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.

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

  1. 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 :-)

  2. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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…

  5. 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?

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. Anne says:

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

  10. 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.

  11. [...] As some readers may know one of the major incidences to happen with this blog in its 3 years plus existence was the entire John Gray letter thing. Long story short, he threatened legal action because I questioned his qualifications. I refused to retract or apologise, and haven’t heard anything since. [...]

  12. 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…

  13. 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.

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  15. 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.

  16. 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

  17. 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

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  19. [...] the whole John Gray controversy (Which drove a large portion of that 1.4m visitors to this blog after being mentioned on all of the [...]

  20. 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?