The background is this, if you haven't seen it already. An organization called Fight For the Future is trying to draw attention to Senate Bill 978, commonly known as the "illegal streaming bill." Because trying to draw attention to intellectual property legislation is usually difficult, the group tried a different approach: FreeBieber.org.
The site uses Bieber to illustrate a point: Under the legislation, posting a video that contains a copyrighted work would be a felony with penalties up to five years in prison. And the site has been pretty effective – more than 42,000 people have "liked" it on Facebook, for instance. The site may be wildly popular... but not with Bieber's lawyers. In trying to defend Fair Use rights, Fight For the Future is having to defend its Fair Use rights.
According to Bieber's lawyers, the site violates Bieber's publicity rights and intellectual property rights. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), however, says it's well within the Fight For the Future's First Amendment rights:
The right of publicity usually prohibits the unauthorized use of a person's name, likeness, voice, or other identifiable characteristic for a commercial purposes. However, the law is clear that an individual's right to control uses of his or her name and likeness must be weighed against important free speech rights. The First Amendment protects transformative uses (like the ones at freebieber.org), especially those that do not intrude on a celebrity's market for her own identifiable characteristics. So it's hard to believe that Bieber's lawyers really think he can prohibit this lawful (and effective) use of his image. More likely they, like so many others, were just hoping to scare Fight for the Future out of exercising its free speech rights.
It seems pretty absurd that Bieber's lawyers would even bother with a cease and desist here, but maybe they think that they'll get lucky. More than likely, all they'll do is trigger the Streisand effect. In trying to have the site taken down, they're probably just going to draw more attention to it.
Which might not be a bad thing. I'd really hate to see the "illegal streaming bill" make it to law, even if it might get Justin Bieber off the streets.