Sept. 21, 2007
‘Video Professor’ Has No Legal Basis for Unmasking Identities of Anonymous Web Critics
Apparently Upset at Criticisms of His Company, Infomercial Guru Sues Customers
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The “Video Professor,” a ubiquitous purveyor of computer-training lessons via infomercials, has no legal basis for discovering the identities of his disgruntled customers, Public Citizen said.
In a letter sent Sept. 21 to the Video Professor’s attorney, Greg Smith of Denver, Public Citizen attorney Paul Alan Levy outlined the many reasons why the Professor’s subpoena against John Does 1 through 100 is invalid. In mid-August, in federal court in Denver, the Video Professor, a self-proclaimed consumer advocate, sued his own customers for posting comments on two consumer comment Web sites. The sites, infomercialratings.com and infomercialscams.com, are run by a Nevada company, Leonard Fitness, Inc.
The Professor alleged that his detractors had violated federal trademark laws by saying negative things about the name of his product, as well as committing defamation and several violations of state law. Recently, subpoenas were delivered to Leonard Fitness’ agent.
“It’s outrageous that the Professor is suing his own customers,” Levy said. “He has shown no legal basis on which to do so. He’s very good at promoting himself and wants to suppress criticism.”
The Video Professor, John Scherer, is not really a professor – he just plays one on TV. He founded his company to offer CDs and online lessons on a wide range of computer programs and skills. His efforts share the airwaves with abdominal rollers, juicers, magic steamers and assorted as-seen-on-TV wares. Scherer claims that more than 8 million people have purchased his products since he started selling instructional videos 20 years ago.
“The Professor’s own Web site warns consumers to check out companies they don’t know by using Internet search engines to find customer reviews,” Levy said. “But if the cost of complaining online is having to face a federal lawsuit, a company can unfairly ensure that only compliments will be posted.”
Not only have state and federal courts throughout the country recognized the right to speak anonymously on the Internet, but the Professor has not met the legal requirements necessary to justify the unmasking of the critics’ identities, Levy said. The Professor would have to show a likelihood of success on the merits of the case, which he hasn’t done, Levy said.
In addition, the Professor’s subpoena fails to identify which of the many posts he finds defamatory. There are hundreds of comments about the courses, many of which are complimentary, on the two sites. The subpoena incorrectly burdens the Web site host to identify which critics upset the Professor. Specifics are needed for the anonymous posters to decide whether and how to protect their anonymity, Levy said.
Read a copy of Levy’s letter.