Rep. Harbin's lawsuit threat forces artist to shut Web site
When Jon Asato drew comics on his Web site portraying state Rep. Bev Harbin as the Incredible Hulk and the Joker, he did not expect to be threatened with a lawsuit.
But a sheriff's deputy showed up at his door recently with a letter from Harbin, who said she would take him to court unless he removed his parody site.
Asato gave up ownership of www.bevharbin.com rather than hire an attorney to fight allegations that he illegally stole Harbin's identity and broke cybersquatting laws.
NO TALK STINK
Jon Asato's comics and commentary have been republished on another one of Asato's Web sites at www.talkstink.com.
"It was clearly satire and parody," he said. "As much as I believe in the right to creative and critical speech of a public official ... it's not in my constitution right now to go to the trouble of having to defend my good humor."
Asato posted four comics on the site making fun of Harbin, who failed to disclose that she had $125,000 in state tax debts and misdemeanor criminal convictions for passing bad checks when she was appointed to the state Legislature by Republican Gov. Linda Lingle last fall.
Asato said he wanted to point out Harbin's criminal history and how Lingle's politics backfired when she appointed Harbin, who Democratic leaders consider to be a Democrat in name only. Lingle was required to appoint a Democrat to replace Rep. Kenneth Hiraki (D, Kakaako-Downtown), who resigned to become a lobbyist for Hawaiian Telcom.
Harbin says she understands that criticism comes with the turf, but she was offended that the Web site carried her name.
"I feel violated. ... You can't take someone's trademark or name and keep it as your own," Harbin said. "This whole political decision-making thing isn't a computer game. This is life. We're dealing with people's lives over here."
Federal laws prohibiting cybersquatting -- the practice of using a domain name with the bad-faith intent of profiting from someone else's trademark -- apply more frequently in commercial cases, said Danielle Conway-Jones, a law professor at the University of Hawaii who teaches Internet law and policy.
"Your name is your very being, and it's almost as if you are allowing another person to register another being to say what they want to say about them," she said. "The courts haven't really addressed it."
Asato took down the site June 18 after receiving a second letter from Harbin that said she would take legal action. Harbin said she paid sheriff's deputies to deliver both letters.
She said she has applied for the Web site name and plans to use it for her re-election campaign.
The comics have been republished on another one of Asato's Web sites at www.talkstink.com.