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Nov 28 2011

Streisand that clinic

A 17-year-old schoolboy has been in receipt of blustering threats from Marc Stephens, who “represents” (as he says) the Burzynski Clinic. That’s a funny word, “represents.” In this context it suggests “as a lawyer” – but in fact Marc Stephens doesn’t actually say he’s a lawyer, even when urgently invited to do so (instead he says “you should stop asking me if I’m a lawyer,” which is no help). It’s hard not to think he would say he’s a lawyer if in fact he were a lawyer, so his consistent failure to do so seems to point to the likelihood that he isn’t one.

But lawyer or PR hack, whichever, Marc Stephens has been sending blustering threats to Rhys Morgan, including a screenshot of his house.

Rhys,

This is my THIRD AND FINAL WARNING to you.

Please convey this message to your entire Skeptic Network, which includes but not limited to, Ratbags.com, thetwentyfirstfloor, quackwatch, etc. I represent Dr. Burzynski, the Burzynski Clinic, and the Burzynski Research Institute. I’ve attached Azad Rastegar, and Renee Trimble from the Burzynski Clinic for your confirmation.

In the following weeks I will be giving authorization to local attorneys in multiple countries to pursue every defamation libel case online, including your online libelous statements. I suggest you shut down your entire online defamation campaign about Dr. Burzynski, and remove ALL recent or previous comments off the internet IMMEDIATELY. The minute you post any libelous comments online about my client I will pursue you and your parents/guardians To the Full Extent of the Law. I have no obligation to train you, or teach you, the meaning of defamation. Google it, or go to the library and research it.

This is a very serious matter. Please confirm your mailing address, which I have on record as (my address). If you do not cooperate an official legal complaint requesting punitive damages will be mailed to that address. I will be contacting your school as well to inform them of your illegal acts.

Now Rhys wants our help getting the word out.

Since the initial email, I have discovered others have received similar legal threats from Marc Stephens including Peter Bowditch of ratbags.com, who blogged about Burzynski eleven years ago, but is only now receiving this legal threat. Another blog threatened includes Quackometer.net from Andy Lewis, A.K.A Le Canard Noir. You can find a blog about his ordeal with Marc Stephens here:

I posted the blog so that patients, their friends and families would be aware of the whole story about Burzynski and his unproven therapy. I want them to be aware that the treatment seems to be in a constant cycle of trials generating unpublished results. As Dr Howard Ozer, director of the Allegheny Cancer Center in Philadelphia, said – it is scientific nonsense.

So in order to spread the word, I need your help. I would really appreciate it if you could do
the following two things:

Tweet about the Burzynski clinic. You could either write your own tweet or you could retweet my suggested tweet: RT @rhysmorgan Patients need to know the whole truth about Burzynski’s cancer treatment claims: http://rhysmorgan.co/2011/08/the-burzynski-clinic/

OR you could retweet this: RT @rhysmorgan Dr Burzynski does not want you to know the whole truth about his cancer treatments, which is why he tried to sue me http://rhysmorgan.co/2011/11/threats-from-the-burzynski-clinic

Add a link to this blog from your website so that it will increase the PageRank for this blog so that when patients search for Burzynski, they discover this blog as well as Dr Burzynski’s propaganda. This way, they can discover the whole truth and determine for themselves whether it’s worth investing in his treatment.

You know what to do.

Steven Novella has. PZ has. Kylie Sturgess has - to name only a few.

15 comments

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  1. 1
    Patrick

    At one point he refers to a “public defender” in the context of a civil suit (presuming I’ve properly understood his often poor writing). He’s not a lawyer. That’s a mistake like… talking about the Yankee’s new star quarterback.

  2. 2
    Scote

    I’d heard of Rhys Morgan before but even so I have to say that I’m very impressed by his response to Burzynski. His writing is clear and compelling, and his defense well researched and presented.

    I’m a tad surprised to hear that subsequently Morgan has received communications from the Dozier law firm, if it is the US-based Dozier firm that has made the news in the past. Dozier is a firm which has gained notoriety in the past for its heavy handed tactics, including sending cease and desist threat letters that say the threat letter is copyright and that the recipient may be sued if they post the threat they received on the internet.

    http://pubcit.typepad.com/clpblog/2008/01/does-copyright.html

    If they are still trying to make legal threats and force the victims of their threats to remain silent under threat of copyright suit then that may be why Morgan has not posted the latest letter. But Dozier would be just the kind of firm that I’d expect Stephens/Burzynski to hire.

  3. 3
    Finding links

    Found this link to an FDA warning letter to the good doc:
    http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/ucm192711.htm

  4. 4
    Ian MacDougall

    “Dozier is a firm which has gained notoriety in the past for its heavy handed tactics, including sending cease and desist threat letters that say the threat letter is copyright and that the recipient may be sued if they post the threat they received on the internet.”

    Speaking as an Honours Graduate (First Class) of Rafferty’s School of Bush Law, I would be very surprised if any court anywhere recognised copyright retention by the author of some bloody letter, particularly given that it will inevitably be addressed to the recipient, and probably signed ‘Yours … [etc]” indicating that it is henceforth just that: the reader’s own property, to do with as he/she pleases.

    It is an old control-freak tactic. Not only is there censorship, but the fact that there is ongoing censorship is itself not for publication, with penalties if breached. Clearly Dozier does not want its ‘heavy-handed tactics’ known beyond the limited circle of its targeted people.

  5. 5
    Ophelia Benson

    Indeed, about Rhys Morgan. I was a dozy self-centered jerk at age 17 – and for quite some time thereafter. Rhys is way impressive.

  6. 6
    F

    Oh, I see Orac has already had a go at this one (via Morgan’s blog) http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/05/harnessing_peoples_good_to_pay_for_woo.php

    Now I wonder if TechDirt has heard this one yet.

  7. 7
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    I would be very surprised if any court anywhere recognised copyright retention by the author of some bloody letter, particularly given that it will inevitably be addressed to the recipient, and probably signed ‘Yours … [etc]” indicating that it is henceforth just that: the reader’s own property, to do with as he/she pleases.

    The “Yours” in the valediction of a letter doesn’t refer to the letter itself, but the correspondent. It is a modern abbreviation of older formal phrases like: “Your obedient servant, sir”.

    I am not a lawyer, but I do believe that you do hold copyright to any letter you send. It would be difficult for anyone to sue for damages for publication of a threatening letter though.

  8. 8
    rorschach

    The way I see it, libel claims would go down to them proving that their treatments work, not us proving that they don’t work. Burzynski hasn’t managed to do that since the 70s, so good luck with that.

  9. 9
    jamessweet

    At one point he refers to a “public defender” in the context of a civil suit (presuming I’ve properly understood his often poor writing). He’s not a lawyer.

    Good catch. I remember the public defender line, and momentarily being like, “That’s a weird thing to say,” but I hadn’t thought it through to realize just how ridiculous that was. Of course.

    I was going to say, lawyer or PR hack, he clearly sucks at this job. This is just astounding. As I mentioned in a comment on another post, I think we can safely say that Marc Stephens has done immeasurably damage to the Burzynski Clinic. Skeptics and patient and consumer advocacy groups should thank him, I suppose, but his employer ought to fire him, like, yesterday.

  10. 10
    jamessweet

    The way I see it, libel claims would go down to them proving that their treatments work, not us proving that they don’t work. Burzynski hasn’t managed to do that since the 70s, so good luck with that.

    In the US, I’m not so sure even that would get him all the way there.

  11. 11
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    I am not a lawyer, but I do believe that you do hold copyright to any letter you send. It would be difficult for anyone to sue for damages for publication of a threatening letter though.

    No idea how that is in the States, but in Germany, a letter, as soon as it is inside the letterbox, is considered property of the recipient. Indeed, trying to get that letter back even though you are the very person who wrote it is a criminal offense.
    There are most likely exceptions and regulations about artwork and such therein, like sending a manuskript to your agent, but I doubt that this applies to anything that can’t be classified as “confidential”.

    On the issue:
    It really shows how afraid those quacks are. They’re like a frightened dog who barks madly at everything and everybody.

  12. 12
    Vicki

    I am not a lawyer. That said:

    In the U.S., the recipient owns the physical letter, but the author owns the copyright. So (hypothetically) if one of my correspondents someday becomes a famous recluse, I couldn’t publish “My letters from $recluse” without their permission, but I could hang on to them.

    From what I saw elsewhere in the blogosphere (I think someone on Scientopia), the Dozier people didn’t register the copyright, which would sharply limit the possible damages. There are also questions of fair use, and possibly even abuse of copyright, but in the civil copyright suit I think Dozier et al. would need to show that publishing the threatening letter had reduced its potential market value. I can’t see a judge buying that.

    (Of course, with DOMA anything is possible.)

  13. 13
    tigtog

    Oops, cut and paste above pasted something from the last blog I was commenting on! *note to self – preview preview preview*

    Should have read as follows:

    From what I saw elsewhere in the blogosphere (I think someone on Scientopia), the Dozier people didn’t register the copyright, which would sharply limit the possible damages.

    Pretty sure that nobody has to register copyright any more, one only needs to assert it (as Ophelia does at the foot of every page on this blog) and then be able to demonstrate to the satisfaction of a court that one had/has the right to assert such copyright if a dispute arises.

  14. 14
    Matthew Morse

    Way off topic but, in the United States (copyright laws differ a lot around the world), asserting copyright is not necessary. You have copyright on everything you create at the moment you create it. However, registering copyright is necessary to claim certain kinds of damages.

    Not a lawyer, but in recovery from an obsession with copyright law.

  15. 15
    clsi

    Also off topic, and also not a lawyer, but also something of a copyright junky, I think it’s worth addressing this question of whether one can post a letter one has received from someone who says, “This letter is protected by copyright, so don’t even think about posting it on the internet.” First: copyright cannot protect ideas, only the creative expression of those ideas, so there should be absolutely nothing preventing the recipient of such a letter from paraphrasing and posting any of the ideas presented in the letter. If legal arguments don’t qualify as ideas, I don’t know what does.

    Second: U.S. law recognizes that copyright puts a limit on free speech, but we have the principle of fair use to keep that limit from becoming stifling. For example, if a news outlet publishes a photo of smoke rising from a bomb in Beirut that has been manipulated to look even smokier than it appeared in real life, and you wish to point out the manipulation, there is really no better way to do so than republishing the original and manipulated versions of the photo. Both versions of the photo are protected by copyright, but preventing people from publishing the images in critiques of those images would essentially stifle free speech on that subject. [Note: most fair use arguments take a completely different but far more complex approach than this; this works in this admittedly extreme case, but it isn't easily generalized.] Critique is a well-established reason for making fair use of intellectual property. If you can’t critique something without reproducing it, then it should be fair use to reproduce as much of it as is necessary to make your point. Going back to the threatening letter from the lawyers, if your purpose in posting the letter is to critique it, you should at least be able to post any excerpts that you directly want to critique. And they should know that–they’re just being bullies.

    Did I mention, though, that I am not a lawyer?

  1. 16
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