Well, the Riley/Dozier battle has moved to federal court with the filing of a declaratory judgment action by Ron Riley in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia against Dozier Internet Law and its principal, John Dozier. See Riley v. Dozier Internet Law, PC, Case No. 08-cv-00642 (E.D. Va. October 2, 2008). A copy of the complaint can be downloaded from Justia here. Public Citizen, representing Riley the action against Dozier, comments here.
In addition, the original state court action filed by Dozier Law has apparently been moved to federal court. See Dozier Internet Law, P.C. v. Riley et al, Case No. 08-cv-00643 (E.D. Va. October 2, 2008).
Riley’s declaratory judgment action seeks a declaration that Riley has not infringed any Dozier’s trademarks or defamed Dozier with his website. Riley also seeks injunctive relief to stop Dozier from claiming that Riley’s website constitutes defamation or trademark infringement and from threatening any internet service provider hosting Riley’s website with claims of contributory infringement or aiding and abetting.
Just as Dozier Law’s website may have shed some light on Riley’s background (even though those details were completely irrelevant to its claims for trademark infringement), Riley’s action sheds light on Dozier Law’s aggressive tactic of attacking gripe sites not by attacking the source of the speech, but rather by going directly to the website’s hosting company and, if necessary, the hosting company’s internet service provider. [Comment—Of course, Dozier’s aggressiveness described herein probably comes as no surprise from the law firm that claimed its “cease and desist” letter was copyrighted and therefore could not be legally posted online without their consent.]
When Riley first put up his website, it was hosted by an Atlanta, Georgia company named A Small Orange, which obtains its Internet access through a company named Global Net Access. On August 28, 2008, Dozier apparently wrote a letter to Global Net Access stating that Riley’s website was defaming Dozier and infringing Dozier’s trademark rights. Global Net Access then directed A Small Orange to remove Riley’s website, which it did forcing Riley to move his site to a second hosting company, pSek.
After Dozier filed his Virginia state action against Riley on September 4, 2008 (which apparently was never actually served on Riley or any of the Defendants mentioned in the complaint), Dozier sent copies of the lawsuit to pSek for the purpose of putting the company “on notice” of Dozier’s claims of trademark infringement and alluding to the possibility that pSek may be liable for “contributory trademark infringement, aiding and abetting, and conspiracy.” When pSek raised questions about Dozier’s claims, Dozier apparently came back with the threat that if pSek did not comply with his demands (uncertain, but likely the demand to remove Riley’s website), he would “escalate the matter up to” pSek’s internet service provider (just as he had done with A Small Orange in contacting Global Net Access). Dozier’s threats worked because pSek asked Riley to move his website.
Riley moved his web site once again to a new web hosting company, Hostgator. Soonafter Riley uploaded his site, Hostgator apparently notified Riley that his account was suspended because “It has come to our attention that you are using our services to infringe upon the trademark of another” (presumably from another letter from Dozier).
Of course, Dozier is careful to cast his claims in terms of trademark infringement so that his threats of liability against the hosting companies and internet service providers fall outside the scope of the immunity provided such internet service providers under the Communications Decency Act (47 U.S.C. § 230) which normally immunizes internet service providers from most claims of liability for content on websites that they host. In essence, Dozier has been able to quash Riley’s speech through his gripe site by taking advantage of the trademark immunity loophole of the Communications Decency Act to coerce the companies doing business with Riley into not allowing him to publish his expression.
Anybody else think Riley should find a web hosting company based outside the U.S. with no offices whatsoever in the U.S. and which relies upon a foreign internet service provider. Let’s see how much impact Dozier’s letters have in persuading a web hosting company based in China or India to take down Riley’s website.