Metro’s cage rattled by spoof

Posted on 04/07/2010


The Metro has obtained a High Court injunction against “all persons responsible for the publication and/or distribution” of a Metro spoof paper that was distributed by campaigners at London tube stations on Friday morning. But since the spoof was produced and distributed anonymously, the injunction seems to have been served upon the wrong people, in what appears to be a guilty-by-association verdict.

The spoof paper, which has also been circulated on the web, has a similar masthead and layout to the free daily, with a zero instead of the O. The owners of Metro, Associated Newspapers Limited, claim this is an infringement of the company’s trademark copyrights, while campaigners argue the company directors “do not have a sense of humour” and have “gone too far in suppressing free speech to protect their commercial interests.”

Under the headline “Gordon Brown to be deported to Scotland,” the front frontpage story claimed the former prime minister was facing imminent removal back to his “home country,” as the new coalition government introduced new immigration rules that imposed further restrictions on “non-English nationals.” Alongside the article, a manipulated picture showed Gordon Brown being arrested by two policemen at a beer festival in Cambridge.

Tens of thousands of copies of the spoof paper were distributed by 50 or so people wearing white T-shirts bearing the Metro logo during rush hour at 20 busy stations around the capital. The ‘spoofing operation’ was apparently part of ‘two days of action against racist press’, called by a coalition of anti-racist and migrant rights groups under the name Press Action. A blog bearing the same name had been set up about a month before, with the aim of “exposing and taking action against racist and anti-migrant bias in mainstream media.” [1]

The callout for the days of action, circulated around various campaign websites and mailing lists, had called upon “all concerned groups and individuals to stand up to counter fear with action on the 2nd and 3rd July” and “put the racist press in the spotlight” by taking “autonomous, decentralised actions and protests against racist press across the UK.” [2]

Represented by Bird & Bird LLP, Associated Newspapers sought a High Court injunction until 10:30am on Monday, ordering the respondents to “not publish or distribute in any way (including by way of the Internet) any publication which purports to be ‘Metro’ or any other publication of the applicant.” The legal action seems to have stemmed from an assumption that the spoof might be distributed again on Saturday, which turned out to be unfounded speculation and a waste of judges’ time.

A copy of the injunction order was subsequently sent by Katharine Stephens of Bird & Bird to the people running the Press Action blog [3], presuming they were behind the spoof. A statement by Press Action, however, said they “had nothing to do with the publication and distribution of the spoof” and had merely received an electronic copy from the anonymous spoofers, along with a press release [4], which they then circulated and posted on their blog.

The blog has since taken the spoof down but it can be accessed on numerous other activists and websites. A statement by Press Action maintained that, “despite not being the respondents, we have complied with the court order as a gesture of goodwill.”

Metro’s official website had also been spoofed as part of the spoofing operation, with a similar layout but with the spoof paper’s content instead, and a web link (URL) substituting the O with zero (

It is understood that Associated Newspapers has also contacted the US-based company that apparently hosts the spoof site, asking that they take it down, which they have refused to do, according to the injunction hearing records.

A Whois check on the spoof website [5] shows that it registered under the name ‘Press Action’ and an address in Whitechapel, London, that belongs to a social centre known as the London Action Resource Centre.

LARC describes itself as a “collectively run building providing space and resources for different activist groups” and is, indeed, used by many people who do not necessarily know each other or know what the others might be doing.

A spokesperson for Press Action said: “It is very likely that whoever did the spoof was inspired by our callout and wanted to use our name and register the domain with a common address, such as LARC’s, to protect their anonymity. To argue that LARC is “clearly involved with the two days of action,” as the Metro solicitors did in court, is just a desperate search for a scapegoat that is guilty by association.”

Asked by the judge what damage the spoof had caused their client, the Associated Newspapers solicitors argued that the Metro “avowedly doesn’t take a political stance. The damage to the brand and goodwill [of the paper’s owners] is unquantifiable. The people behind the spoof are avowedly political. They are piggybacking on the goodwill built up in the brand since 1999 to espouse their own political cause.”

Unconvinced by this argument, and repeatedly expressing his concern that “this is a case of make haste and repent at leisure,” the judge asks, “Are you seriously suggesting that your clients will suffer damage [as a result of the spoof]?” to which the solicitor replies, “It is an intangible damage to my client’s goodwill, that is, it effects what people will think about its product.”


[1] The blog is at

[2] The callout can be found at

[3] A copy of the injunction order, along with the proceedings and the applicant’s notes submitted to the judge, are attached herewith.

[4] The Metr0 press release can be found at



1. Injunction order (pdf)

2. Note handed to Judge (pdf)

3. Note of hearing (pdf)