Attorney John Dozier has already made a couple of memorable appearances in this space, first when he asserted in a cease and desist letter that it would violate copyright law for his target to post the text of that cease and desist letter in part or in full on the web, and shortly thereafter when one of the clients of his Dozier Internet Law firm, an outfit known as Inventor-Net, purported to “strictly prohibit any links and or other unauthorized references to our web site without our permission”; Dozier’s own site had a user agreement which purported to ban linking to the site, using the firm’s name “in any manner” without permission, or even looking at the site’s source code.
Now the Virginia-based attorney is attracting attention with a new legal battle against Ronald J. Riley, a Michigan inventor and patent-law activist who has harshly criticized Dozier (and many others) in online posts and comments. Among other tactics, Riley has set up “sucks” websites that vilify Dozier and his law firm and turn up in search results on Dozier’s name. Dozier’s lawsuit against Riley invokes not defamation law, as might have been expected, but trademark law, and its most curious provision is #25, which complains that it is a trademark violation for Riley’s site to base a hyperlink on the phrase “Dozier Internet Law” and have it lead to Riley’s own attacks on the Dozier firm rather than to the Dozier firm’s site. Of course it’s long been common in online commentary to link on someone’s name and have the link point somewhere scathingly critical of them (e.g., “Erin Brockovich“). Dozier claims, perhaps implausibly, that potential clients will suffer confusion between Riley’s services and his own.
Paul Alan Levy at Public Citizen’s Consumer Law & Policy Blog writes (Oct. 2):
Although Dozier filed his lawsuit, he does not seem to have served it on Riley. Instead, he has used the making of a claim for trademark infringement to warn the hosts of Riley’s web site that if they do not take the web site down they risk a further display of Dozier’s wrath, directed at them. See here, here, and here. And his invocation of trademark law was very crafty, because although the Communications Decency Act immunizes ISP’s from liability for most claims based on the content of web sites that they host, that immunity does not extend to trademark claims.
Public Citizen has now sued for a declaratory judgment that Riley is not liable to Dozier on trademark grounds. The conflict has even aroused sympathy for Riley on TechDirt, among whose editors he had been anything but popular before.