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Radical media? UK ad firm threatens activists with legal action over the use of term ‘radical media’

Academics and activists likely recognise the term ‘Radical Media’ from the influential and ground breaking book ‘Radical Media’ written by John Downing first published in 1984.  However, @radical.media, a media company with offices in London has recently claimed ownership over the term ‘Radical Media’ and has threatened legal action against organisers for calling their conference on social movement media and critique: ‘Radical Media’.

The full text of the letter threatening legal action from @radical.media LLC may be read here. In short, in the cease and desist letter they claim that the use of the term could tarnish their ‘reputation’.  In response to this letter conference organisers have changed their conference title to ‘Rebellious Media: Media, Activxt ism and Social Change’ (Although I think they should change it back!) but @radical.media remains unhappy that the conference has kept the conference domain active which is: http://radicalmediaconference.wordpress.com/

 The conference itself looks fantastic with speakers such as Michael Albert, coordinator of the world’s largest radical website, ZNet John Pilger, radical documentary film maker Jessica Azulay, formerly of The New Standard Robert McChesney, renowned media scholar. The ‘Radical Media’ conference is certainly within the activist spirit of ‘radical media’; I only wish I was able to attend the conference in person.

Returning to the misplaced and over zealous actions of the @radica.media group, there are many things with their actions.

To begin with, the concept of ‘radical media’ is an established notion within the field of media and communication studies, social movement studies and the study of alternative media that has been in the public domain since 1984. The book was republished in 2000 and the concept of ‘radical media’ was picked up and used by a wave of scholars interested in studying the rise of the Global Justice Movement in the wake of the 1999 WTO protests against Seattle. As an example, a Google scholar search returns over 1,600 articles that use the concept of ‘radical media’.

For Downing, the idea of radical media was preferable to terms such as ‘alternative media’ in order to capture the motivation of small scale, independent and politically driven media.  The speakers and topics at the Radical Media Conference in London are precisely in the spirit of ‘radical media’ that Downing first wrote about over 27 years ago.

The actions of @radical.media are deplorable and disappointing and reflect the company’s lack of vision not to mention their lack of a ‘radical’ edge.  Looking at what they do, I can see nothing ‘radical’ [in the original sense of the word] about @radical.media; they make advertisements. If anything @radical.media is the pure embodiment of the antithesis of how radical media has been written about for two and a half decades. Sure, they may have a flash website and perhaps they collect ‘urban art’, but to threaten legal action over a name, particularly when the idea is used in good faith and has precedent of being used to describe social movement media for 27 years is simply ridiculous.

The idea of ‘radical media’ is not something that can or should be owned by any corporation. It is a concept which has been used in academia for over 27 years to not only critique corporate media, but to conceptualise how political activists use media to challenge, resist and subvert the power of corporate media.

It is my hope that word of @radical.media’s actions is spread far and wide and that their threat of legal action indeed reflects back on their reputation.  I would encourage those of you who find the actions of @radical.media deplorable to tell them by sending an email to the CEO or corporate president or getting in touch by other means. If you know people who are clients of @radical.media, tell them too.

So, with this in mind, spread the word about the unacceptable actions of @radical.media. Tweet about it, blog about it in order to send a message that corporate bullying, threats and scare tactics are not acceptable.

Edit: It was just brought to my attention that @arcadefire employ @radical.media for their music video. Given the band Arcade Fire have expressed an affinity for radical politics, why not tweet them about the actions of @radical.media too.

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