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Victoria’s Secret Uses DMCA to Interrupt Anti-Rape Campaign


I’d known that Victoria’s Secret had been targeted lately by a group called FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture lately, although “targeted” is perhaps a strong word for “creating a parody marketing campaign designed to bring attention the idea of enthusiastic consent” (which involved sending press releases, creating a fake website, and seeding actual panties with pro-consent slogans in a few actual Victoria’s Secret stores), and allowing folks who didn’t look too deeply into it to believe that it was a genuine move by VS itself for about 24 hours, until the group announced their real identity. What I didn’t know was that instead of gently acknowledging, simply ignoring, or otherwise letting alone a campaign that pokes some very pointed fun at the company, Victoria’s Secret slapped FORCE’s web presence with a DMCA takedown during the most pivotal part of their campaign.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation describes the effect of VS’s actions:

Though nothing was down for long—the site was only down briefly as FORCE moved to a different hosting provider and the Twitter account was back up by Friday, December 7—even the brief downtime hurt the campaign. FORCE had purposefully launched PINK Loves CONSENT immediately prior to the fashion show to capitalize on the publicity surrounding the event, which attracted nearly 10 million viewers. During the show, tweets about body acceptance and the importance of normalizing a culture of enthusiastic consent made #loveconsent the number one hashtag associated with #victoriassecret. The Facebook page was similarly inundated. FORCE was able to use Victoria’s Secret’s popularity to raise awareness and generate discussion about rape culture on an unprecedented level. When its Twitter account and subsequently its websites were taken down, that discussion was interrupted at a vital time.

I’ll admit that FORCE’s fake website is pretty convincing, and is clearly intended to fool the unwary viewer. Depressingly, probably the first tip that this isn’t an official Victoria’s Secret site is the presence of plus-sized models. The final one is the fact that you can’t actually buy any of the clothing being modeled on the site: there’s no cart, checkout, or even individual item pages. It’s simply not a retail site. But that’s partly why VS’s actions seemed so counter intuitive. FORCE isn’t horning in on their share of the lingerie market, nor is it profiting off the popularity of the VS name. Instead, it’s using that popularity to bring attention to a political agenda. Certainly, one of the purposes of trademark laws is to keep others from associating your intellectual property with political messages you don’t support.

However, Victoria’s Secret is no stranger to controversy, whether the company is making missteps with race, cultural appropriation, or body image. In a best case scenario they would have looked at the buzz FORCE’s campaign was generating on Twitter, recognized that they weren’t losing any money from their efforts, and worked with the group to put out a real line of underwear, perhaps even with proceeds going to womens’ shelters. If they didn’t want their brand associated with promoting consent, or felt that they’d been slighted by the parody campaign, the reaction that reflects least poorly on the company is to refuse to comment on FORCE’s activities… not to try and mess them up at exactly the worst moment.

For more on how the DMCA makes it very easy for companies to censor political speech on the internet, I recommend the full article at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

(via Boing Boing.)

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  • Anonymous

    While I don’t agree with the DMCA, I also don’t agree with this group’s attempted appropriation of VC. Sure, it’s a good message, but that doesn’t mean they have the right to outright rip-off VC.

  • Travis Fischer

    I don’t think it’s about agreeing or disagreeing with their message. It’s about them using Victoria Secret’s property for their own purposes without having… oh what’s that word… consent?

    So can we please drop the implication that Victoria Secret somehow timed their DMCA takedown for maximum impact? FORCE sent out press releases on Monday and claimed responsibility for them on Tuesday. Victoria Secret took action later that day. This isn’t some conspiracy. No business can allow an independent group to claim they represent them, no matter what purposes or motives they might have.

    I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great message, but their methods leave a lot to be desired. I don’t think sending out press releases pretending to represent Victoria Secret was necessary… or entirely legal. Even if they haven’t crossed the limits of Fair Use law, they are really pushing the edge of it. Which is a shame because it only seems to be undermining their purpose.

  • Terence Ng

    I agree with you except for the last point where you claim that it only seems to be undermining their purpose. Frankly, I don’t think most people enamored with the buzz and discussion of body image and sexual consent feel that a copyright issue of corporate parody is undermining that agenda. It certainly doesn’t to me. Nor do I think people associate the idea of sexual consent with the wholly unrelated terminology for corporate brand “consent”.

    To me, it comes off as a gutsy and on-the-nose campaign that playfully pushes the legality of Fair Use (which practically no one by Victoria Secret Inc. cared about), but payed off as being highly successful and visible. It portrays them as grassroots, creative, and radical, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

  • Terence Ng

    I think “mis-portray” VS is the correct term here (not that it’s even a word), since “rip-off” would suggest that they branded and sold underwear under the VS name or made some sort of meaningful profit off of it, when in reality, all the products were parodies and not for sale.

  • Travis Fischer

    What I meant was that had they taken slightly less infringy tactics, such as making a parody rather than trying to pass themselves off as a legitimate representation of Victoria Secret, then they wouldn’t have incurred the wrath of Victoria Secret’s lawyers during what was apparently a “critical” time of their campaign.

  • Anonymous

    In the end, their message still got through. I believe this is great publicity; if VS hadn’t pulled this stunt, might not have heard about this campaign and what I can do to help :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=157400537 Sara Crow

    Technically their action is parody, not infringement, and is protected under the law.

  • Travis Fischer

    If you have to use the word “technically” to describe it, it’s not a very solid case.

  • Anonymous

    All I know is that I desperately want to actually buy these items. WHEN WILL IT HAPPEN ALREADY??

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think its a coincidence that folks making VS-supportive comments here are men – who don’t have to live under the weight of rape culture and/or VS’ marketing.

  • Anonymous

    Do you think the folks making FORCE-supportive
    comments would take such a
    laissez-faire attitude about VS’s right to have control over its own
    image if this stunt had been done by an opposing organization–an
    anti-abortion group, for example? I think they’d applaud VS for shutting the group down. The manner in which we communicate can be as important as what we’re trying to say. FORCE doesn’t need to convince the people who already agree with them. Promoting their message this way could alienate the people they’re trying to reach.

    I’m a woman, btw. My gender doesn’t determine all of my opinions.

  • Becca C.

    Good for them (FORCE).

  • Jack Troughton

    I thought this was for real. Yikes.