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August 15, 2013

HIV Denialist’s Lawsuit Against Blogger Should Be Dismissed, Public Citizen Tells Federal Court in Texas

Blogger Seeks to Expose Activities of Man Who Claims HIV Doesn’t Cause AIDS; Now He Is Fighting Allegations of Trademark Violations and Defamation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A federal court in Texas should dismiss a lawsuit filed by an HIV denialist seeking to suppress a blogger’s criticism, Public Citizen told the court today in a brief. The suit claims trademark violations and defamation.

Los Angeles resident Clark Baker, who founded the Office of Medical and Scientific Justice, contends that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS and that HIV medical treatments are fraudulent. He has claimed success in helping defendants avoid conviction on charges of deliberately exposing sex partners to HIV. Baker created an “HIV Innocence Project,” whose name he changed to “HIV Innocence Group” after complaints from an existing organization called “The Innocence Project.”

Fort Worth, Texas, resident Todd DeShong operates two blogs about Baker’s activities (www.hivinnocenceprojecttruth.com and www.hivinnocencegrouptruth.com). He maintains that Baker relies on overstatements and innuendo and that science does not support Baker’s contentions.

On July 9, Baker sued DeShong in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. The suit has no merit, said Public Citizen attorney Paul Alan Levy, who is representing DeShong on the trademark issues in the case.

“The suit is merely an attempt to intimidate a blogger who has every right to comment on the activities of Mr. Baker,” Levy said. “Baker’s complaint virtually admits that he is objecting to the fact that DeShong’s website will come to the attention of Internet viewers and therefore harm his reputation. That is simply not a ground for claiming a trademark violation.”

For starters, DeShong’s site doesn’t sell any goods or services, so his blog is protected by the First Amendment, Levy said. In addition, DeShong’s site can’t be confused with Baker’s website, since it is obviously hostile to Baker. And his use of the name of Baker’s project is fair use, Levy said.

Added DeShong, “Because Clark Baker makes his living swimming against the mainstream of scientific opinion while trying to further his AIDS denial agenda by misusing the courts and using HIV-positive people as his pawns, he has to accept the possibility of being criticized. He is misusing the courts to suppress fair criticism and advancing bogus trademark claims, and I hope this lawsuit will be stopped in its tracks.”

Baker brought a similar trademark claim under the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy, but the panel set up to adjudicate such claims found no trademark violation had been committed.

The brief is available at http://www.citizen.org/litigation/forms/cases/getlinkforcase.cfm?cID=837.

Other counsel in the case include Gill Sperlein of San Francisco, Calif., who is taking the lead role on the defamation issues, and local counsel Neal Hoffman in Houston and Gary Krupkin in Richardson, Texas.

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