Kirtley Publishes Article about Parody Case in "The Conversation"
Professor Jane Kirtley’s article, “Mocking the police got an Ohio man arrested - and the Supreme Court ignored The Onion’s plea to define the limits of parody,” was published in The Conversation. The case, Novak v. Parma, Ohio, et al., began when Anthony Novak created and posted a fake version of the Parma, Ohio, Police Department’s Facebook page in March 2016.
Novak copied the department’s name and profile picture onto his satirical Facebook page, but unlike the official page, Novak’s was designated a “Community” page and displayed the slogan: “We no crime,” a parody of the department’s actual slogan, “We know crime.”
During the 12 hours of its existence, Novak published six posts, all parodies. One – echoing Jonathan Swift’s classic satire, “A Modest Proposal,” that suggested Ireland’s poor sell their children as food for the rich - announced a new law forbidding residents to give “ANY HOMELESS person food, money, or shelter in our city for 90 days,” so that “the homeless population eventually leave our city due to starvation.”
Parma police promptly posted a notice on its official page, warning residents not to be fooled by Novak’s parody. Novak in turn posted that same notice on his own page, but also deleted the few posted reader comments opining that his page was fake. After police announced a criminal investigation, Novak took his page down entirely.
Novak asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in the resulting court case stemming from the police’s heavy-handed treatment of him. In late February 2023, the high court refused to take the case, forfeiting an opportunity to make a definitive statement about how far free speech protections extend when it comes to satire about government.