Saturday, October 13, 2007
Gary McGath, who doesn't pronounce the "c" in The Blog of M'Gath, is the latest online journalist to cover the Dozier Internet Law public-relations disaster.
Everything that Gary writes is so good is is hard to know what to excerpt. I hope he doesn't mind a longer-than-usual blockquote, simply because everything is so well done:
Direct Buy, not liking the fact that infomercialscams.com was letting people post their complaints about it, had Dozier Internet Law, P.C., send a cease and desist letter (PDF) demanding that the reports be removed, as well as demanding unspecified compensation.
The letter claims that the following are "defamatory statements":
- "Direct Buy Nightmare" -- www.informercialscams.com;
- * "all scams are posted uncensored!" -- www.infomercialscams.com;
- * "You are reporting the following SCAM" -- www.infomercialscams.com; and
- * "Recently, we noticed a sudden influx of 4 and 5 star ratings for the Direct Buy
program ... We don't know if Direct Buy is behind this or not. But we do have our suspicious given the fact that the reviews came from the SAME LOCATION, say the same thing, and highlight points that most customers wouldn't be concerned with." -- www.informercialblog.com
The letter doesn't deny the specific scamming activity which Direct Buy is accused of, yet it categorically states that the last claim is "utterly false and without merit." How does Dozier know that there was no such influx from a single location? Does he have access to the site's logs?
Just by the way, Dozier Internet Law presumably would regard me as a "letter pirate" for having quoted the above text.
(Perhaps the reason I like Gary's post is so much is that we think the same -- my reaction was pretty similar in my first post, DirectBuy and Dozier Internet Law SLAPPS Infomercial Scams.com).
Friday, October 12, 2007
Ars Technica, a popular website on the technical arts that includes breaking news, user forums, and other features, prominently features the Dozier Internet Law / DirectBuy scandal by comparing it to another bizarre lawsuit.
The Ars Technica article focuses mostly on the contributions of Public Citizen and Willam Patry (who, I learned, is also Google' top copyright lawyer).
One of the hardest things about following the story is how quickly people are coming forward. Wicked Boring discusses this as a strategic lawsuit against public participation, New York Attorney Malpractice Blog quotes an length an earlier essay, Citizen Media Law Project is not impressed, and Curtis (who previously discovered by John Dozier is a plagiarist) tries to throw cold water on collective non-violenct self defense
- Free Speech and Copyright
- Comment on 'Lawfare and Public Participation'
- Comment on 'Lawfare Backlash'
That's it for now!
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Aside from my initial post, the blog reactions to DirectBuy and Dozier Internet Law I have posted have all been before Public Citizen and Slashdot got into the debate. (For the background of the story, check out my preliminary case study.)
As time goes on, though, more and more bloggers are picking up the story of the DirectBuy / Dozier Internet Law strategic lawsuit against public participation.
Modemac briefly writes "Direct Buy sends a threatening letter to infomercialblog.com, then threatens the blog author for copyright violation if he dares to publish the letter itself on his site'" whereas Patry Copyright Blog writes an encyclopedia article on the case.
I Hate Linux has published a follow-up to his first post on the scandal, while Primrose Road has taken notice, as well.
Additionally, a poster over at the 13th Man Direct Buy's tactics "enlightening."
Legal Research Blog and The Consumer post their thoughts, too, for good measure.
Jim River Report has headlines reading "Attention: Dozier Internet Law," "Dozier Internet Law," and "DirectBuy."
The best follow-up, however is Curtis's discovery that John Dozier's comment on behalf of Dozier Internet Law was partially plagiarized from another web site, in violation of their terms-of-use and copyright! Ha ha ha!
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
I don't know, but Wikipedia's Revision history for "DirectBuy" now discusses "possible user of sleeper accounts. The text that keeps getting removed reads:
Many customers have complained that they have been deceived by DirectBuy into signing expensive contracts for the privilege of purchasing goods supplied by the company. A three-year membership usually costs about $5,000, with yearly fees in the hundreds layered on top of that. Furthermore, potential members are told at the information sessions that unless they commit to it right then and there, they will be ineligible for membership for another seven years. While DirectBuy prices have been proven to be lower than some of their competitors' prices, all purchased items incur a processing and shipping fee, which is not included in the original price quote. In many cases, these additional costs usually bring the total price to that above what can usually be found at many traditional retailers.
Critics of DirectBuy
The section has been removed repeated by users "Wiseard" and 18.104.22.168."
While it is clear that DirectBuy intimidates those who complain and floods the web with spam, the question of whether they violate Wikipedia's conflict of interest policy is an open question. Certainly I've run against over-zealous wikipedians in the past (who deleted the entry for "5GW" and wished to destroy information on "Unrestricted Warfare"), so nothing is certain at this time.
For those joining late: DirectBuy is a "home improvement" company with a mixed track record. There's a number of mixed reviews of their services, available from both blogs and mainstream media outlets. More recently, after a blogger at Infomercial Scams complained about Direct Buy's infomercial scam, DirectBuy's lawyer, Dozier Internet Law, sent him an incompetently written "cease-and-desist" letter that was copyrighted! This "strategic lawsuit against public participation" would be more threatening if it was filed by such "chuckleheads."
Then blogs stand up. Public Citizen exposed the DirectBuy/Dozier threat, I Hate Linux asked to be sued too, and I posted the plain text of the demand letter.
Unfortunately, DirectBuy generates so many spam websites that it is hard to find out opinions about the company. Therefore, this post contains mainstream media and blogosphere reviews of Direct Buy that did not make it into my previous posts
From the Mainstream Media:
- Team 5 Investigates DirectBuy."
- WCBS TV reaches a similar conclusion."
- Direct Buy: One Man's Story (From CTV, Canada) (thanks to Jeremy's Thoughts for the link
From the Internet:
Over at Mafe Maria, a long complaint against DirectBuy's deceptive hard sell includes includes this paragraph:
The poor woman doesn’t know that both Joey and I are fricking MBAs and have spent a ridiculous amount of our lives making a living out of understanding concepts like the present value of money and financial risk… Who can guarantee us that they’ll still be around in 2-3 years?… That manufacturers won’t get off that business model in 2-5 years, when we may be ready to buy, finally taking advantage of our extremely expensive upfront investment? Why would we put down $4,500 now, when we’re not ready to redecorate yet, so the savings are uncertain, and most likely far ahead in the future?
DirectBuy, a company that specializes in high-pressure sales tactics and suing bloggers, also creates spam pages and spam domains. I won't link to them because these cookie-cutter websites clog up search engines, but searching for, "DirectBuy - Tulsa" and "DirectBuy - Los Angeles" will reveal exactly what I am talking about.
Each spam page appears to be identical, except for the town name and some randomly generated material. On top is a "DirectBuy" logo, followed by a horizontal menu with "Home," Remodeling," "Building," and other links, ending with "Free Visitor's Pass." The left side menu has entries such as "Home Furnishing," Home Improvement," and" Kitchen Remodeling" and a link to "News Articles" (which are press releases -- mainstream media news articles about best buy are less positive). There is also a "Member Testimonials" (sic) that includes an unverified quotes saying good things about the company.
The main body of the page has a sizeable flash animation, the left two-thirds of which are pictures of products you can presumably "buy direct" at DirectBuy, while the right one-third contains the text "Achieve your dream home for much less that you'd except! - Find out how at DirectBuy. Request a Visitor's Pass."
The rest of the body of the page has nearly identical text. The format appears to be "Direct Buy of CITY has helped people just like you save thousands of dollars since 1971. With [number of showrooms] in CITY, you too can have the power..." &c.
A word should be said about visitor's passes, which are mentioned several times on the front page(s). The "pass" concept is part of a high pressure take-it-or-never-come-back sales approach that is described elsewhere in the blogosphere and also by Consumer Reports.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
DirectBuy, before sicking the hounds (and copyrighted c&d's) via Dozier Internet Law, was a company that received mixed reviews from the blogosphere.
Even more interesting, though, is the negative reviews Direct Buy has earned from the mainstream media. Channel 12 News and Consumerist both reference a Consumer Reports article that reads, in part:
After the fee disclosure, we discovered that we had to sign up on the spot or never come back. We couldn’t bring DirectBuy’s “confidential” prices elsewhere to comparison shop, the representatives said, because this would likely anger retailers who might then retaliate against the manufacturers by refusing to sell their merchandise...
The fine print in the DirectBuy contract says you cannot return items, cancel orders, or terminate your membership. When we asked if, after plunking down $5,000, we could cancel and get a refund, a salesperson said, “You’ll have to check state law.” A review of New York state law revealed that the three-day cooling-off period for canceling contracts wouldn’t apply in this case...
The lack of price transparency makes it hard to evaluate whether you’ll save by joining DirectBuy. But even if you were to save 25 percent on purchases after joining, you’d need to spend more than $20,000 just to recoup your membership fee. DirectBuy might save you money if you’re furnishing a house from scratch or doing a major renovation. But since you can’t shop around beforehand, you’ll be joining blind
DirectBuy may be a scam, but it's a business that uses a very "hard sell" and one should think twice about.
Has anyone heard of copyrighted cease and desist letters before Dozier Internet Law slapp'd Infomercial Scams with one (and Public Citizen stood up for speech)? The only google result for "copyrighted cease and desist" comes from Legal Research Blog's coverage of the Dozier letter, while the copy occurrence of "copyrighted C&D" comes to kd.to_tumblr's reporting on the DirectBuy case.
(Chilling Effects has a searchable cease-and-desist database, but I'm not familiar enough with it to find any copyrighted strategic lawsuits against public participation.)
A google search for "DirectBuy" reveals spam. A lot of spam. It also reveals the three posts at Informercial Blog, Infomercial Ratings, Infomercial Scams which led Direct Buy and Dozier Internet Law to send a barbaric cease-and-desist order.
Before the Direct Buy / Dozier episode, however, negative and mixed reviews could be found at 419 Legal, Brads Blog, Chris Wondra, City-Data, Garden Web, Owner Builder Book, Ripoff Report (twice!), and even a bad experience with a DirectBuy pop-up at Caleval.
Consider that a web search for "JL Kirk" still brings up a horror story as the first result after half a year -- and even my bad experience with NationMaster brings up two of the top ten google results -- DirectBuy and Dozier Internet Law's hardball tactics are strange. But then, without groups like EFF and PublicCitizen, many more writers would be too scared to speak truth to power.
Props to Public Citizen for publicizing DirectBuy's, and their thuggish lawyer's, cease-and desist legal intimidation (a hat-tip goes out to Slashdot).
The full text of the cease and desist letter, by Dozier Internet Law, P.C., is below. (I Hate Linux has also excerpted the text.)
Please be advised that our firm has been retained by DirectBuy, Inc. to investigate and take legal action against you for the series of unwarranted and defamatory attacks against it made by you and your visitors on your various websites. Specifically, these websites are www.infomercialblog.com, www.infomercialratings.com, and www.infomercialscams.com.
DirectBuy, Inc., has been in business for over 35 years and has provided consumers with the opportunity to save on products for their homes through its members only program. Our client provides its members with access to thousands of products and provides a high level of customer service. DirectBuy has established a well founded reputation for the quality of its services and customer satisfaction and your unwarranted actions and baselsss accusations have damaged that reputation and adversely affected our client's business.
Your have personally posted many willfully false and misleading comments about our client. Examples of your defamatory statements include:
"Direct Buy Nightmare" --- www.informercialscams.com;
- "all scams are posted uncensored!" -- www.informercialscams.com
- You are reporting the following SCAM" -- www.informercialscams.com; and
- "Recently, we noticed a sudden influx of 4 and 5 star ratings for the Direct Buy program... We don't know if Direct Buy is behind this or not. But we do have our suspicions given the fact that the reviews came from the SAME LOCATION, say the same thing, and highlightpoints that most cusomters wouldn't be concerned with." -- www.infomercialblog.com
The above statements made in reference to DirectBuy, Inc are utterly false and without merit, and they are defamatory per se in that they depict our client as engaging in fradulent activity that violates civil and criminal law.
Additionally, you actively encourage and solicit defamatory statements from customers on your www.infomercialratings.com and www.infomercialscams.com websites. According to a recent decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley v. Roommates.com, LLC, 389 F. 3rd 921 (9th Cir. 2007)] you likely have serious financial exposure to DirectBuy.com for each and every one of the defamatory statements made by your visitors. Furthermore, your actions have also resulted in damages to our client and its franchisees in Canada, subjecting you to claims in that country as well.
Your attempts to spread libelous and defamatory material about our client have caused serious and irreparable injury to it, its reputation, and its business. Our client will not stand by and allow this misconduct to continue.
We hereby demand that you:
- Immediately remove from all of your websites all defamatory and disparaging remarks regarding our client made by you and your visitors, and
- Immediately cease and desist in publishing defamatory statements about our client, whether the statements are made by you or third parties, and
- Compensate our client for its attorney fees and costs
Please not that this law firm does not attempt to restrict legitimate free speech, and we believe that the Internet is an important medium for dissemination of accurate and truthful [emphasis Dozier's -- tdaxp] information and for fair comment on issues of interest. Your activities, however, unlawfully encroach upon our client's rights.
This letter puts you on notice that should you refuse to comply with our demands by September 28, 2007, we will have no choice but to recommend that our client pursue all legal causes of action, including the filling of a lawsuit, to protect its interests. We will pursue both damages and attorneys' fees and costs incurreed by our client as a result of your actions.
This is a very serious matter that requires your immediate attention. We therefore strongly recommend that you contact us immediately to address and resolve this situation. This letter is your one and only chance to resolve this matter amicably.
Please be aware that this letter is copyrighted by our law firm, and you are not authorized to republish this in any matter. Use of this letter in a posting, in full or in part, will subject you to further legal causes of action. [emphasis mine -- tdaxp]
Online: INFOMERCIAL SCAMS.COM - DIRECT BUY COMPLAINTS
Online: INFOMERCIAL RATINGS.COM - DIRECT BUY REVIEW
Online: INFOMERCIAL BLOG.COM >> Former Direct Buy Employee Reveals Truth About Company
Online (pdf): "How not to write a cease and desist letter."
Online (pdf): "Re: Notice to Cease and Desist Internet Defamation"
Additionally, a mixed-review of DirectBuy is available from ChrisWondra.com, while the theoretical implications are discussed over at Dreaming 5GW.