio did comply with attorneys' demand that he no longer offer sound files from an out-of-print lp called Cosby Talks to Kids about Drugs.
This summer the attorneys contacted Roiland and Channel101.com. Dan Harmon, Channel101's co-creator, described his thinking:
When I received a cease and desist from Cosby's attorneys, my initial response was to deactivate the video because I was sad that we had offended a brilliant comedian. That's how naive I was.
Then I ran into a certain legendary producer at a party who yelled at me for rolling over, told me there were important principles at stake, so I violated the order and put the videos back up, effectively calling Cosby's attorneys' bluff.
So they threatened C.I. Host, the company that houses our server, a company with nothing to gain from principles, and C.I. Host told us to take House of Cosbys down under threat of pulling the plug.
Baio has taken a different tack. He's not only keeping the "House of Cosbys" available on his site; he has asked readers to send in links to other parodies of Cosby that have run in various mediums, and has posted a fan-made "House of Cosby's" episode devoted to the cease and desist letter.
The Phillist, which wrote about this yesterday, as did the New York Times, describes that episode as "entirely unsafe for work. Consider yourselves warned." You can find it here.
Baio explained his position on his site on Friday:
House of Cosbys is parody, and clearly falls under fair use guidelines. I'm not taking it down, and their legal bullying isn't going to work. They claim that hosting these videos "violates our client's rights of publicity as well as other statutory and common laws prohibiting the misappropriation of an individual's name, voice and likeness and unfair competition." Sorry, but the First Amendment protects satire and parody of a public figure as free speech. Also, the right of publicity only applies to unauthorized commercial use, and not a work of art or entertainment.