Intellectual Property

The Men Who Japed

Software for pranksters


The Yes Men are a band of pranksters who specialize in sending up the World Trade Organization, sometimes with wit and sometimes by rote. They're in a good position to do this, since they happen to own the domain name Many Web surfers, searching for information about the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, have instead stumbled on the parody site, with its sardonic satires of the trade group's worldview. The least careful readers have failed to recognize the site as a joke. At times, this has allowed the Yes Men to pose as representatives of the "real" WTO and, under that guise, to deliver lectures in the Modest Proposal mode. (One "Andreas Bichlbauer," for example, told a European conference that his group favored the abolition of the afternoon siesta.)

Under the law, the WTO can't do much about its leftist doppelganger. A year ago, it wrote to the World Intellectual Property Organization, suggesting it formulate "a recommendation concerning the bad faith and abusive use of names of intergovernmental organizations." More recently, it contacted the Yes Men's upstream provider, Verio, in November, requesting that it ask the Yes Men to eliminate the trade group's logo from their site. "The WTO considers that should put whatever it wants on its website," explains spokesman Jean-Guy Carrier, "provided this does not include the WTO copyrighted logo." He adds that "public deception should not be confused with satire."

The Yes Men have responded with YesIWill, software intended to let fellow pranksters of all political persuasions create instant parodies of their least favorite Web sites. The instructions aren't terribly coherent to users not versed in code, but in essence the program allows you to make your own mirror site of your target, then replace selected words and graphics with words and graphics of your own. (One user, for example, revamped the CNN site to replace "bin Laden" with "Satan.") The software can be downloaded from