Infomercial Guru Drops Suit Against Anonymous Critics
Statement of Paul Alan Levy, Attorney With Public Citizen
The Video Professor, a Colorado firm that uses infomercials to hawk computer-training lessons, has ended its misguided attempt to unmask the anonymous writers who criticized the company’s sales and billing practices on the Web.
In dismissing its suit this week against John Does 1 through 100 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, we hope Video Professor, a self-proclaimed consumer advocate, recognizes the First Amendment rights of people to speak anonymously on the Internet.
The move comes a day after Public Citizen filed a motion opposing an extension for the company to serve the Doe defendants. We argued that Video Professor’s complaint is so vague that it does not put anyone on notice that they have been sued or what the allegations are against them.
In August, Video Professor sued its own customers for posting comments on various Web sites, including InfomercialRatings.com and InfomercialScams.com, which are represented by Public Citizen. Some customers had criticized Video Professor’s billing practices, including complaints the company made it difficult to cancel subscriptions for instructional videos.
State and federal courts have recognized this right to free speech in ruling after ruling. To identify anonymous critics, the Video Professor, which argued it was defamed, among other claims, would have to show a likelihood of success on the merits of the case, which it never did.
We hope that other companies will do as Video Professor apparently has and think twice before trying to bully and intimidate critics into silence. Although Internet anonymity can be abused, the right to speak anonymously online cannot be denied absent real evidence supporting the plaintiff’s claims of wrongdoing. Otherwise, those with deep pockets can use the very threat of litigation to muzzle their critics. And that would have a serious chilling effect on anonymous speech.
READ Public Citizen’s motion.
LEARN more about Public Citizen’s involvement in free speech cases.