My blog has been threatened with legal action by author John Gray

I received an email last week that looked like spam. So I ignored it, but I left in my inbox and said to myself that I would look at it later – most spams don’t ask for receipts.

A few days later I opened the email, and seen that it was addressed to me but with a PDF attachment, I tried to open the attachment. No luck. “OE removed access to the following unsafe attachments in your mail” it said. So I was left with what looked like a legitimate email, but not able to open it. I then dutifully emailed back, saying that I was unable to open the attachment.

A friend offered to take a look, and asked me to forward to him, by clicking forward it gave me access to the attachment. So I opened it.

To my surprise it was a formal letter from a firm, Phillips, Erlewine & Given LLP, Attorneys at Law, with a subject “Cal. Civ. Code 48a Demand for Correction”. I was being told in the letter that I must retract a remark made on my blog last November, and to publish an apology, within three weeks. The remark is considered it said “false, unprivileged, and defamatory”.

My reaction? I think a little shock mixed with surprise that my little blog could be the subject of such an action. And not even from my own jurisdiction, or continent, not even from a US Federal law as such, but from California. From San Francisco.

A copy of the letter is now available on my blog. In PDF format, so get your Adobe reader ready.

The letter refers to this entry. This entry in turn links to Deborah Branscum’s blog, where she talks about the same issue. I have been in touch with Deborah and she has not received any demand for retraction in relation to her blog entry.

The email was sent on the 10th of March so the deadline by which I have to comply with the demands set out in the letter is the 31st of March. Unfortunately I will not be in my own jurisdiction on that day, I will instead be in Canada. So what to do?

I better ask my friends in the blogging community for advice. I am not seeking a campaign for vindication, but I will attempt over the next number of days to detail the story, the ins and outs of internationl legal jurisdiction, the possibility of being sued from another country – and what exactly constitutes defamatory remarks.

What does this mean for blogging? What does this mean for the future of online publishing? And can anyone point to examples where bloggers have been successfully sued, or have been issued with letters such as the one I have received. Answers on a postcard please to this address : gavin at gavinsblog dot com.

This entry was posted in John Gray. Bookmark the permalink.

70 Responses to My blog has been threatened with legal action by author John Gray

  1. Lurker says:

    I think it is interesting that the law firm does not try to defend the accreditation of the MREU where Mr. Gray received his “BA” and his “Masters.” In my opinion these degrees wouldn’t pass the sniff test for job application and the failure of the law firm to assert the accreditation of MREU is a tacit admission that you are very nearly completely right.

  2. Brian Reilly says:

    Some years ago, one of the San Francisco area weekly newspapers — either the SF Bay Guardian or the East Bay Express — had a long story about “Dr.” John Gray and his Ph.D. I believe the story mentioned that the institution which granted the Ph.D. was not accredited and that he had only taken correspondence courses. I have referred to this case in my own classes when we talk about the credibility of online courses and degrees. Since he’s a pretty well-known person who is always called “Dr.” he makes a good example of how far you can go without much substance to your title. I don’t believe he could get hired by an accredited university with his Ph.D. and I’m not sure that just because some institution granted him that title that it is “valid” Ph.D. as someone said. You can buy degrees like that on the Internet.

  3. Sheela says:

    One approach would be to continue to blog posting more detailed information about the degree and the university, factual information. The California government site and various sites like QuackWatch have the details. The degree is valid because the law regulating degree mills postdated the issuance of the degree. The college came under the “grandfather” clause of the law. When the college applied for accredidation, it was denied. So the degree is technically valid under the grandfather clause. The college was a correspondence college, not a residential college. Various current requirements for degree-issuing institutions were not met, but at the time the rules were more lax. You could post information like this, and ask Gray’s attorneys for more detailed information, such as how many days he spent on campus, who was in charge of his thesis, whether contact with this person was via mail or in person, how many credits were issued for life experience rather than for classes completed at the university, etc., etc.

  4. Martin says:

    You stated fact, which may, or may not be true.

    Simply edit the entry with the prefix: “According to….”, and you’re off the hook.

    Publish a retraction, and it’s over.

    In future, never, ever state for fact that which you cannot verify to be true, or which does not reflect your own views.

    Cover your ass.

  5. Jeff says:

    One suggestion is to contact some big name US law professors who may be willing to take the matter on for free because of potential publicity and because many of these people will be so intrigued by the legal question involved that they may do it for that reason alone.

    I’m an Assistant U.S. Attorney so I can’t take the case, but email me and I may be able to help you search for potential takers.

  6. John Gray is sensitive about the rigor needed to complete his PhD. Compare it to the effort exerted by Ian Paisley to earn his doctorate. Both men want the stature afforded by doctoral status. To demean that status brings on the attorneys.

    When I’ve received similar letters, I neither acknowledged them nor published my receipt of them. Doing both invites a cross-fire. Be ready for what may unfold — like a summons when you land stateside. That gets sticky so if you don’t intend on landing in a US airport (traveling instead through Canada or Mexico) you will long evade the arm of the law, just like the Skype (aka Kazaa) team is are able to do when they romp into the USA.

  7. Dear Gavin, Stick to your guns. And if the author does bring suit against you, counter-sue for wrongful prosecution. The elements will most likely be…
    1. If a reader picks up a self-help book of the shelf and reads the “about the author” section and sees PHD, is it reasonable to assume that the PHD is a degree the author obtained from an accredited college and as such, that would make the author an authority on the subjectmatter contained in the book?
    2. Would the PHD have a positive effect on sales of the book?
    3. Would the reader feel jipped if they were to find out that the PHD is NOT from an accredited university?
    4. Might that knowledge negatively effect sales of the book?
    You do the math Gavin. As a reporter, you have the license to report the facts and on a factual stance, you’re absolutely correct. So don’t let anybody tell you different. If they want to clarify the authors education publically…fine, let em, but don’t give a “snake oil salesman” the benefit of the doubt. People who read those stupid assed books may not be the brightest, but that doesn’t mean they should be saps either.

  8. Profwill says:

    As a faculty member in an accredited higher educational institution, I’d like to provide some additional information on accreditation.

    There are a lot of educational institutions with dubious accreditations. The author in question may have legitimately acquired a degree from an institution but that does not mean that the degree is worth anything much. A number of people have received such degrees “innocently”, not realizing that the college or university is not properly accredited. It can be very confusing.

    In the United States, accreditation is used to assure quality in educational institutions and programs. Accreditation is a voluntary, non-governmental process of peer review. It requires an educational institution or program to meet certain, defined standards or criteria. Accreditation is sometimes confused with certification. In general, institutions and programs are accredited, and individuals are certified.

    There are two types of accreditation — institutional and specialized. Institutional accreditors, such as those referred to as “regional” accreditors, examine the college or university as a whole educational institution. Specialized accreditors evaluate specific educational programs. Professional accreditors, such as those for medicine, law, architecture and engineering, etc. fall into this category. Therefore, in addition to the general accreditation, an institution may need to get specialized accrediatation.

    Accreditation serves to notify: Parents and prospective students that a program has met minimum standards; Faculty, deans and administrators of a program’s strengths and weaknesses and of ways to improve the program; Employers that graduates are adequately prepared in their given field, among a number of other purposes.

    The most recognized general accrediting institutions are the regional ones. Applicable to the California area is the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

    If a general educational institution is not accredited by WASC, you may want to scrutinize it a little closer. Those of us who are in higher ed know better than to get an degree from any questionable source. It would not be recognized or compensated by our employers.

  9. Edward Schizoidhands says:

    Apart from the legal issues, there’s the matter of fairness. If he has a PhD, he has a PhD, then you were wrong and should correct your post.

  10. James says:

    All I can say is beware of Law Firms not using Word. I’m impressed that a firm using Word Perfect could figure out how to email the document to you. At least they weren’t using WordStar or AmiPro.

  11. houdou says:

    Ple-azee!

  12. C.G. Niebank, III says:

    Gavin, I’d tell ‘em to get stuffed. All you did was repeat and link to charges made by others.

  13. novalis says:

    James, law firms have a large installed base of WP. It’s not luddism — it’s tradition. Anyway, they’re probably not using wp5.1 for DOS — they’re using the latest, which is more-or-less the same as Word or OpenOffice.

  14. Colonel Ribby Knish says:

    I’m going on the record here and now:

    “Dr.” John Gray is a pederast, a panty-sniffer, a card-carrying communist, a Ku Klux Klansman, a wife-beater, a space alien, a cartoon character named “Poopy,” a hermaphrodite, and a slob – in my opinion.

    ribby knish

  15. Bronson says:

    Gavin,
    I’m no lawyer (yet), so please don’t take this as anything like legal advice. I think your uncertainty about what to do is founded, and the question of whether Mr./Dr./Con-man? Gray can do anything to you is certainly not easily decided in his favor.

    1. California courts CANNOT touch you directly unless you fall under their long-arm statutes. I don’t think anybody could argue with any weight that your blog constitutes regular and substantial contact with the state of California.

    2. If they want to sue you, they will *probably* have to do so in your home-country. Then, your liability will be determined by your local laws, NOT California laws.

    3. How do you know the email is authentic? It’s not YOUR job to chase down the sender’s identity. I don’t know that the email can truly serve as notice, since you don’t have anything post-marked from them. Again, I don’t know, but I think they’ve got a real problem.

    4. Defamation/libel law in America is not all that clear-cut on this issue. As a celebrity, Mr./Dr./Con-man? Gray has to prove malice in your post to be able to recover, and disgust probably won’t get him there. Your accusation, which the lawyers have characterized as “libel per se” is not necessarily correct. If you had said “he’s committing fraud” then that would be more clearly libel per se. You do seem to be indicating that he is not qualified to do his job, but not that he is unable to perform it competently, which is another way to prove “libel per se.”

    For what it’s worth, I think you’re probably on good ground and fairly well out of Mr./Dr./Con-man? Gray’s reach since you are in another country. If you DO have significant contact with California DIRECTLY by your own actions (I don’t think that publishing a blog which is available to the whole world can be characterized in that manner), then you will probably have to take the threat more seriously. If so (or if you just want to have fun in American courts), get a good (California) attorney and tell your adversaries, “Make me, ya bunch of bottom-feeding butt-plugs!”

    As a resident of a foreign nation, you can get this into Federal Court which will be more expensive for THEM. I would check into whether you would have much chance of getting yor attorney fees reimbursed if/when you win.

    Keep us posted!
    B.
    (I am not an attorney, and nothing I have written should be taken as legal advice!)

  16. Anonyman says:

    California Code of Civil Procedure

    Sec. 425.16. Claim Arising from Person’s Exercise of Constitutional Right of Petition or Free Speech — Special Motion to Strike.

    (a) The Legislature finds and declares that there has been a disturbing increase in lawsuits brought primarily to chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for the redress of grievances. The Legislature finds and declares that it is in the public interest to encourage continued participation in matters of public significance, and that this participation should not be chilled through abuse of the judicial process. To this end, this section shall be construed broadly.

    (b) (1) A cause of action against a person arising from any act of that person in furtherance of the person’s right of petition or free speech under the United States or California Constitution in connection with a public issue shall be subject to a special motion to strike, unless the court determines that the plaintiff has established that there is a probability that the plaintiff will prevail on the claim. (2) In making its determination, the court shall consider the pleadings, and supporting and opposing affidavits stating the facts upon which the liability or defense is based. (3) If the court determines that the plaintiff has established a probability that he or she will prevail on the claim, neither that determination nor the fact of that determination shall be admissible in evidence at any later stage of the case, and no burden of proof or degree of proof otherwise applicable shall be affected by that determination.

    (c) In any action subject to subdivision (b), a prevailing defendant on a special motion to strike shall be entitled to recover his or her attorney’s fees and costs. If the court finds that a special motion to strike is frivolous or is solely intended to cause unnecessary delay, the court shall award costs and reasonable attorney’s fees to a plaintiff prevailing on the motion, pursuant to Section 128.5.

    (d) This section shall not apply to any enforcement action brought in the name of the people of the State of California by the Attorney General, district attorney, or city attorney, acting as a public prosecutor.

    (e) As used in this section, “act in furtherance of a person’s right of petition or free speech under the United States or California Constitution in connection with a public issue” includes: (1) any written or oral statement or writing made before a legislative, executive, or judicial proceeding, or any other official proceeding authorized by law; (2) any written or oral statement or writing made in connection with an issue under consideration or review by a legislative, executive, or judicial body, or any other official proceeding authorized by law; (3) any written or oral statement or writing made in a place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest; (4) or any other conduct in furtherance of the exercise of the constitutional right of petition or the constitutional right of free speech in connection with a public issue or an issue of public interest.
    (f) The special motion may be filed within 60 days of the service of the complaint or, in the court’s discretion, at any later time upon terms it deems proper. The motion shall be noticed for hearing not more than 30 days after service unless the docket conditions of the court require a later hearing.

    (g) All discovery proceedings in the action shall be stayed upon the filing of a notice of motion made pursuant to this section. The stay of discovery shall remain in effect until notice of entry of the order ruling on the motion. The court, on noticed motion and for good cause shown, may order that specified discovery be conducted notwithstanding this subdivision.

    (h) For purposes of this section, “complaint” includes “cross-complaint” and “petition,” “plaintiff” includes “cross-complainant” and “petitioner,” and “defendant” includes “cross-defendant” and “respondent.”

    (i) On or before January 1, 1998, the Judicial Council shall report to the Legislature on the frequency and outcome of special motions made pursuant to this section, and on any other matters pertinent to the purposes of this section.

    (j) An order granting or denying a special motion to strike shall be appealable under Section 904.1.

    (k) (1) Any party who files a special motion to strike pursuant to this section, and any party who files an opposition to a special motion to strike, shall, promptly upon so filing, transmit to the Judicial Council, by e-mail or fax, a copy of the endorsed-filed caption page of the motion or opposition, a copy of any related notice of appeal or petition for a writ, and a conformed copy of any order issued pursuant to this section, including any order granting or denying a special motion to strike, discovery, or fees.

    (2) The Judicial Council shall maintain a public record of information transmitted pursuant to this subdivision for at least three years, and may store the information on microfilm or other appropriate electronic media.

    LEGISLATIVE HISTORY: Added by Stats.1992, c. 726 (SB 1264), sec. 2. Amended by: Stats.1993, c. 1239 (SB 9), sec. 1, adding subd. (i) and substituting “shall” for “may” preceding “award costs” in subd. (c); Stats.1997, c. 271 (SB 1296), sec. 1, adding last sentence in subd. (a), adding subd. (e)(4), numbering subds. (e)(1)-(3), moving second sentence of subd. (g) to be second sentence of subd. (f), adding new subd. (h), and relettering former subd. (h) as subd. (i); and Stats.1999, c. 960 (AB 1675), sec. 1, adding subds. (j) and (k).

  17. Owen says:

    Men are from Earth, women are from Earth. John Gray may be from Uranus.

  18. Christopher Miller says:

    I’m not a lawyer, but you should comply. Gray never said his degrees were from acredited schools. Just comply with their request and list what his actual “degrees” are in. I think that Gray is an idiot. More people will know that his degrees are BS because of the attention he brought to your blog.

  19. Joe Baby says:

    Gray and his Atty’s picked up a rock and started a landslide.

    Sidebar: is it a “real” university if they don’t have a fightsong?

    P.S. There’s no “there” there!

  20. Jarvis says:

    I am an attorney, and let me say that Bronson is wrong, you can be sued in California, it would have jurisdiction over you. (For the lawyers, the case is Calder v. Jones, 465 US 783 (1984). A case almost directly on point, and has been applied by the Ninth Circuit in internet cases). The law student who posted otherwise really has no idea what he is talking about.

    Besides the issue of whether you can be haled into California courts, I would be certain that no attorney in their right mind would do so because they would have zero chance of success on the merits. Your statement is clearly an assertion of opinion, not of fact, (see the Larry Flynt case). End of story.

  21. Why has no one questioned the SECOND half of that letter . . . The National Academy for Certified Family Therapists? Mmmm. If it is the same organization I am thinking about, it went through quite a few issues, emerging finally as The National Credentialing Academy – sponsored by International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors. I doubt that he could get certified by this NCA today with those educational credentials; it certainly seems to fall short of their current requirements. You should check (www.natlacad.4t.com) and see if he is still certified. As for ACA membership, that just takes a check :-)

  22. Mac Diva says:

    You don’t need to do anything, Gavin. Even if Gray were to go forward, truth is a complete defense to defamation. From what I’ve heard, his doctorate IS from a diploma mill.

    I don’t buy the tortured claim that saying ‘fraud’ is key here since you obviously meant ‘misleading’ and a PhD from a diploma mill is misleading.

    If I were you, I would be thinking of a way to turn this harassment to my advantage. After all, Gray has millions. Why not come up with a way to get him to share?

  23. Jesus of Nazareth says:

    As someone who’s been faculty myself, I wonder if you have a reasonable defense on the grounds of truth. Consider this analogy: I go to my friend, the artist, and he draws me a very nice “driver’s license” which asserts I have the right to drive anywhere in the State of California, and is covered in official-looking script and seals. He makes it look as much as possible like the real license issued by the State, but he makes sure that it is, in fact, legally distinguishable via some fine print somewhere on the back.

    Now I go out for drinks with the mates. Everyone but me gets blasted, oh dear. So one of my mates turns to me and says (weaving a little from side to side, holding out the car keys): Say, can you drive? You do you have a California driver’s license, right? And I say: you bet! and I wave my “license” briefly in front of his bleary eyes, which, without benefit of a mental focussing effort which he far too gone to supply, looks genuine. Off we go. . .

    Have I been a fraud? I’d say so. What my friends *meant* — what any reasonable person would mean — when they said “do you have a driver’s license?” is: do you have a driver’s license issued by the State of California? Certainly NOT: do you have an object which someone, somewhere has earnestly asserted to be a “California driver’s license.” And, of course, I would know that. I would quite consciously be trying to deceive them. With a good chance of doing harm, depending on what happens when I take the wheel. That is, I would indeed be committing a fraud.

    Now just substitute “Ph.D. degree” for “driver’s license” in the analogy.

    That is, when someone says “I have a Ph.D.”, ask yourself what a reasonable man thinks it means. Surely he thinks it means: “I have a Ph.D. from an accredited institution of higher learning.” Certainly NOT: I have a piece of paper that has the words ‘Ph.D.’ and my name on it issued by any old collection of random fools. Hell, if that were not the case, why would anyone pay all that money to get a “real” college degree? Why not just form a neighborhood association and charge each other $50 for a “diploma”?

    And if this were *not* the case, if accreditation were a purely optional oak-leave-cluster part of a degree, just a nice finishing touch, and in particular if the the people of the State of California, as represented by their government, were not firmly convinced that this university in particular was gravely misleading people when it asserted its graduates had a “Ph.D. degree” in the common-sense meaning of that phrase, then the State would not have shut the place down. It seems to me the State’s action is tantamount to an assertion that the university’s “degrees” were *not* degrees in the usual meaning of the word.

    And, of course, this fellow knows that. That’s why he’s upset.

  24. maca says:

    Man no wonder…

    “The author of [….] John Gray, is a fraud.”

    What do you expect? Just publish a retraction and save yourself some grief.
    Hardly worth fighting over…

  25. toe-bay says:

    An ear;ier poster said

    “But if we expressed it as an opinion, or a question, it probably wouldn’t be considered libel. I don’t remember if quoting another source would be considered libel.” Posted by: Sherri at March 19, 2004 08:40 AM

    Why dont you just add a Question mark at the end of the word fraud. john gray…Fraud?

    Hope john gray gets a life? and starts prosecuting real criminals?

  26. Emily says:

    Toe-bay’s hit the nail on the head. Simply replace “fraud” with the word “idiot”. Surely he has no legal recourse for your expressing an opinion.

  27. martin says:

    Hey I would just do what they asks its no big deal and why do you want to cause yourself all this aggro.

  28. lee jones says:

    “The author of [….] John Gray, is a fraud.”

    What do you expect? Just publish a retraction and save yourself some grief.
    Hardly worth fighting over…

    I agree

  29. Anne says:

    Please Do post the out come.Its very intersting case.

  30. big al says:

    don’t buy the tortured claim that saying ‘fraud’ is key here since you obviously meant ‘misleading’ and a PhD from a diploma mill is misleading.

  31. Gavin,

    I’m no solicitor but I think you should treat this the exact same as if you were publishing a newspaper. If you think that the original post was mistaken, just publish a correction, that is all they appear to be asking for.

  32. John says:

    Gavin, what does it cost you to go along with this. However, read this too. http://www.insideedition.com/investigative/johngray.htm He may or may not have a valid PhD. I frankly don’t know.

    What you should do – for you your own sake – is publish the retraction – DAILY with a little note about how you were forced to do so by a rich, successful author. You will comply with his lawyer’s wishes, but also do yourself a big favor. Produce and release a press release indicating that this man has threatened you – the papers here and some in the UK and maybe even the US would probably lap it up. He may make you a star!

    I’ve had serious threats of libel thrown at me over the years (with nuzhound.com) and it’s nerve-wracking. This doesn’t look like a battle worth fighting to me, but it is an opportunity for some publicity.

  33. raptor says:

    Could it possibly be that your blog made a statement whereas Deborah’s refered to others having made such statements. A retraction to include the fact you were reporting what someone else had said and not your personal opinion should suffice. Either that or a call to all U.S citizens to support the cause and dig the real dirt on this guy.

  34. jmc says:

    Here is a very simple solution. Ask the lawyers for the correct information regarding his PhD and then offer to publish that information as a correction.

    Ask them for the details of his undergraduate and postgraduate record, just the general details, and the subject of his doctoral thesis, his supervisor etc, and make this information the body of the correction.

    If his PhD is genuine, and therefore your posting was incorrect, then his lawyers should have no problem supplying this information for the correction.

    If the lawyers balk at this reasonable demand then they maybe moving into SLAPP terrority which will give a big legal club to strike back with.

  35. Karlin says:

    Hi Gavin —

    Having read through your post, and the lawyer’s letter, I think the issue here is not so much the repetition of information on Deborah’s weblog, which is fact, but the use of the word “fraud”.

    What the lawyers say is technically correct. He did get the degree from what was a recognised university. He isn’t making up the degree, although one can draw plenty of implications about the rigours of getting such a degree and that way in which the state of CA viewed the institution. Notably, they do not dispute the later closure of the university etc.

    But Grey’s listing the degree as a degree he has earned isn’t fraudulent (though saying he had one when he didn’t, would be). Using that word has very specific implications — an intention to deceive by stating as truth that which is not — and would almost surely be construed as libellous in the context in which it is used. This would be the likely interpretation of California libel law (which I had to study in high school/university for publications I worked for in Calif), and under Irish law it would be the same.

    The wise thing to do IMHO is print a retraction. Newspapers do this all the time. You can within the context of the clarification state that he has a degree etc etc and go ahead and add the other context for the nature of the institution as described by Deborah as that is further factual information. This is just not worth contesting as it would be seen by the courts here or there as pretty cut and dried. It is just unfortunate that this single entry came to their attention.

    As a blog publisher, every blogger becomes liable under international libel laws for statements made on a blog, because it is public publication, so to speak, designed to be read by an audience at large. Pursuing a blogger so far seems pretty rare. Unfortunately for personal publishing, bloggers carry the legal responsibilities of large publishers but rarely have the same legal resources. Before notifying press etc about this I would very much advise consulting with a lawyer as to whether publishing a retraction would curtail their ability to go ahead and sue for libel anyway. If you could be pursued, there’s no point in stinging them into actually suing as they would almost certainly win and the California and Irish courts are prone to awarding very large damages plus costs.

  36. Gavin, see what Lawrence Lessig has to say about this:

    http://www.lessig.org/blog/

    This is an interesting case. Can a United States lawyer force someone outside of the United States to retract a statement and publish an apology? I’m not sure about this. Where is your blog hosted?

  37. PanJack says:

    I’d say, “I used the wrong word to describe John Gray: he is not actually a “fraud.” I really meant to say he was a “charlatan.” I apologise.”

  38. Apparently, according to the Penn and Teller show of the same name, you can use the word “bullshit” without opening yourself up to libel lawsuits. ( http://www.sho.com/site/ptbs/about.do )

    While there is some good advice posted here, your best bet is to talk to a lawyer if you don’t intened to retract your statement (or maybe even if you do). It’s not a situation anyone ever wants to be in, but it can save you a lot of legal trouble down the road.

  39. Charles says:

    I’ve put up a lengthy article, with a video, regarding the quality of education that John Gray would have received at a Maharishi University, you can view it at this location:

    http://ceicher.homeunix.com/archives/000683.html

  40. Sherri says:

    One of my teachers was an attorney; he said if we made an absolute statement about someone that was damaging, it could be considered libel.

    But if we expressed it as an opinion, or a question, it probably wouldn’t be considered libel. I don’t remember if quoting another source would be considered libel.

    Are emailed legal notices binding? What if he hadn’t opened that email (or blogged that he’d received it)?

  41. Sherri says:

    I forgot to add the part about “if we could PROVE that the damaging statement was the TRUTH” then it wouldn’t be libel, just telling the truth (what my teacher taught us about libel).

  42. Colm says:

    Gavin,
    As some others have said, I think your only mistake was to refer to Gray, straight out, as a ‘fraud’. If you’d simply refered to other reports that his qualifications are being questioned, that’s protected by a legal defence known as “fair comment on a matter of public interest” (or whatever the latin translation of that is).

    Best go ahead and apologise. Mind you, my own thoughts for Gray and his bullying lawyers would be “Bloggers are from earth, Questionable Authors are from earth. Get over it!”

  43. I’ve had quite a bit of training in libel law (I’m a journalist, so it’s part of the job) and essentially, I’m afraid to say that you should print a retraction (whether you *legally* have to, as your blog isn’t “published” in California, is a different matter).

    The facts are that Gray has a valid PhD. While you can argue whether MERU is a decent enough place of learning, the university where Gray obtained his PhD was recognised at the time. Therefore, to present him as a fraud is damaging to his reputation, and therefore libellous.

    Note that there is NOTHING to stop you following up with posts that question the validity of his degree, as long as you stick to the facts. Something that’s factually accurate cannot be libellous. Calling someone a fraud, however, suggests they have deliberately sought to obtain something by deception. There’s no evidence of that in Gray’s case.

  44. Oh, and Gavin: If I were you I would immediately remove the original post. By linking to it here, and because of the coverage it’s getting, you’re opening yourself up to far greater potential damages, as damages are calculated in part by how widespread the libel has become.

  45. Lance Knobel says:

    I have loads of experience as a journalist resolving libel issues in the UK and some knowledge of US libel.

    Ian Betteridge’s advice is sound. Before you do anything, however, you should have a “without prejudice” discussion with Gray’s lawyers to confirm that your retraction and amendment to the original post will constitute full and final settlement of any claim he might have.

    This is despite it being very difficult for a public figure (which is what Gray is) to successfully pursue a libel claim in the US (as opposed to the UK). For public figures in the US, the falsity of a statement is not sufficient to prove libel. It has to be false and done with “malice aforethought”. This is the consequence of the landmark Sullivan v NY Times decision.

    Additionally, it’s questionable how far anyone could press a judgment against you, since you are not domiciled in the US and presumably have no assets there to seize.

    But the nuisance value of these kind of lawyer’s letters is that it’s generally better for you to hold up your hands (see all the comments above about that problematical word “fraud”) and be done with it.

    Again, confirm that it will be done with it before you act. The worst thing would be to post something apologetic on your site and for the lawyers to remain unsatisfied.

  46. Erin Ptacek says:

    The first two things that occur to me are:

    – Did you intend to state that he is a fraud, or merely refer to something that you had read stating he is a fraud? Sometimes the wording of statements are tricky, and the internet is a thick filter, as are many media in print. Sentences that end in a period are often considered declarative, and convey belief in the statement on the part of the author. If you had been recorded making the same statement, might your inflection have indicated surprise or query?

    – Second, is it even legal correspondance to send someone a PDF attachment via electronic mail? Consider the problems you had accessing the attachment. It seems to me that any serious threat would have arrived by post with a paper trail.

  47. since1968 says:

    Gavin, a lot of the responses above have been thoughtful, but the only proper course of action is to obtain the services of counsel in your jurisdiction, and not rely on legal advice posted to a blog comment. Good luck.

  48. Jeff says:

    Don’t apologize. Don’t do anything. Let the jerk sue you. Defend yourself, without a lawyer, because some lawyers will come forward & do it for nothing. They want the publicity.
    Remember what happened to David Irving in England when he sued Deborah Lipstadt & destroyed himself in the process. Also in London, McDonald’s sued 2 vegetarians, who had no money & defended themselves, & passed out leaflets condemning McDonald’s meat. That trial, which became known as the “McLibel case” took 2 years & made McDonald’s look like absolute idiots. McDonald’s won a couple of thousand pounds damages from these 2, but cost themselves millions in daily bad publicity. And British libel laws are far more strict than the USA. Gray must prove you had “malice” to win.
    Tell Gray to go to hell!

  49. Jeff D. says:

    what about saying:

    I’m sorry for linking to this article which I reasonably relied on for my characterization of Mr. Gray as a fraud.

    Also, you should know that under most US states’ laws, Mr. Gray is considered a “public figure” and as such, he has a much higher burden of proving slander or defamation then the average person.

  50. kodi says:

    Just to clarify – Cal. Civ. Code 48a is in place to protect organizations that report news with very short lead times. It’s not the foundation for whatever suit they may wish to threaten; it’s a hurdle they’re concerned they need to clear. If your publication is protected by the statute, and they don’t send the demand letter, the damages they can seek will be limited. I have no idea how international libel suits work, but the code they’re citing isn’t the foundation for them.

    “Section 48a extends protection in recognition of the necessity to disseminate news while it is new, even if untrue, but whose falsity there is neither time nor opportunity to ascertain.” Condit v. Nat’l Enquirer, 248 F. Supp. 2d 945 (E.D. Cal. 2002).
    http://www.casp.net/condit-1.html

  51. Ed Cogburn says:

    The New York Times case ought to be good enough to carry you through (please get legal advice, since this is not it). The comment seems fair enough to me.

    Ed Cogburn

  52. Al Bonnyman says:

    The attorney’s letter notes that Columbia Pacific was “California-approved”.

    I’m not an expert on accreditation — you’ll want to research what follows to be sure it’s correct:

    For a degree to be meaningful in the U.S., I think that universities have to be “accredited” by a recognized accreditation body. These are not state governments but rather independent bodies such as the American Psychological Association.

    I don’t know what California does in the way of “approving” universities — it may be something totally unrelated such as licensing the cafeteria to serve meals or issuing it a simple business license.

    Interestingly, the top-ranked hit on a Google search for the terms “degree accreditation Ph.D.” turns up a site (“Rebuttal from Uranus”) about John Gray and his degree:

    http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/women_rebuttal_from_uranus/school.htm

    Good luck!

  53. Dan Lyke says:

    Used to drive by Columbia Pacific University on the way home from work until the California Departnent of Consumer Affairs shut ‘em down.

    If you’re just doing casual web searches

    http://www.slpab.ca.gov/minutes_20031024_board.pdf

    has mention of the legitimacy of Columbia Pacific University in these Department of Consumer Affairs minutes, and while I’d hate to cite the Point Reyes Light http://www.ptreyeslight.com/ for anything serious, terms in

    http://www.ptreyeslight.com/stories/dec30_99/ruling.html

    and

    http://www.ptreyeslight.com/stories/jan13_00/les_carr.html

    might give you names and resources to offer up some well researched smackdown.

    (And if you want to take this somewhere, maybe I could take a day off and do some legwork down at the courthouse trying to track down the work of Deputy Attorney General Asher Rubin and the rulings of Judge Lynn Duryee back in 1999 and 2000, along with what I believe were the earlier actions that drove CPU out of San Rafael and up to Novato back in 1997 or so.)

  54. Hello,

    I’d suggest verifying the letter is real. Don’t depend on the contact information they provide. Try to verify the existence of the law firm by calling information for where the firm is located. Then call their main phone number and ask to speak to the lawyer. I would suggest that the only thing you talk about at this time is if the communication is genuine.

    Obtaining the services of a lawyer to do this for you might be advisable.

    You might try contacting the EFF <http://www.eff.org/&gt; or similar organizations.

  55. Some Guy says:

    The fact that California recognizes a University as a place of higher learning DOES NOT mean its accredited. This is a common scam diploma mills use. Columbia Pacific isn’t accredited, to my knowledge. In the academic community, foreign diplomas are often approached with a level of suspicion as well. Check John Bear’s web site for more information. If you read between the lines of that attorney’s letter, they don’t have a leg to stand on.

  56. Avedon says:

    I have been in touch with Deborah and she has not received any demand for retraction in relation to her blog entry.

    He thinks you’re smaller fry than she is and have less money and will cave in immediately. The real test of libel is whether you can afford to fight or know where to find a good libel litigator.

    Fortunately for me, I had a good lawyer who was willing to act pro bono on my behalf. Some people have had to settle cases for sums large enough to lose their homes even though they had good cases, because they couldn’t afford to fight. But if your accuser knows you have the resources to fight, they will usually back down. My accuser was a serial litigious pest, and my lawyers had beaten him before. Since that meant my resources out-classed his resources, he went away.

  57. novalis says:

    I’m not a lawyer, and this isn’t legal advice. But I saw a case that seemed quite on-point:

    Appellant Phantom Touring Company produces a musical-comedy version of “The Phantom of the Opera” that is not the hugely successful, widely acclaimed Broadway show later created by Andrew Lloyd Webber…. [T]he Boston Globe queried, in a disparaging tone, whether appellant’s advertising made the distinction between the two “Phantoms” clear to the ticket-buying public…. The article quoted a drama critic … who … described the show as ” ‘a rip-off, a fraud, a scandal, a snake-oil job.’ ”

    The Boston Globe’s owner (Affiliated) won. But this doesn’t tell you whether you should fight. As for me, I’ll just go ahead and repost this story to my livejournal. Let him try to sue everyone!

  58. novalis says:

    Er, right, links don’t seem to work. Here’s a text URL to that case:
    http://novalis.org/cases/Phantom%20Touring,%20Inc.%20v.%20Affiliated%20Publications.html

  59. Pingback: Gavin’s Blog » Top science adviser faces fresh claims over doctorate

  60. Sick of Threats By Washed Up Fakes says:

    This is so pathetic that Dr John Gray will stoop this low…I saw the show on Penn & Teller where they indicated from their research that Dr John Gray has a degree from some defunct online university,so is he going after them too…he was actually on their show,why didn’t the winer bitch when they completely debunked him…

  61. Casey says:

    I am interested to know the outcome of this. I was recently fired for publishing in my blog the statement that “My boss is a dick.” I have been researching, trying to determine if this is libel, since that is what my employer claimed.

    Good luck, and keep blogging.

  62. poker free says:

    Probably pool cripple buy poker free poker free poker free catch pushka mechanic!

  63. david says:

    This is exactly why bloggers should largely stay out of the journalism game unless they know anything about libel. Simply reprinting, or reposting something published elsewhere is no defense against libel. You still have to attempt to verify any statements of fact. Also, simply posting a correction won’t get you anywhere in a court of law. There have been large settlements for statements that were retracted the next day.

  64. Jack Payne says:

    The word “fraud” next to someone’s name is a dynamite combination, often guaranteed to explode in your face. I don’t care whether it’s used as fact, opinion, or question.

    With this word, discretion is the better part of, well, you know what.

    –Jack Payne
    http://www.sixhrs.com

  65. Bo says:

    I’d like to add another perspective to this discussion which may be of some interest: I remember John Gray from the time he was Maharishi’s secretary in the 70:s in Switzerland. I recall this was the time when Maharishi International University was becoming established and accredited. Among the people working for him, Maharishi wanted (and want) some chosen people who had showed dedication or talent, to be awarded doctoral degrees. Because he is the founder of all the Maharishi universities and because all the faculty members were and are TM (Transcendental Meditation)-devotees, these degrees were issued without much discussion although some doubts were raised from faculty member with “real” hard-earned degrees. It was well known that even the president of Maharishi International University did not have “real” doctorate but a “bestowed” degree. Even in the 90:s when Maharishi resided in Holland this practice has been going on. I have no comments on that in itself. These individuals are dedicated and effective in their service to the TM movement. I suppose it can be compared to recieving an “honorary doctorate”. It has nothing to do with academic achievements but it sure raises the person’s status in the TM movement. As a representative for TM is has further been found that an academic degree helps a lot in spreading the message. As I understand it, Gray is not associated with TM anymore but he still likes to use his degree from Maharishi’s university. Since TM partly has a cult label that is it not completely without problems which Gray could have forseen. I must add that I’m not resident of US and not associated with the movement anymore so reg the accreditation status of Maharishi’s universities I am not updated at all. I also have no information about Gray’s credentials from institutions outside the TM movement.
    BL

  66. Userwense says:

    Snx for you job!
    It has very much helped me!

  67. Pingback: Blogiversary | Gavin's Blog

  68. Darrell says:

    Thank you Bo for that information. Interesting that John Gray was the Maharishi’s secretary/ student and was given a”bestowed” degree from the Maharishi.

    John Lennon summed up the Marharshi with his song “Sexy Sadie”
    Sexy Sadie what have you done
    You made a fool of everyone.
    You made a fool of everyone.

    Has John done the same thing as his teacher?

Comments are closed.