Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing covers the story the story of how Houston’s Burzynski Clinic has been “sending threatening letters to bloggers who questioned the science behind Burzynski’s therapy.” In particular, Ken at Popehat has been crossing swords with one particular correspondent who has been making menacing noises about the clinic’s reputational interests.
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.
Just by browsing the website of a company called Inventor-Link, visitors supposedly consent to abide by the terms of a “user agreement” which “strictly” prohibits them from using not only any of the site’s content but even its name without express permission. “Furthermore, we strictly prohibit any links and or other unauthorized references to our web site without our permission.” The company is invoking these terms in a cease and desist letter “in an attempt to stop criticism of the company that appears on InventorEd.org, a website that provides information about invention promotion businesses and scams.” Inventor-Link’s law firm? None other than Dozier Internet Law, criticized in this space and many others last week over its claim that its nastygrams are themselves the subject of copyright and cannot be posted on the web. And the Dozier firm’s own website has a user agreement that purports to prohibit “linking to its website, using the firm’s name ‘in any manner’ without permission,” and, weirdest of all, even looking at its source code by clicking on your browser’s “view source code” command. (Greg Beck, Consumer Law & Policy, Oct. 17). More: Boing Boing, TechDirt (including comment that reads, in its entirety, “You are not allowed to read this comment”), Slashdot.
Ted has briefly mentioned (Oct. 8) the recent doings of an outfit called Dozier Internet Law, whose cease and desist letter to a consumer-complaint site not only demanded that the site take down certain statements about Dozier’s client, DirectBuy, but also asserted that the cease and desist letter was itself the subject of copyright and could not be posted in part or full on the web. Eric Turkewitz, having called this approach “chuckleheaded” in an initial post (Oct. 5 — scroll), is now all over the story (Oct. 9 and Oct. 11), especially after attorney John Dozier of the firm in question submitted a comment whose clueless snippiness really must be seen to be believed.