Peter Bowditch's Web Site

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 paedophile 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 my web site before theirs. 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.

The latest tactic used on me was an application by Meryl Dorey of the Australian Vaccination Network for a Apprehended Personal Violence Order. She submitted the application to the Court on September 5, 2012, and the violence she was complaining about was when I said on April 28, 2012, that she should not encourage people to contact my family or I might respond in an unfriendly fashion. You read those dates right – four months between the alleged threat and filing of an application, four months during which she undertook a speaking tour of NSW, announcing her whereabouts every day, four months during which she published no fewer than five defamatory blog posts about me.

AVOs are usually treated by courts as a matter of urgency, because their most common use is in cases of domestic violence or physical stalking. This case stretched across seven mentions before a full hearing was held on April 26, 2013 (two days before the anniversary of my supposed threat). Much of the delay was caused by Ms Dorey asking the Court for permission to supply more evidence and in one case by requesting that the Court extend an interim order on me that she was well aware did not exist.

It was quite clear that this was not about any personal threat of violence towards Ms Dorey. One of the conditions that Ms Dorey wanted put on me was "The defendant must not mention the applicant in any online forum in any derogatory manner".

Her application was dismissed completely, and the magistrate was less than impressed by a statement by Ms Dorey that if she didn't win it would be evidence of bias on the part of the court. The magistrate was even more scathing about the expectation that a court would (or even could) stop me from mentioning someone on the Internet. (Ms Dorey has since appealed the decision, and there will be a mention in Lismore District Court on July 29 to set a hearing date.)

Eight months of my life wasted in a blatant attempt to stifle my freedom of speech, but there were some highlights. One was Ms Dorey offering as evidence of my stalking that I had advised two music composers of possible copyright violations (she included the "thank you" emails from the composers' managers in her court submission). The other was her reaction to the decision. She tried to argue with the magistrate. And then she cried.

Copyright © 1998- Peter Bowditch

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