Defending Toy Dolls and Maneuvering Toy Soldiers: Trademarks, Consumer Politics, and Corporate Accountability on the World Wide Web
by Rosemary J. Coombe and Andrew Herman

[Please note that the links to images in the following paper do not lead to live Web sites. Several of the sites referred to no longer exist. Also, you may have to adjust your browser in order to best view the images.]

Complex wars of position are being waged on the World Wide Web as corporations encounter a new politics of publicity. A strange politics this, fought over toy dolls and conducted with toy soldiers, it uses those strange fetishes of mass consumption - trademarks - to establish and to subvert corporate cultural power. Trademarks are intangible assets of immense value that magically bind consumers' devotion - brand loyalty no less - with corporate personality through the force and fiction of the concept of goodwill.

Digital environments, however, enable practices that promise to transform the nature of corporate/consumer relations - undermining the traditional capacities of companies to control their images and manage their imagery - while creating conditions for consumers (and we refer here to all those who use this imagery from artists through customers) to challenge the very forms of commodity fetishism that underlie the value of the corporate persona. These conditions, in turn, have been met with the specter of new forms of governmentality - threatening to colonize digital environments with regulatory regimes that will contain its more democratic and dialogic potential. These governmentalities, in turn, become arenas of controversy and conversation - inviting dances of mimicry and alterity in digital public spheres as exercises of control over intellectual properties in cyberspace gives rise to new politics of publicity in digital public spheres.

Popular and sub-cultural practices, we have shown, are often in dialogical relationship with legal power and its popular interpretation. In The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties, Coombe considered mass media signifiers and popular cultural readings of corporately controlled commodity-signs - that circulate as part of our public culture but are also private properties, protected by laws of intellectual property. Intellectual property laws give exclusive rights to owners to control the circulation of texts and to enjoin their uses by others, to levy royalties and to threaten lawsuits when these symbols are reproduced in subaltern cultural activities. These laws confer on corporations an enormous amount of cultural power while they simultaneously shape tactics of subaltern appropriation, recoding, and detournement.

It is the function of trademark law to discursively construct and institutionally enforce particular notions of corporate identity as a property right. As Steve Jones insightfully points out, this function is grounded in the very etymological roots of the word "property" - derived from the Latin proprius, meaning "one's own," the word property was a doublet of propriety in More's Utopia. In current usage the former is used to make reference to ownership, the latter refers to a standard of behavior." Intellectual property, he suggests, intertwines the two, harkening back to the Latin proprius and its derivative proprietas, meaning proper signification with words.

Intellectual property laws structure a field of semiotic possession - control over a sign - and thereby shape forms of symbolic practice. They create proprietary rights in a cultural commodity/sign - the trademark - and legal rights and obligations to attempt to control its interpretation. Proper signifying activity that connects the product, the brand name, the corporate source and positive feelings in the mind of the consumer - that closed circuit of meaning and affect the law understands as goodwill - forms the basis for the trademark holder's legal entitlement to fully exploit and appropriate the exchange value of the commodity/sign in the market place. The corporate persona is strengthened through strategic possessive activities designed to constrain surplus meaning and prevent the dilution of symbolic value. Unauthorized appropriations of corporate trademarks and alternative forms of signification that disrupt this closed circuit must be monitored and, ideally, strictly prohibited. The law functions as a form of governmentality by shaping the appropriate use of commodity/signs in mass mediated commercial culture. Its capacities to do this are both provoked and challenged in digital contexts.

In The World Wide Web and Contemporary Cultural Theory, Herman and Sloop argue that processes of corporate branding of and in cyberspace also territorialize the Web as a striated space of corporate sovereignty and consumer desire - a highly regulated and disciplined space for the performance of both corporate and consumer personae. The Web provides technological means and social and cultural conditions for members of the digital public to take the commodity signs of mass culture and transform these into popular culture. As they do so, they also encounter the exercise of corporate legal power, and in collective responses to these exercises of power, a popular legal culture has emerged.

By mass culture we mean mass produced texts, images, and sounds - circulated to a mass of consumers by centrally controlled media industries. This culture is unidirectional, or in Bahktinian terms, monologic - it speaks from a singular place with a singular voice - and it doesn't let you talk back. If you do, your voice is unlikely to be widely heard. You might strategically alter billboards [IMAGE 1] or create art that uses and transforms trademarked and copyrighted form. You might work more surreptitiously, changing the voice boxes in fashion and action toy dolls to challenge gender stereotypes as the Barbie Liberation Front did [IMAGE 2]. Interventions and interruptions of mass culture, however, are difficult to make widely visible or widely audible; people don't have the capacity to communicate with the same speed or efficiency as corporate speech when they attempt to talk back.

Widespread access to digital technology, at least in the overdeveloped world, however, has fundamentally transformed the dynamics of this field of communicative power. The Web provides unprecedented opportunities for dynamic dialogues between corporate producers and those who consume their products and imagery. A system of proprietary control, hegemonic under modern conditions of mass marketing is being transformed into a more dynamic ethics of property and propriety in digital public spheres. This becomes clear in battles over trademarks and struggles over domain names - the very phrase evoking the symbolic processes by which property and propriety converge in the construction of the digital corporate persona. It is through the proper and exclusive naming of a specific proprietary space that the site is becomes the symbolic territory of the corporation - the nomadic, fluid, and potentially "smooth" space of cyberspace is "striated," in Deleuze and Guattari's terms, and thus made "friction-free" for capital. Such striated spaces are continually at risk in digital environments - of being returned to "smooth" space through the agencies of rhizomatic movements that challenge the propriety of assuming possession of the proper name.

Critics recognized early that the Web's capacities to serve as a communicative medium Playboy magazine's 1981 Playmate of the Year, was sued in 1998 for trademark infringement was challenged by trademark disputes. Terri Welles [IMAGE 3] - because she referred to herself as a Playmate on the website where she sold pictures of herself and advertised her services as a model. Welles, a single mother, used the site as her major source of income. The company sought damages and an order for her to remove all references to Playboy and the term Playmate; she was accused of hijacking Playboy's customers. Despite the fact that Ms. Welles was accurately describing herself and her credentials (and not confusing anyone by so doing), the magazine would not permit her to use their marks on the Internet. Playboy's request for a preliminary injunction was denied on the basis that she was simply describing herself, and the denial was upheld in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The implications for digital culture were not lost on the digerati. As one of Salon's editors noted, simply by describing the facts of the case, he was required to use the word "playboy." To alert websurfers to his article he would need to use Playboy and Playmate in the metatags for the page. If Playboy were to have their way no such discussion of their activities could take place on the Web.

The real conflict here - and one that no single court decision can resolve - is between competing visions of the Web. If you think the Web is simply a "marketplace," a big mall where companies compete for "brand identity" and "mindshare" then Playboy's trademark protection makes sense. While many large corporations have sunk piles of money into making this vision of the Web a reality, vast numbers of individual people are busy pursuing a different vision - one in which the Web is a giant communications network in which we find one another based on a shared interest, be it bottle-top collecting, Proust, or Playboy bunnies. . . if the law ends up treating the Web as one big business directory, then we shouldn't be surprised if the medium ends up becoming as scintillating as a volume of the Yellow Pages.

The threat to bottle-top collecting was soon realized. A community of senior citizens involved in trading vintage Coca Cola wares were donated a website called to display their collections by a web design company run by Randy Martin. No merchandise was ever sold on this site and it contained a clear disclaimer that "Coca Cola, Coke, the distinctive contour bottle and all Coca-Cola images portrayed within this site are trademarks of the Coca-Cola Co. All logos and references are used for identification purposes only and remain property of their respective owners."

The company brought suit nonetheless and demanded that all images of Coke products be removed from the site. Senior citizens stopped sending Martin pictures of their memorabilia. The site is no longer a forum for people to find and communicate with new friends who share interests. All digital images of Coca Cola goods must come from the official source [IMAGE 4] , despite their social role in contemporary life worlds. Martin took down all logos, trademarks, and imagery. He also posted the company's cease and desist letter, temporarily transforming the site into a venue to protest corporate overreaching on the Internet [IMAGE 5]. He invited consumer commentary, and educated the websurfing public about their rights when threatened by trademark holders. Vintage memorabilia junkies no longer use the Internet to share their knowledge, their collections, and their fondness for Coca-Cola packaging. Those who sought these wares in the spring of 2000, instead found themselves in a sea of critical letters discussing the multinational corporation's labor relations, its pricing practices, and marketing strategies. In attempting to police and maintain a closed circuit of imagery and connotation, the company effectively opened it up to a wider field of critical consumer opinion (for reasons we have not been able to ascertain, the site is now password protected).

The use of intellectual property to effect forms of online censorship is also evident in the numerous cease and desist letters sent by lawyers to fans holding tribute websites. In many cases these were noncommercial sites that couldn't possibly be confused with the official venues. Many of these sites simply left the web, removed any proprietary content or slyly renamed themselves - the "Unofficial" Elvis home page [IMAGE 6]. As Henry Jenkins and John Fiske have shown, fans actively produce cultural meanings and create popular culture through creative appropriations and recontextualizations of mass cultural commodities. As Fiske argues, these practices create a "shadow" symbolic economy through which fans stake alternative claims to property and propriety in everything from particular celebrities to television shows. Intellectual property holders are naturally suspicious of this shadow economy [IMAGE 7 and IMAGE 8]. They seek either to reincorporate fan activity within the symbolic economy of mass culture or they attempt to eliminate it altogether, fearing the dilution of the symbolic value of their marks through the corruption of their proprietary meanings. Fan's passions for the commodity must be strictly territorialized - channeled back into official web sites to promote the further sale of trademarked goods, build brand identity, and nourish the corporate persona.

The emergence of the Web has intensified the conflict between fans and the legal owners of mass cultural properties because the Web has enabled fans to create more dispersed communities of popular cultural commentary. For instance, a phenomenal profusion of unofficial X-Files Web sites (over 900 of them in 1995 alone) where fans produced and circulated an elaborate alternative discourse attracted the Fox Network's legal wrath. Corporate property in mass media trademarks is in fact only legally protected where there is evidence that the corporation is policing the propriety of the practices in which these are consumed.

Fan subcultures put great value on autonomous creativity. Not surprisingly, many fan communities resent and resist corporate attempts to incorporate or quash their Web activities. Just as corporations have pursued Web sites for "cybersquatting," fan communities have become irate about what they call "cyberbullying." A recent example involves action taken by Warner Brothers against a 15-year-old, Claire Field, for registering homemade Harry Potter fan sites with URLs that contained the character's name [IMAGE 9]. The Potter sites were wholesome labors of love by adoring fans [IMAGE 10]. Indeed, Field took great pains to link her site back to the official Web sites. The action against the teenager and her family brought an almost instantaneous response from the Harry Potter fan community. One group of British activists, devoted to fighting corporate censorship on the Web created another site to manage and coordinate the response to Warner Brothers [IMAGE 11]. Site administrators accuse the company of ignorance about the basis of their rights "corporate legal departments don't really have a clue about the real world and some corporations just don't understand the concept of 'goodwill.'"

The struggle by fan communities on the Web to resist the stratagems of media corporations recently took an ironic twist [IMAGE 12]. was founded in 1999 with the purpose of providing a cooperative umbrella for independent fan domains to protect them against corporate intellectual property assaults - a shield against cyberbullying, so to speak. Although's slogan is "for the fans, by the fans," it is actually an enterprise financed by several prominent entertainment venture capital companies. does appear to have provided some legal protection to webmasters who affiliated themselves with the venture, but its greater accomplishment has been to aggressively incorporate and co-opt formerly independent fan sites under a singular corporate brand name. It controls the style of fan discourse and homogenizes its content as a means of maintaining brand identity. Numerous fan domains under this new corporate umbrella have found that postings that don't accord with the desired corporate persona are simply deleted from their message boards.

Like all media corporations seeking to establish and maintain a distinctive brand image, was soon invoking its own intellectual property rights. Last October, Carol Burrell, the administrator of a website called, was hit with a cease and desist letter from's lawyers. They claimed that the very word "fandom" in digital contexts was their own trademark. This action set off a firestorm of protest within the Web fan community, prompting a boycott of and the establishment of yet another web site [IMAGE 13] that once declared "Fandom is for Fans. Not for Sale!!!" Fans insist that the word "fandom" - used to describe fan community subcultures since the 1930s - was the common property of the fan community, not a term susceptible to private ownership. Burell ironically claims her own trademark rights in a pre-emptive strike against any further corporate commodification [IMAGE 14]. She claims the trademarks here as their guardian to safeguard the terms propriety for a moral community of fans. In doing so, she points to the recognition by fans that even a site designed to protect fan activity could quickly become a cyberbully in its own right and that the imperatives of protecting brand identity soon take precedence once a corporate persona emerges on the Web.

Conflicts over the corporate persona as intellectual property are now commonplace on the Web and there are now a number of sites linked together in webrings that document instances of intellectual property law being used as a form of censorship. Recording these activities has created new communities - counterpublics that archive corporate cultural power tactics. Cease and desist letters were routinely sent by lawyers monitoring trademarks in the past, but the Web provides an unprecedented opportunity to publicly document this behavior while assessing its range, scope, and intensity. Digital public domain defenders now routinely monitor the Internet for instances of corporate censorship just as corporations monitor it for unauthorized appropriations of their marks.

The Mattel Corporation is known as one of the most vociferous and energetic of corporate censors in cyberspace. A recent Google search for Mattel Lawsuits and Barbie turned up over 1250 items, including sexual appropriations, critical commentary, and creative cultural reworkings of the cultural icon. For instance, Barbie Doll Benson, former Miss Nude Canada, used the Barbie Doll stage name for 16 years; only when she produced a web page did Mattel complain. Mattel's opposition here seems obvious enough (the children interested in their dolls might stumble across a semi-pornographic site) but their delay in taking action has given her strong enough grounds to continue to use her stage name. Barbie doll collectors, on the other hand, hold dozens of websites as well as online Barbie auctions [IMAGE 15]. Mattel has tried to shut dozens of these collector's sites down and to usurp the collector community by offering officially licensed 'nostalgia dolls' for sale. According to the president of the largest collector's organization, "Barbie doll collecting is in danger of becoming what Mattel wants it to be rather than what you, the collector, choose to make it." Mattel's legal rights to try to use its trademark ownership to prevent collector's activities are actually rather limited (to the extent that the use of the Barbie name in these instances is either referential or laudatory). Legally, Mattel should be concerned if the Barbie name were in danger of becoming a generic term for fashion dolls. To the extent that the dolls traded on the Web are, in fact, Mattel products, there is no trademark rationale for the corporation's attempts to prevent these online uses of the Barbie name. Nor is it clear how such activities 'dilute' the value of the famous mark.

The company's attempts to usurp collector's activities by producing "collectors' editions" provoked a new wave of outrage. One quarterly fanzine that critically reviewed the quality of the dolls Mattel produced (and featured the occasional satire upon the collectors' shared addiction to the ten inch icon) was confronted with a federal copyright and trademark infringement lawsuit, prompting a month long boycott. Facing this storm of protest from faithful customers (many of whom buy 50 Barbies a year), Mattel CEO Jill Barad vowed not to give an inch. "What I do in my job, first and foremost," Barad said, "is protect Barbie."

In 1997, protecting Barbie was an especially aggressive activity with a barrage of lawsuits launched against clubs, publications, and websites. One site hit with Mattel's legal wrath was dedicated to the Barbie icon's semiotics and deconstruction [IMAGE 16]. Mark Napier, an innovative Web artist, altered the famous doll's face to explore Barbie's role as an icon of American life [IMAGE 17].

Barbie says a lot about the world. I can't think of any other icon that is more widely accepted as an image of femininity. Barbie is a defining force for both women and men, for the culture in general. We have chosen this image, voted for it with our dollars, promoted it unconsciously or consciously ... But I think it's about time this icon diversified a little. What about all those aspects of our society that are not represented by Barbie? Let's open up the closet doors and let out the repressed real-world Barbies; Barbie's extended family of disowned and inbred rejects; politically correct Barbies that celebrate the ignored and disenfranchised."

Mattel sent a cease-and-desist letter to his Internet service provider (ISP) who put pressure on the artist to strip the site of the images. Mattel still considered his use of the Barbie name to be a dilution of their trademark [IMAGE 18]. Napier's site was featured in Enterzone, an online arts journal that received a similar letter. According to Enterzone's editor: "What's being silenced is any reflection, any meta-conversation about Barbie," He pointed to an interactive section of Napier's site that allowed viewers to submit their own stories about what Barbie meant to them as they were growing up. "Dolly Parton Barbie," "X-Files Barbie" and most of Napier's morphed Barbies are still available to us thanks to the zine's archives [IMAGE 19 and IMAGE 20].

Controversy over Mattel's action quickly spread. Before Napier took down his Barbies others duplicated them to create "The Distorted Barbie Meme." A meme (also known as a free-floating meme) is a Web site that can be completely copied and reduplicated at any other Web location. The original Distorted Barbie Web site was reproduced at - a site to house endangered art works. The accompanying "Meme Manifesto" made it clear that the intention was to subvert Mattel's legal action by encouraging the proliferation of these images [IMAGE 21]. As Michael Strangelove argues, unlike the unidirectional control over its commodified signifiers and images that Mattel was accustomed to maintaining in mass culture, corporate capacity to maintain monopolies over the flow of symbols or control the meanings of their signs is severely compromised in digital contexts. Mattel is simply "incapable of suppressing every redefined image of Barbie in cyberspace" - users of the Web can "reproduce disputed and illegal material faster than the legal system can respond." Strangelove's thesis is borne out by the dozens of Barbie images, satires, parodies and commentaries that are now available on the web. These sites also link readers quickly to more and more domain disputes involving Mattel, and, in critical and satirical response, more and more alternative "Barbies." [IMAGE 22]., for example, takes the visitor to several instances of Mattel's overbearing conduct [IMAGE 23]. Moreover, links to gay Barbie appreciation sites, recollections of Barbie's role in lesbian self-realization stories, as well as a book featuring both "Safe-Sex Barbie," and - in honor of her 40th birthday - "Hot Flash Barbie" (accessorized with tiny estrogen supplements) are all only clicks of the mouse away.

The Web provides a powerful medium for more serious criticism; unhappy customers and former employees of particular corporations have created dozens of interlinked "suck" sites, such as those with homepages titled "IntelSucks," "Anti-Intel," "Big Brother Inside," [IMAGE 24] "FaceIntel (Former and Current Employees of Intel)," [IMAGE 25] "Boycott Intel," and "Intel Secrets." These sites document the company's alleged anti-competitive practices, intimidation of competitors, inflated prices, the technical inferiority of its products, its invasion of consumer privacy, exploitation of workers, discrimination on the basis of work related disabilities, labor unrest due to arbitrary shift changes and threats to job security, fraudulent benefits to employees, letters from former employees attesting to misrepresentations made in hiring practices, testimonies about the culture of fear that characterizes the workplace, the company's potentially lethal uses of hazardous and toxic materials, the industrial fire hazards it condones, employee suicides from job related stress, and the sweatshop conditions that prevail for engineers in its Malaysian factories. Readers also find specifications for alternative computer chips that are more efficient, less expensive, and less energy-hungry than those made by Intel.

Many rogue sites contain parodies of the corporation's logos in addition to constant evocation of company brand names - grist for further legal action. Corporations are even more concerned about the use of the corporate name in metatags for these pages, which opens up the likelihood that people using search engines to find the company will likely encounter its detractors (along with dozens of stories of consumer and employee dissatisfaction) on their way to the \official site. For this reason, ironically, corporations are actually buying up domain names that insult them. These purchases are a form of preemptive strike against those who might use such sites to provide an alternative perspective on the corporate persona. Bell Atlantic, after its merger with GTE became Verizon Communications and quickly registered "" Nonetheless, they quickly encountered a Web publisher who registered "" When ordered by the company to hand the name over to it, the Web publisher relinquished it and proceeded to register yet another name: " [IMAGE 26]. Verizon appears to have dropped the dispute.

More prescient companies have appropriated the information provided by these Agripe-sites to assist their own public relations efforts. The proliferation of anti-Iomega sites served as a wake-up call to the Utah-based corporation during a period of rapid growth; the horror stories posted on the Web helped the company to pinpoint problems and to identify those customers they could assist. This corporation sensibly used these appropriations of its trademarks to maintain, improve, and develop goodwill amongst its customers. To reiterate, goodwill is a legal concept that represents a complex relationship between a corporation as the authentic source of the product, the symbolic values associated with a brand name, the positive feelings these evoke in consumers, and the corporation's interests as the guardian and trustee of both. By focusing upon their consumers, engaging in dialogue with them, and attending to the actual social meanings being generated around their commodities, the corporation properly kept intact the closed circuit of money and desire that links the corporation, the commodity, and the individual consumer that intellectual property law is ideally designed to protect. The point here is quite simple; the goodwill upon which proprietary rights in trademarks were traditionally premised is based on a relationship. Relationships need to be established rather than assumed, as one corporation has recently discovered to its peril.

As many of you probably know, MIT Press publishes a journal called Leonardo on behalf of a non-profit scholarly arts association [IMAGE 27]. The Association (ISAST) was sued in 1999 for trademark infringement by a French finance company - Transasia - who had registered the term Leonardo as a trademark. Claiming that search engine requests were turning up ISAST and the journal ahead of the finance company - and that they were thereby losing customers and suffering trademark dilution - they are asking that the Association cease using the term Leonardo on the web or with the delivery of any services. The suit was launched abruptly. Eight armed police arrived without notice at the home of the founder's widow, searched her home, and seized association records (Transasia's legal position is weak; the arts organization had used the term for over 30 years and clearly has acquired prior rights).

Leonardo immediately invited a worldwide protest on the web and sought donations for a legal defense fund [IMAGE 28]. Letters of support came from all over the world and were posted to the site. The letters of support they continue to receive now form a body of evidence - indicating that the organization had acquired extensive goodwill in the term, and that it had acquired "secondary meaning." Some of the letters comment upon the propriety of anyone attempting to claim property in the term. Many of them decry the company's extortion, the encroachment of corporate proprietary interests into the public domain, and the importance of maintaining terms of significance in European cultural heritage. Often the letters are forwarded to the company as well. These correspondence activities and their publication, would, of course, be less than feasible without digital technology.

Many of the writers make trademark arguments about the validity of the mark, and assert the lack of any possible confusion amongst the web-linked public. Many point to the hundreds of Leonardo di Capria fan sites, as well as the Leonardo da Vinci hospitals and museums that come up with any search on the Web. They show the sophistication of this public's understanding of the web's organization and the behavior of search engines. In publicizing the law suit and inviting comment on the web, the arts organization makes a topography - inviting performative speech acts that simultaneously map and in the process create a territory - one that may be legally used to defeat the very rights the corporation claims to have as well as its attempts to striate cyberspace so as to maintain "friction free" operations.

Some letters are from website administrators who create mirror sites of the original Leonardo and/or use their own sites or online magazines to further advertise their opinion of the company's immorality, its harassment, and the culture of greed they see it to represent. This further increases the friction that anyone searching the web will potentially encounter when attempting to find the corporation's financial services. The company has, inadvertently, created a situation in which even those searching for Leonardo Finance or Transasia are as likely to find ardent and articulate criticism of the corporation as they are to find its products. Indeed, once our favorite digital provocateurs RTMARK got wind of the suit, they staged a Web contest [IMAGE 29] inviting the creation of new protest sites with Leonardo Finance in the URL [IMAGE 30]. As a consequence, the corporate persona is located further and further down the list of search engine results [IMAGE 31]. The corporation's properties are thus submerged by the protest against its propriety - as well as parodies of its behavior [IMAGE 32] that undermine any goodwill the company might hope to achieve on the World Wide Web.

Many companies, however, no longer intervene in the digital public sphere, and even bypass the more public process of adjudication to go directly to arbitration. Today, trademark holders can go directly to one of four recognized dispute resolution arbitrator panels under ICANN's Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, foregoing any dialogue with the website administrator, or the surfing public and demand a transfer of the name. International Arbitrators' obligations under this policy do not include any respect for the meaning of goodwill or free speech concerns. The First Amendment, after all, is a local ordinance. The perception that these arbitrators favor corporate trademark holders regardless of the expressive intentions of those using marks in domain names, and see all uses of trademarks as evidence of good faith, is the source of much hostility on the Web [IMAGE 33]. Some arbitrators have gone so far as to suggest that all uses of trademarks, even on entirely different top-level domains, might confuse users. This would render the existence of more than one top-level domain useless, because it would suggest that anyone with trademark rights in one domain should have preemptive rights over the term in all other domains. Such a policy would have the effect of treating trademark rights as absolute properties, rather than temporary privileges dependent upon the state of contemporary consumer knowledge and the positive regard in which a company is held. It would render the Web an even more monologic space of corporate connotations, striating it so as to preempt its unique capacities to serve as a dialogic or smooth space for debates about property and propriety - as well as its capacities to serve as a rhizomatic means to measure and influence the goodwill actually felt towards a corporation.

Some culture jammers deliberately court Web users' potential confusion to deliver the surfer into a field of connotations directly contrary to those propounded by corporations and those institutions upholding intellectual property laws that are seen to limit expressive and communicative uses of the Web. As Mark Dery describes it, jamming is a kind of "semiological guerilla warfare" against an "an ever more intrusive, instrumental technoculture whose operant mode is the manufacture of consent through the manipulation of symbols":
Part artistic terrorists, part vernacular critics, culture jammers, like Eco's "communications guerillas, introduce noise into the signal as it passes from transmitter to receiver, encouraging idiosyncratic, unintended interpretations. Intruding on the intruders, they invest ads, newscasts, and other media artifacts with subversive meanings; simultaneously they decrypt them, rendering their seduction impotent."

The widespread circulation of satirical advertisements, of various degrees of seriousness, which attempt to undermine the trademarked persona of specific commodities, is a typical tactic [IMAGE 34]. Most subvertisements target corporations who market mass consumer goods using mass media imagery that culture jammers believe contributes to poor self esteem, eating disorders, obesity, and environmental damage [IMAGE 35]. The knowledge that most of this activity violates intellectual property laws has animated new debates about property and propriety in an emerging popular legal culture. For instance (and there are many) one rogue site - the World Intellectual Piracy Organization [IMAGE 36] explains to readers how the international organization has misused its power over trademarks for anti-competitive purposes and to muzzle freedom of expression.

Ultimately, however, effective culture jamming in digital environments requires more than the semiotician's repertoire of skills. It also requires technological abilities to intervene in closed circuits of striation so as to continuously reconfigure relationships between property and propriety as these threaten to become calcified in digital environments. This is one of the objectives of RTMARK [IMAGE 37], an arts organization whose very name illustrates that it has taken the exploration and subversion of the cultural power of the trademark as a focal point for activity. They territorialize as a rather than a Registered as a corporation, they sell shares, and offer various mutual funds for those who would like to invest in their anti-corporate activities. They take the corporate form seriously, as they subvert corporate personas with reckless and infectious humor - last year they successfully maneuvered enough toy soldiers to bring an overbearing corporation to its knees [IMAGE 38].

Most of you already know this story, and so a brief history is all that is necessary here. The arts group etoy chose their name in 1994 and put up their site in 1995; they were unable to get a trademark in the United States for technical reasons (but through use common law rights are acquired). The corporation Etoys wanted to sell toys online; they were unable to get a registered trademark (probably because the mark was too descriptive of their goods and services). Nonetheless they did business from, but found that they were losing 20,000 hits a day to the arts group, and customers "hijacked" to the arts site complained about the pornography and profanity they found there. After attempting to buy the domain name from etoy, the toyseller sought and received a preliminary injunction on dilution grounds (their mark was arguably being tarnished by the arts group) at the end of November, 1999. The court imposed $10,000 per day in fines for continuing use of the domain name. A hearing was set for December 27, but in the meantime an incredibly well orchestrated counteroffensive was launched. Eventually the corporation both dropped the suit, paid the arts group's legal defenses, and allowed the two etoys to co-exist in cyberspace without insisting upon any change in the content of the site.

For our purposes, the dispute is significant because of the sophistication of the tactics developed by etoy and its allies. The debate shared a number of the features of others we have looked at. Online forums, protest sites, petitions, chat room lobbying, boycott threats, free advertising for competitors, and the use of interlinked subscribers lists to provide publicity and send protest mail to the corporation, and the use of feedback to get press attention. However, this protest was provoked using the rhetoric of civil society; the Web community was exhorted to see themselves as members of a public who needed to engage, as a movement, in a struggle for "freedom of expression" and "equal rights" for art and commerce on the Web. It was estimated that between 1,800 and 4,000 users were involved.

Over 130,000 digital "agents" were deployed in the ensuing "Toywar" which involved encoded datasets that operated virtually, as simulacra of the company's own toys [IMAGE 39]. Any one of us could have assumed the persona of a toy soldier doing war with the corporation who sought to control etoys on the Web - an act of mimicry that commented on the very anonymity of the forces behind the corporate persona and the fetishized trademarks that animate the fiction of goodwill between a faceless corporation and the faceless consumers who are expected to fall into position. These virtual agents were sent email "orders" to launch toy-missiles to pressure the company into dropping the suit: "No one will get hurt. This is only a toywar!! But it affects the way people think and the way corporations will operate in the future . . . if we act now . . . therefore you need to send smart email-toy-bombs."

The struggle involved more than text communications, however. Toywar used both technical and legal means to target forms of corporate territorialization on the Web while simultaneously exposing, commenting upon, and undermining the fictions which uphold the corporate persona - unworking the forms of commodity fetishism in which the virtual values and personas are made and marketed while scandalizing the legal means by which identities are established and attain value. For example, goodwill accrues at the point at which a transaction occurs in trademark law, it registers the symbolic afterglow of a series of completed transactions. In acts of mimicry, Toywar commented upon the fantastic nature of this value in a number of ways. First they intervened at the point of potential purchase - establishing a hacked webpage on the corporate site to stoke desire for faux products that delivered a satirical political alternative [IMAGE 40]. Many forms of denial of service attacks were launched. Most effective, perhaps, was Killertoy.html, which would fill visiting protestors' cookie based shopping carts to the brim, over and over again. These phantom shopping carts would disappear at the potential moment of closing the purchase. Goodwill was always fantastic in mass marketing environments, given the separation of means of production and conditions of consumption and the trademarks that acted as prosthetic surrogates for the corporation's presence in monologic fields of communication. Ironically, the nature of those communications is more easily exposed in digital contexts where the virtual nature of the relationship can be mimicked with equally fantastic digital surrogates in the act of consumption.

Targeting the market value of the corporation's shares highlighted another set of corporate fabulations. The etoy fund online game was organized to play with the fantasies of the new economy stock indexes and valuations set on the basis of virtual promises of future returns. "A New Toy for You" was a mirror site designed to make the moves by etoy.arts and its partner, etoy.politics, appear as losses in the market value of Etoys stocks [IMAGE 41]. Speculating upon the speculation they knew would drive the share value, the arts group provided further hype to the hype, and used their own projections of their own impact on the share value to flood financial message boards with negative information about the losses Etoys was suffering in terms of goodwill due to the ongoing Web protests. Investors did in fact dump stock and a 70% drop in share value was recorded.

Finally, etoy and their supporters pierced the corporate veil and took the protest directly to the shareholders, delivering shareholder email addresses to protestors and making it clear to shareholders that they held a share in and responsibility for actual corporate activities - rather than an absolute right to a percentage of profit. Etoy and Rtmark used the practice of corporate shareholding (and mutual funds) in their own activities, putting the emphasis upon what was shared and what was mutually held as value amongst those who held stakes in their enterprises. All toywar agents were given shares in a corporation, which, as etoy put it, merely delivered a different form of revenue. Shares represented a commitment to a form of citizenship and a loyalty to an alternative "brand" that cultivated political goodwill. Etoys and etoy, then, were positioned in this digital performance space as competitors for potential market share - "just brands with projected values of huge revenues somewhere in the future." Etoy could celebrate a huge increase in goodwill, in terms of actively involved participants, positive publicity, and financial investments in the brand of politics it advocated [IMAGE 42]. They made it clear that they were not involved in, and did not countenance, terrorist attacks, and that the objective was not to bring down the Etoys site, but to open virtual spaces of corporate power to the voices and interests of others with interests that went beyond neoliberalism as well as to new means of calling corporate power to account in digital environments.

Although many of the toywar agents were apathetic or burnt out - many were symbolically buried at sea in Lego coffins - there is still an army to call upon [IMAGE 43]. Toywar did not simply dissolve with the trademark victory. It remains poised as a "war-machine" to do further battle in cyberspace. The Toywar weapons and secret knowledge are locked into high security codes, but the generals are able to decide on a reactivation of the Toywar bombs within minutes and put out new orders to attack. More sophisticated forms of distributed denial of service weapons have been developed, that will enable multiple "zombie" PCs to be activated from a single site. Although these were not approved weapons in the Toywar, they may well be called to duty in future battles on digital terrain.

The object of a war machine, in Deleuze and Guattari's terms, is not war but the creation of conditions of mutation and change in interventions designed to effect lines of deterritorialization. Its synthetic relation to war comes by virtue of its antipathy to the striated space of apparatuses of capture. Here, that involved bringing virtual social connections to bear upon the conjunction of the apparatuses of corporate capture through propagation of smooth spaces of displacement. Smooth spaces, however, are never sites of absolute freedom and they offer no ultimate salvation.

As one of Rtmarks lawyers put it, even if activists are successful in intimidating companies to behave with more propriety when considering their properties in cyberspace, there are larger objectives. A fear of web activists doesn't help the victims of toxic waste dumping, the chilling of scientific research, or the poisoning of our foods and the destruction of our ecosystems. Only when the corporation is no longer treated as a person, and its real agents of destruction no longer protected by legal fictions enabling limited liability, can we anticipate accountability. Web activism, with respect to corporate propriety then, must engage in a politics that goes beyond Enlightenment concerns with individual rights of expression and free speech - linking forms of civil disobedience with forms of affiliation that provide platforms for publicizing more dispersed sites of global corporate misconduct.

In this vein, one of Rtmark's earliest projects remains one of its most effective. From a spoof on Taco Bell's crass appropriation of Mexican revolutionary iconography [IMAGE 44] the corporate creation of a liberation army seeking the People's Republic of Gorditas - they link us to a real Mexican village, Popotla, a small fishing town in Baja, just twenty minutes south of San Diego [IMAGE 45]. The villagers' struggles for livelihood and liberation have been gravely undermined by the creation of one of digital technology's latest and greatest works in contemporary mass culture.

People here have lived from the sea for decades, engaged in small-scale fishing for subsistence and local restaurant use. Just 300 meters from the village in the Pacific Ocean lay a unique underwater garden with giant kelp plants that exist in only two places on the globe. Each plant provides a home to over two and a half million creatures and distinctive species that cannot survive in any other environment. One day, just a few years ago, official government cars accompanied armed strangers into the fishing grounds. Local people's boats were sunk and thunderous underwater explosives were set off, destroying life forms for miles. A huge wall was built locking the local peoples out as well as cutting off their access to the sea. Large warehouse-like buildings were erected; [IMAGE 46] a huge pool was constructed and filled with seawater treated with massive amounts of chlorine. The pool water was dumped directly into the Pacific Ocean, on top of the kelp beds, every week for months on end. Laboratory tests done for the indigenous peoples (with the help of sympathetic NGOs) revealed chlorine, toxic chemical solvents, and untreated human waste. Sea urchins disappeared, fish populations dropped, and species vanished. Not a single local person was employed in this great new enterprise. As a consequence of all this, the copyright industry now possesses a grand new digital product [IMAGE 47] - a film called Titanic - and a powerful trademark to link to a variety of merchandising rights. The people of Popotla, however, have lost their livelihood resources and a whole way of life. We have all lost an irreplaceable ecological landscape of forever-unknown value.

The promotional tagline for the film was "Nothing on Earth Could Come Between Them" (referring to the romance between the main characters) yet the very existence of this romantic union as a celluloid mythic narrative and cultural commodity required, as Rtmark revealed, a very real and impenetrable boundary - a firewall if you will - between the production of the film and the surrounding environment. Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, and James Cameron did everything possible to come between the people of Popotla and their way of life with devastating results. The wall of Popotla is a literal wall and boundary that protects the capitalist culture industry from the consequences of its actions as well as from the needs and lives of the marginalized who most definitely do not possess the socio-economic characteristics of the target market. It is also, and no less significantly, a figural boundary that represents the restricted symbolic and moral economy of property and propriety in the digital era. On one side of the wall is the strategic logic of mass media commodity fetishism, embodied in trademark and copyright law, which guarantees goodwill towards the corporate persona and its products but shelters it from critical considerations of corporate practice. On the other side is the guerrilla logic of the popular, embodied in transformations of cultural meaning that subvert the coherent identity of the corporate persona and comment on the conditions of its production.

Villagers in Popotla sought to remake the symbolic meaning of the wall that separated them from their way of life. They transformed the wall from blank and mute space that marked a no trespassing zone into a brilliant mural [IMAGE 48] that told the story of their subjugation to corporate capital and their will to survive the disaster that the film Titanic visited upon them. One of their murals cries "Mariscos Libre," [IMAGE 49] extending the language of liberation to appeal to our interconnection with natural ecosystems and the need to break down walls that divide the natural world into zones of private resources for corporate exploitation. Similarly, Rtmark attempted to rupture the firewall between the strategic logic of mass culture and the tactical logic of popular culture by using the Web as a medium and form for the subversion of the corporate persona. They did so by putting the story of the Titanic's production and thus the story of the people of Popotla into circulation in the very realm of publicity where goodwill is generated.

Few forms of freedom exist without other forms of control; all cultural relations are also relations of power and this is no less so in digital environments. As John Perry Barlow has suggested, we do have some leverage as the first ancestors in a digital era. We are indeed seeing a field of power shifting in digital terrain. As systems of univocal proprietary control give way however unevenly, to more interactive ethics that interrogates the claims of property with questions of propriety we have a unique opportunity - to challenge the impositions of corporate privilege, interrupt the corporate assumption of goodwill, and insist upon new forms of responsibility and social accountability in digital environments.

Rosemary Coombe holds the Canada Research Chair in Law, Communication and Cultural Studies at York University. Professor Coombe would like to thank Lara Tessaro and Louise James for their research assistance. Andrew Herman is associate professor of Sociology and director of the Center for the Humanities at Drake University.