California Senate Bill 1411 went into effect yesterday, adding criminal and civil penalties to the act of impersonating a person online. Specifically,
to knowingly and without consent credibly impersonate another person through or on an Internet Web site or by other electronic means with the intent to harm, intimidate, threaten or defraud another person.
To summarize, the bill classifies electronic impersonation as a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1k, and jail time of up to a year; in addition to the right of the impersonatee to sue the impersonator. It offers no provisions for anyone who is pretending to be someone on the internet for comedic effect.
Presumably the senate is expecting the free speech implications to come out in the wash courts, but we wouldn’t want to be that first person who has to make the case.
So, a word to the wise: if you don’t want to go to jail over your parody twitter account, either make sure your target doesn’t have an excuse to sue you in California courts, make sure your impersonation makes them look good, or make sure they have a good sense of humor. Of course, if you want to get somebody mad in order to set a legal precedent, then you have our respect and the thanks of dozens of future DRUNK-fill-in-a-celebrity-name-here accounts.