Or can you?
I have to ask because during the month that I was consumed by trial, a case arose that appears scripted — a case that seems intelligently designed with stock characters, movie-villain behavior, and hilarity.
I speak of Roca Labs vs. anyone who speaks ill of them.
Roca Labs is in the weight-loss business. As near as I can tell from its website — check it out yourself — Roca markets an alternative to various weight-loss surgeries: a substance that you consume to fill your stomach, thus reducing appetite and available pizza space. The graphics of the Roca Labs substance remind me of the psychomagnotheric slime from Ghostbusters II, but I want to emphasize that I know of no evidence that Roca Labs' product has any supernatural properties.
Yet the arcane and unnatural plays a role in Roca Labs' approach to the market — in the form of an unnaturally ridiculous approach to criticism.
Roca Labs apparently has a clause in at least some of its purchase contracts that forbids customers from criticizing it or its products. Here's how they describe it, openly, in one of their filings:
In exchange for a significant discount (discounts average $800) customers contractually agree that, regardless of their outcome, they will not speak, publish, print, blog, or write negatively about Roca or its products in any forum.
Now, I think you'd have to be quite stupid to agree not to criticize the person who is providing you with medicinal substances, but then we are talking about a population that has decided to consume large volumes of pink slime to lose weight.
Those "I won't criticize" clauses rarely end well. But Roca Labs is optimistic, to put it mildly. They've sued Pissedconsumer.com on a theory that I will call "novel" because "batshit crazy" is rude. Roca Labs says that Pissedconsumer.com is interfering with their contractual relations with their clients by allowing the clients to post complaints about Roca Labs. That's their attempt to evade the protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which generally immunizes sites from suits over what their visitors post. Roca Labs is even seeking a preliminary injunction to force PissedConsumer.com to take down the critical posts, a classic case of unconstitutional prior restraint.
Marc Randazza is representing Pissedconsumer.com. As you would guess, that is not a happy development for Roca Labs. Randazza kicks the shit out of Roca Labs' ridiculous demand for prior restraint, and in the course of doing so provides a swarm of BBB complaints, declarations from unhappy customers, and a rather unflattering review by a doctor.
That would have been a good time for a sensible litigant to reconsider their stance and strategy. Roca Labs isn't sensible. Roca Labs is not near sensible. The light from sensible will not reach Roca Labs for several generations. Roca Labs is acting in a way that further suggests, if there was any doubt, that it would be foolish to put anything they produce in your mouth.
First, Roca Labs took action through its "Independent General Counsel" Paul Berger, Esq.1 Mr. Berger also appears to be affiliated with something called the Hurricane Law Group, which would be awesome if that conveyed a litigation style, but unfortunately it doesn't.
Anyway, Mr. Berger started sending legal threats directly to the customers who provided Randazza with declarations. Though the court denied Randazza's request for a restraining order to make them quit that, this will likely produce gloomy consequences for Roca in the long run.
Second, Roca Labs demanded that the court allow it to file a sanctions motion against Randazza for complaining about their harassment of witnesses. Good luck with that.
Third, Mr. Berger sent a letter on behalf of Roca Labs threatening TechDirt with a defamation suit for covering the case and quoting court documents. I would characterize the letter as "resembling that of a pro se litigant regarding CIA mind beams." TechDirt responded with an amazingly civil letter from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Fourth, Roca Labs tried to improve its publicity by statements that could be read to imply it had celebrity endorsements that it did not have.
The result of this idiocy is predictable: the Streisand Effect has delivered many orders of magnitude more attention to the complaints about Roca Labs, including extensive TechDirt coverage, Ars Technica coverage, and BoingBoing coverage. Roca Labs has effectively tried to deal with a minor fruit-fly infestation by calling in a gang of teenaged boys with flamethrowers. The course of conduct is so bizarrely and recklessly aggressive that I am moved to ask: are we dealing with people who are disturbed? Are we dealing with people who have no grasp whatsoever of the Streisand Effect? Or is this for the lulz?
For the most part I have cured myself of thinking that everything is about me. Skywriting is not specifically directed at me. When people on TV mention food I like they aren't giving me a shoutout. Plot adjustments on Game of Thrones have not been designed specifically to antagonize me.
But here . . . reading this story, I feel like the crook in the Twilight Zone episode, in a Heaven where everything seems too perfect, until he realizes he's in the other place.
Am I being punked here?
Edited to add: I forgot to mention: when Adam Steinbaugh wrote to Roca Labs to ask them about the possibility that their white-coated spox "Dr. Ross" had lost his medical license after a child porn conviction, they reacted pretty much the way you're expecting.
- He uses esquire after his name. You can tell a great deal about a lawyer by their use of "Esq." after their name. It's like if you're watching a movie and a pizza delivery guy shows up and porn music starts playing, you can pretty much tell what's going to happen next. It's not going to be Ibsen. ▲
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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