You just can’t StopSylviaBrowne

By Phil Plait | February 8, 2007 8:31 pm

I’ve talked about the website StopSylviaBrowne before, which is an attempt to make the public aware of the loathsome and vile things done by the self-proclaimed psychic.

Oddly enough, Ms. Browne wasn’t happy that the site existed, and sicced her lawyer on Robert Lancaster, the webmaster and creative force behind StopSylviaBrowne.com. The lawyer sent Robert a letter, saying that the website name was an infringement on her trademarked name, that the site infringed on some of her logos, and various other ridiculous and frivolous claims.

So Robert struck back. His lawyers sent a letter to Ms. Browne. Read it and cheer.

My favorite bit:

Your letter of January 26 has set forth no factual or legal basis as to how Mr. Lancaster is in violation of any of your client’s rights. Unless you are able to cite some support for your claims, Mr. Lancaster will neither cease nor desist from operating StopSylviaBrowne.Com. He is involved in the distribution of important information about this person who, you are reminded, has chosen a life in the public eye.

It is a fact that bears mention that Ms. Browne is a person of wealth and resources far in excess of Mr. Lancaster. There have been instances where monied individuals have used the courts as tools to bully their detractors. You are put on notice that any suit filed without basis will be met with a vigorous defense that will take full advantage of California’s anti-SLAPP law and include motions for legal fees and sanctions. In such suit, this letter will be produced as evidence that your clients were aware that no grounds existed for any lawsuit. You are also put on notice that it may be a breach of ethics for a lawyer to prosecute a case knowing that it has no footing in law and knowing that it is being used to harass the defendant.

Man, I love the good guys.

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Comments (44)

  1. How does Sylvia’s lawyer sleep at night?

  2. Omega Supreme

    I find it funny that in the original letter from her lawyers, “Sylvia” is misspelled twice. Smart lawyers.

  3. Laguna2

    Christian, he buries his head under that huge pillow filled with dollar notes…

  4. Ty

    “How does Sylvia’s lawyer sleep at night?”

    On top of a giant pile of money, with many beautiful ladies.

  5. Stuart

    “Ladies”? As in “…of the night?”

  6. Bad Albert

    “How does Sylvia’s lawyer sleep at night?”

    It’s easy. Just ask Larry King or Montel Williams.

  7. Mark Hansen

    Why did it take Sylvia’s lawyers so long to act? Surely she would have known that Robert Lancaster would be setting up a website infringing on her even before he knew and would be able to set her lawyers on him in order to prevent him setting the website up.
    Unless of course her “powers” just don’t exist…

    One more point: I don’t think he had a problem with that original letter anyway. He never made “…any use of SYVLIA
    BROWNE in this or any other URL…” or provided “…linking instruction and text instructing others how to infringe our
    SYVIA’S BROWNE’S marks…”. His argument is with Sylvia Browne.

  8. “How does Sylvia’s lawyer sleep at night?”

    Horlicks aids restful sleep 😀

    To quote the UK TV ad

    Seriously

    I expect Sylvia Brown to win the day here, the reference in the rebuttle letter to Domains By Proxy indicates that they have also targeted the web hosting company as well, who are more likely to cave in. Commercial companies tend to be like that, and some bean counter in that company will point out that, despite the merits of the case it would be financially expedient to settle with Silvia Brown and close the site down, thus saving legal fees. As noted Silvia has deeper pockets than Mr Lancaster

    Sorry but Mr Lancaster’s time in the sun is due to end. Silvia will be victorious :(

  9. Max Fagin

    Saddly, Sticks may be right.

    Domain name cases have been decided both ways in the past. Think Homedepotsucks.com or peta.org

    I hope with all my heart that Mr. Lancaster is victorius in bringing Sylvia Brown down, but he may have to change the domain name. . .

  10. Ty

    Hmmmm…

    That doesn’t seem to apply to religions. Most of the websites that are vehemently opposed to a specific religion include the name of that religion in the web address.

  11. I guess Sylvia Browne wouldn’t appreciate “STOP Psychic Scammers”, either. Gosh, there’s no pleasing some frauds. But why didn’t she file a cease-and-desist order before this happened? I mean, she IS psychic, right?

    Still, next time you’re talking to James Randi, ask him about a certain litigious spoon-bender and what a legal nuisance he can be.

  12. Roy Batty

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!! I’m actually speechless with laughter at the spelling mistakes. If all her money can afford is a bunch of clueless lawyers without a spell checker…..
    Seriously though, if his web hosting company does back down (& a surprising amount of them won’t without very good reason you know (look at Peter Bowditch’s ratbags.com ongoing good relationship with his site hosts for example), then he can always move the registered domain name over to another, more reasonable, hosting company. I for one would be only too glad to contribute to offset any costs incurred!

  13. Roy Batty

    Btw yes I know spell checkers wouldn’t have her name but they could add it in the interests of getting their own clients name right 😉

  14. Carina

    You know, there’s a thing called proofreading. No spellchecker required. It helps. 😉

  15. When I imagine the negative publicity which could come out of a lawsuit, I suspect that “SVLIA BROWNE” might have a very good reason to wish the matter settled out of court. Now she knows that intimidation won’t work. We’ll either see a quiet retreat or, more likely, a sleazy move to attack Domains By Proxy (which hopefully Lancaster’s lawyer has already contacted).

    The lawyer cites precedent: Fox News Network, LLC v. Penguin Group and Franken. This was the case where Judge Denny Chen said the following:

    The plaintiff, Fox News Network, has moved for a preliminary injunction to enjoin the defendants from using the phrase “fair and balanced” and any photographs of Bill O’Reilly or other Fox personnel in connection with Mr. Franken’s book. Accordingly, the standard is whether Fox has shown irreparable harm, a likelihood of success, and a balancing of equities in its favor.

    There are hard cases and there are easy cases. This is an easy case, for in my view the case is wholly without merit, both factually and legally. Accordingly, the motion for a preliminary injunction is denied.

    Factually, I conclude that there is no likelihood of confusion as to the origin and sponsorship of the book. It is highly unlikely that consumers are going to be misled into believing that Fox or Mr. O’Reilly are sponsors of the book. That is evident from the cover viewed as a whole. It is evident by Mr. Franken’s name being featured prominently across the top. It is evident from the word “lies” in big red letters across the faces of the other four individuals on the cover. It is evident from the phrase “the lying liars who tell them.”

    […]

    Even assuming for the moment that it is a valid mark, however, and even assuming there is some danger of confusion, here the First Amendment trumps. The First Amendment requires us to weigh the public interest in free expression against the public interest in avoiding confusion.

  16. I had a problem with spelling, which is why I was kicked out of Hogwarts 😀

    Have corresponded by email with Mr Lancaster and the issue of the server is being looked at, but because of the nature of the attack by SB, for understandable reasons, the details need to kept between Mr Lancaster and his legal team.

    I am surprised BS never tried that one with Phil and Jay since they criticise them by name. If SB succeeds then charlatons will be given free licence as we will all have to shut up.

  17. Ausrick

    “Why did it take Sylvia’s lawyers so long to act? Surely she would have known that Robert Lancaster would be setting up a website infringing on her even before he knew and would be able to set her lawyers on him in order to prevent him setting the website up.
    Unless of course her “powers” just don’t exist…”

    No silly, if she would have stopped him before he posted it then she could have never predicted it would have happened… She would have been screwing with the space-time continuum… She needs to use her Flux Capacitor for that! 😉 (and besides, with her track record for accuracy she would have probably fingered Yahoo! or thepamperedchef.com) 😉

    I appologize, I normally try not to scoff at people because I know how easily the tables can turn, and being mocked is no fun… But with a person like Sylvia, who has done [..Sarcasm..] So much for humanity and is such an upstanding person and citizen [../Sarcasm..] I just felt it was necessary. :)

    And by the way, someone should start a “Stop Frivolous Law Suits.com”

  18. Gmann

    Sylvia has been targeted since her “powers” told her that the Miners in that accident a little over a year or so ago would all be found alive. In reality, one survived (barely) and the rest died. My beef with her is an appearance on the Montel Williams Show about 3 1/2 years ago where she told the parents of Shawn Hornbeck that he was dead, and described, in great detail, the location of his body. This caused the family, and other concerned people to engage in a wild goose chase looking for the site she described. The place was never found, but 3 1/2 years later, Shawn was found. Nowhere near where she described (20 miles Southwest of Richwoods MO) but more like 40 miles East, and very much alive. People of her ilk, who profit from the anguish of others deserve whatever ridicule that can be given to them.

  19. Yeah, but life is not like that and sometimes they seem to get away with it, and woe betide anyone who gets in their way :(

    I suspect that Wippo may rule against our guy, given the PETA precidence.

  20. Michelle

    Awesome, that made my day! Great to know that someone stands up to the bully fraud for real!

  21. Gary Ansorge

    Christian B.:”How do her lawyers sleep,,,”
    They don’t. They stay awake and dream up more Bull!

    An argument between god and the devil had degenerated to name calling when god said, “You SOB. I’ll sue.”
    The devil fell down laughing and said,” Where are you gonna find a lawyer?”

    Gary 7

  22. Who is truly worse, the fuzzy-thinking bumpkin who, living in a society that gives free education, should know better but visits the psychic, or the psychic who gleefully takes his money for a moaning and light show? I’m not a fan of “blame the victim” but at least as far as Canada / US / Europe / and the rest of the first-world is concerned, I don’t consider people who partake of psychic services to be victims. Everyone should know it’s all bollocks, and if they choose to believe it, aren’t they bringing it upon themselves?

    Psychics have always been a bit of a conundrum for me. Sure, they make their money on the anguish of others, but at the most basic level so do doctors, lawyers and computer system adminstrators.

    Psychics only hurt people who choose to let themselves be hurt. If I offer to kick you in the stones for $50, and you agree and pay the $50, I don’t think you have a whole lot of room to complain when you’re doubled over. Similarly, if I offer to commune with spirits for you for $500, and you agree and pay and I put on a nice show, do you have room to complain that I made it all up?

    It’s been a while since I’ve poked around the gnarled troll’s site, but I bet she – like all psychics – even has a disclaimer that her work is for entertainment purposes only.

    Is what she does reprehensible? Probably. Are the people she cons victims? Not really.

  23. PK

    “I suspect that Wippo may rule against our guy, given the PETA precidence.”

    Can you explain this to the uninitiated?

  24. RPink

    That letter definitely made me grin.

    When you linked the StopSylviaBrown.com website before, I looked over some of the documentation in the archives. I had no idea that she actually had a criminal record. The more I read, the more despicable it became.

    BTW, Gary, top-drawer lesson in religion. 😛

  25. PuckishOne

    Anyone go to the website for Ms. Browne’s esteemed legal representatives?

    Under “Intellectual Property Basics,” item #3: “One does not copyright a name.”

    A riveting read for all – I highly recommend it. 😉

  26. BMurray

    Which is why they are claiming a trademark infringment and not a copyright infringement.

  27. Michael

    PuckishOne:

    I checked out their website as well, and came away underwhelmed. Being in law school, I have to check out a lot of firm sites to explore internship opportunities, and these guys lay an egg.

  28. Wipo IIRC rules on domain names, and IIRC they ruled against PETA.org

    By that precedence, SB may get Mr Lancasters domain reviked.

  29. Just a quick note on the ‘stupid lawyers’ misspelling Slyvia’s (wink) name… the actual letter was probably typed by one of the lawyers’ secretaries or other peon, NOT the Lawyer(s). They were busy swimming in their vault (anyone remember Scrooge McDuck?)

    J/P=?

  30. CR

    The Uncle Scrooge reference made me laugh… I never thought of lawyers that way before, but I will from now on.

  31. PuckishOne

    Michael,

    The egg laid is too nasty to be studied scientifically. But when it’s safe to approach, rest assured that the BA and assorted others will be on the case. :) Good luck in law school.

    And, BMurray, thank you for pointing that out – remind me never to type comments midway through a delicious cup o’ joe. Unfortunately, my error doesn’t make that website any less nausea-inducing.

  32. darius

    Sticks,

    I fail to see the correlation between a case involving “peta.org” (which, if judging by the name alone and not the content, could easily be mistaken for the genuine website of an organization called PETA) and a case involving “stopsylviabrowne.com”, which could in no way be mistaken for the domain “sylviabrowne.com”.

    There is a world of difference between websites that have “stop” or “sucks” or “reallysucks” or similar add-ons to a trademark name, and websites that are the same URL with a different top-level domain suffix.

    Also, another difference is that parody is not always given as much leeway as consumer advocates are. Sad but true.

  33. GDwarf

    A PDF warning would’ve been nice on those links.

    Anyways, I find it hilarious that her name wasn’t spelt right in the letter. I mean, even if a secretary typed it up, it should have at least been proofread.

  34. Irishman

    Sticks, since you didn’t explain what you were talking about, I did a little Googling to learn about the PETA.org case. First hit was this Lamparello vs. Falwell Court of Appeals verdict.

    http://pacer.ca4.uscourts.gov/opinion.pdf/042011.P.pdf

    It is very informative of the status of trademark infringement and domain name abuse, including cybersquatting.

    Briefly, Lamparello set up an website, http://www.fallwell.org, which was one letter different than the official site, http://www.falwell.org. He used the site to state that Falwell is misinterpreting the Bible in his anti-Gay campaign, and offers different interpretations and criticisms of Falwell. Falwell filed suit claiming that the domain name was a trademark infringement and that Lamparallo was also cybersquatting, reserving similar site names to make a profit off them.

    The original judgement was a summary judgement that the damain name was similar enough to confuse, and awarded in Falwell’s favor but without damages because it was determined that Lamparello had no intent to profit off Falwell’s trademark – he was not pretending to be Falwell.

    This Court of Appeals judgment reversed the original verdict and found for Lamparello. The judgment reviews case law and precedents for interpreting both trademark infringement using domain names and cybersquatting.

    On trademarks, this court determined that evaluating a website solely by the domain name is not correct, and that the website content must also be considered. Similarity of name is not enough to cause confusion that the website is owned and approved by the original site. In particular:
    1) Lamparello did not emulate Falwell’s page style or layout.
    2) There was a prominant disclaimer on the main page that his page was not affiliated with Jerry Falwell or Falwell Ministries, and even provided a link to the other site.
    3) The intent was not to sell ideas or materials as if he were Falwell or similar to Falwell’s, but to offer criticism of Falwell’s views.

    As such, even though the domain name might cause initial confusion or accidentally mislead a few viewers, it was determined that no one would reasonably mistake the content of the site as being Falwell’s, and Lamparello was not profiting from Falwell’s trademark nor weakening the trademark.

    Regarding cybersquatting, the intent of the law is to prevent people from buying up similar names and then selling them to the originator, solely to make a profit. Particular characteristics include buying up large numbers of similar domain names, not offering meaningful content, having no rightful use of the similar names (i.e. it resembles your name, etc), and especially trying to sell the name to the original without having established a rightful use. In this case, none of those criteria reflected the situation with Lamparello. He only bought one domain name, he put up meaningful content of criticism, and he did not try to sell the domain name to Jerry Falwell.

    In short, the Court of Appeals found fully in Lamparello’s favor. This case is very similar to the StopSylviaBrowne situation. Indeed, it is almost identical. With this judgment as precedent, and the logic argued in the case and summarized by the judges so well, it is highly unlikely a lawsuit by Browne or her attorneys would go anywhere. Lancaster’s attorneys are correct in everything they state. She has no grounds, and at best could tie him up in litigation purely for financial affects. That would be grounds for Lancaster to be awarded damages from Browne. She has no case.

  35. Irishman

    I meant to mention the connection to the PETA.org case, it is cited in this verdict and the differences are elaborated to show why the PETA.org case was judged cybersquatting. In the PETA.org case, the defendant registered over 50 similar domain names. He also expressed to PETA the desire for them to buy them, and used the parody page as leverage. That is the type of action that the cybersquatting law was written to address.

  36. Sorry I was going by what Max Fagin brought up here

    He also mentioned homedepotsucks.com as an example of a domain name critical of an organisation loosing.

    My suspicion still remains that SB will get in by complaining to Domains By Proxy who could be the weak link here

  37. Irishman

    homedepotsucks.com wasn’t explicitly mentioned. However, other cases are explicitly discussed.

    4Contrary to Reverend Falwell’s suggestions, this rule does not change depending on how similar the domain name or title is to the mark. Hence, Reverend Falwell’s assertion that he objects only to Lamparello using the domain name http://www.fallwell.com and has no objection to Lamparello posting his criticisms at “www.falwelliswrong.com,” or a similar domain name, does not entitle him to a different evaluation rule. Rather it has long been established that even when alleged infringers use the very marks at issue in titles, courts look to the underlying content to determine whether the titles create a likelihood of confusion as to source. See, e.g., Parks v. LaFace Records, 329 F.3d 437, 452-54 (6th Cir. 2003); Mattel, 296 F.3d at 901-02; Westchester Media v. PRL USA Holdings, Inc., 214 F.3d 658, 667-68 (5th Cir. 2000); Rogers v. Grimaldi, 875 F.2d 994, 1000-01 (2d Cir. 1989).

    Italics in original.

    6Although the appellate courts that have adopted the initial interest confusion theory have only applied it to profit-seeking uses of another’s mark, the district courts have not so limited the application of the theory. Without expressly referring to this theory, two frequently-discussed district court cases have held that using another’s domain name to post content antithetical to the markholder constitutes infringement. See Planned Parenthood Fed’n of Am., Inc. v. Bucci, No. 97 Civ. 0629, 1997 WL 133313 (S.D.N.Y. March 24, 1997), aff’d, 152 F.3d 920 (2d Cir. 1998) (table) (finding use of domain name “www.plannedparenthood.com” to provide links to passages of anti-abortion book constituted infringement); Jews for Jesus v. Brodsky, 993 F. Supp. 282 (D.N.J. 1998), aff’d, 159 F.3d 1351 (3d Cir. 1998) (table) (finding use of “www.jewsforjesus.org” to criticize religious group constituted infringement). We think both cases were wrongly decided to the extent that in determining whether the domain names were confusing, the courts did not consider whether the websites’ content would dispel any confusion. In expanding the initial interest confusion theory of liability, these cases cut it off from its moorings to the detriment of the First Amendment.

    Italics in original, bolding added for emphasis.

    Without knowing the detail of the homedepotsucks case or other specific cases, I can’t say why they were decided how they were. But from reading this judgment, the case law is pretty solid and referring to this judgment would make a very solid defense for Robert Lancaster.

    Now you may be rignt that Domains By Proxy could give in rather than deal with the hassle. Can’t speak for them. But Lancaster’s attorneys should be able to provide them with grounds to ignore and/or refute Browne. But if they bail, there are likely other servers that would host the site. I’m sure some skeptic out there has a server they would gladly offer up.

  38. Irishman

    The numbers preceding the quoted bits are superscripts. The coding wasn’t accepted.

  39. Good for them. Sylvia Browne should be burned at the stake. Just kidding. It looks like she ate all the “steaks”. She is a sham and should be stopped.

  40. Actually, there’s more than the Anti-SLAPP stipulation.

    StopSylviaBrowne.com has the right to use her name or any trademarked name in regards to copyrighted materials. Per copyright law (USC Title 17, Chapter 1, §107 [Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair], Robert Lancaster is not in infringing on any rights. It seems that his website deals with the “criticism” of a trademarked name (Sylvia Browne), which is protected under this section of fair use.

  41. cic

    I’m not a lawyer, which is probably why I don’t understand why these liars and thieves such as Browne can’t be charged with fraud and do cold reading on the rats in their cells nibbling on their fingers and toes while waiting for a court date to prove they have the powers they claim.

    Having failed to prove they are what they claim, they can be sent back to their cells as the thieves, frauds, liars, and cons they are to continue to do cold reading on rats and roaches for a number of years.

    There are a number of laws dealing with those who do basically what so called psychics do, lie in order to separate people from their money, why aren’t those laws applicable to the Sylvia Brownes?

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