How to attack freedom of speech.
One of the things I have noticed over the years is that crooks and quacks (often indistinguishable) do not reach for scientists or experimenters when asked for evidence of their claims. Instead they reach for lawyers who are employed to silence criticism. The tactics vary, but he objective is always the same – make threats that imply that awful things will happen to people who don’t keep quiet. Here are a few that have been tried on me over the years.
- Copyright violation – This was used by a company who had been found by the Federal Court of Australia to be operating an illegal pyramid scheme and who didn’t like me talking about it. They claimed copyright on, among other things, a photograph which had been altered to imply that they had an entire building as their Australian headquarters when in fact they rented a single floor, material from a web site which they had denied in the Federal Court action had anything to do with them, and an email headed “Death to Ratbags” which they claimed both copyright on and total ignorance of.
- Trademark violation or dilution – This was the complaint of a doctor who used a false university degree on the covers of her books and her web sites. I didn’t bother fighting this because I had already succeeded in getting her to stop lying about her qualifications, but I’m sure I could have won in court if I tried. Think about the ramifications of not being able to mention a trademark in any published criticism or comment about any company. The idea is absurd, but apparently not as absurd as claiming that, for example, diabetes can be cured. Another person tried to claim that his name was trademarked so I couldn’t mention it but as he had published a web site about me claiming that I am a pedophile and a Nazi I didn’t really care how offended he was.
- Malicious damage to business – This was the claim by the pyramid scheme operators when they finally went to court. They made three specific claims – the owner of the building where they had their office (the building they suggested they owned in their advertising literature) had instructed the managing agents to terminate their lease and evict them, call centre operators employed by Australia’s two largest telecommunications companies had been instructed to refer callers to my criticism of the company, and, best of all, a Google search for their company name brought up their web site lower in the list than mine. This might all sound like a joke but all they had to do was prove that I’d cost them a dollar in business and they would have won the case. As one of their employees had committed perjury when swearing an affidavit in court (he had no excuse of ignorance – he was a qualified lawyer) I’m sure they could have found someone to swear that they had not done business with the company because of what I had said.
- Threat of bankruptcy – When I was sued in California along with many other people (and some non-people) by the late but not lamented cancer quack Hulda Clark, one of her minions suggested that the purpose of the action was to submit the respondents to about $100,000 in legal fees each, plus travel and accommodation costs. (The case was withdrawn when the court asked Clark’s lawyer to start producing evidence.) A quack in Sydney who had settled an action with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission lawyered up and tried to stop me reporting the facts. Her lawyers talked about long and expensive litigation but they went away when I told them that their client had issued a media release saying that they had broken no laws and the ACCC were corrupt. (I had notified the ACCC of the press release.) During the course of my case with the pyramid scheme crooks they had a windfall of $4 million when some funds frozen by a court in another matter were released. Their exact words to my barrister: “We now have unlimited funds to spend on this. Can your client say the same?”.
- General nuisance and disruption – Any legal action, win or lose, is a distraction to real life. At the very minimum you have to respond to credible threats and maybe spend a day or two in court. Clark’s lawyers had no intention of ever going to court but they wanted the respondents to brief lawyers and be ready to go to court at any time. I finally settled with the pyramid scammers because they wanted to go into discovery mode, which would have meant them taking possession of every computer I own plus my business records and keeping all this for as long as they wanted to.
- “Only people who are wrong are sued” – There are still web sites out there that pretend that the Clark case against me is continuing. I know of at least two web sites which refer to a court order made with my full consent on the very first day in court with the pyramid schemers and offer this as evidence that I lost the case. In fact, I lost business over this matter because some people simply won’t do business with someone who has upset a multinational corporation, no matter how many times that corporation has been found to be operating outside the law in other countries. Reputation is easy to lose, and often this is the only motivation for initiating legal action. Sue someone, then withdraw after the damage is done.
A new one appeared this week. On a Sunday morning I had the police at my door to inform me that an application had been made for an Apprehended Personal Violence Order against me, and I am to appear in court in three weeks at a courthouse 735 kilometres from my place by road to defend myself. The application was made on September 5 and relates to something I said on April 29, so there doesn’t appear to be much urgency to the threat. The person making the application lives 11 kilometres further away from my place than the courthouse is, so I’m not about to drop in. My violent threat was to say that someone who encouraged people to contact my family and tell them I have mental health issues should leave my family alone or I might respond and they might not like the response.
If the application were to be granted I would have certain conditions placed on me. Let’s look at what those would mean.
1. The defendant must not enter the premises at which the protected person(s) may from time to time reside or work, or other specified premises.
Would this mean that, for example, if the “protected person” came to Sydney for a court case that I would be prohibited from entering the hotel where she is staying? And what could “other specified premises” mean?
2. The defendant must not go within 100m of the premises at which the protected person(s) may from time to time reside or work, or other specified premises.
The “protected person” lives on a secondary main road that is used as the alternative route when the main highway nearby is blocked by flood or accident or major road maintenance is being carried out. It is also on the most direct route to certain tourist facilities. If I happen to be driving in the area and the police ask me to detour along this road would I be within my rights to refuse because that would take me within 100 metres of her house?
3. The defendant must not approach or contact the protected person(s) by any means whatsoever except through the defendant’s legal representatives.
So if this person joins an Internet mailing list or forum of which I am a member and which allows messages to be broadcast to all members I must get my lawyer to post messages for me in case she sees them? Do I have to block her IP address from access to my web sites in case she reads something I have written, as surely this is a form of contact? I should point out that the “protected person” is quite free to post comments on this blog or any of my web sites, to email me, to follow me on Twitter and to fully participate in any forum where I have a presence.
4. The defendant must not mention the
name of theapplicant in any online forum in any derogatory manner.
I wonder why the words “name of the” were crossed out. How else could I refer to the applicant? Oh, perhaps I could mention her position in the organisation she heads. And I wonder if there is a legal definition of “derogatory”.
Of course I will be defending this idiocy. It is nothing more than an attempt to stifle criticism and prevent me from speaking out on a matter of extreme public importance. It takes some thickness of hide to think that someone can accuse me of criminal activity, refer to me using words like “total slime” and facilitate other people lying about my (non-existent) criminal record and expect me to lie down and be silenced.
UPDATE April 26, 2013
On April 26, 2013, the AVO application against me was dismissed in the Lismore Local Court. The applicant cried while trying to argue with the magistrate after the decision was announced. The emotionally choked voice just made my victory even sweeter.