My response to John Gray's letter

Dear Mr. Given:

I am writing in response to the letter you sent me, dated March 9, 2004, regarding a November 17, 2003 post I made on my weblog that referenced information on another website regarding John Gray (“the post”). In the letter, you stated that my post was libelous and demanded that I publish a correction on my website, pursuant to Section 48a of the California Civil Code. I decline your request, because I do not believe that my statements were libelous, based on my review of your letter and of California case law.

As a preliminary matter, I am astounded by your suggestion that you might initiate legal action against me in California. I live in Ireland, and I publish a noncommercial, passive website that is hosted on servers located in the United Kingdom. Legal proceedings in California would pose an undue and unreasonable burden on me, and a California state court would have no personal jurisdiction over me, under well-established law. See, e.g., Cybersell, Inc. v. Cybersell, Inc., 130 F.3d 414, 419 (9th Cir. 1997) (holding that there was no personal jurisdiction over a Florida corporation that conducted “no commercial activity” on “an essentially passive home page on the web”).

Even if a California court had jurisdiction, it is clear that my statements were not libelous. It is indisputable that John Gray is a public figure under U.S. law. According to his own website (http://www.marsvenus.com/detailedbiography.php), Gray is “the best-selling relationship author of all time,” and the author of “the number one best-selling book of the last decade,” having sold “30 million Mars and Venus books.” As a public figure, Gray could not prevail in a suit unless he showed that I acted with “actual malice,” that is “knowledge that [the weblog post] was false” or with “reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 280 (1964). It is highly unlikely that you could meet this burden, given that my post quoted a web page containing information about John Gray that I believed to be true.

Based on the information on your letter, I cannot conclude that my post was false, much less libelous. Despite your blanket statements that my post was “false” and “libelous,” you did not dispute the specific information in the post regarding Gray’s biographical information, such as the claim that John Gray received his undergraduate degree from an unaccredited institution. Additional research I have undertaken has not revealed information that suggests that my post was false, and the post was an accurate quotation of a source (buzz.weblogs.com) upon which I relied. You complain of only five words of which I was the original author “John Gray is a fraud” which are “classic rhetorical hyperbole which cannot reasonably be interpreted as stating actual facts.” Seelig v. Infinity Broadcasting Corp., 119 Cal. Rptr. 2d 108, 117 (1999) (internal citation and quotation omitted). Such statements are not libelous under California law. Id.

Given that my post was not libelous, I decline your request for removal of the post and the posting of a correction on my website. I assume that you will not pursue this frivolous claim any further.

Sincerely,

Gavin Sheridan

27 thoughts on “My response to John Gray's letter”

  1. Excellent letter, Gavin!
    Gavin gives it to Given! Gavin Gives Given and Gray A Black Eye with Golden Glove!

  2. Very nice. Shorter Gavin letter: “Dear Shameless Bloodsucker: Your legal argument was total horseshit. Now fugg off and don’t make me smack you around with California’s anti-SLAPP law.”

    Game, set, match to Gavin.

    If Gray and his flying monkey decide to file a suit against you anyway, ask your legal adviser to tell you about the Good Thing known as Rule 11. It scared the pants off the attorneys for the corporation that tried to sue me.

  3. freaking awesome Gavin! Chalk one up for the little guy. Please be sure to share their return letter (if they have the stones to send one after that thrashing)
    Jason

  4. Note to John Sands, Owen beat you to it:

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

    Posted by Owen at March 22, 2004 04:53 PM
    (see thread accompanying Gavin’s March 17 post)

  5. Outstanding!

    Well formed/thought out legal argument. I would be surprised to hear anything back from them.

  6. Excellent. Well done Gavin.

    Libel terrorism of this kind needs to be stood up to within the responsible blogging community. Although all bloggers, particularly those in plaintiff friendly defamation jurisdictions such as the UK and (I assume) Eire, need to take care to ensure that they do not post comments that are genuinely libellous.

    I haven’t seen any references to it elsewhere on your site, but Marcus from Harry’s Place kicked off some discussion on the problems of defamation, in particular the dangers of it being diseminated “unintentionally” on the part of the blog’s owner via comments pages, a couple of months ago which you might find of interest.
    http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/archives/2004/02/16/a_further_cautionary_tale.php#comments

    http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/archives/2004/02/16/a_cautionary_tale.php

    As far as responsible bloggers are concerned (especially those with assets to protect), I fear this is not an issue that is likely to go away.

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  8. Well done, Gavin, an excellent letter that will make those attorneys squirm.

    But you make me nervous when you point out that part of your “immunity” from California law is because your host server is in the UK. My own blog server is located within California. Hmmmm !

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