Wednesday, January 18, 2012

APA bullies blogger

There’s a surge of late in efforts to silence atheists and secularists, which is being well covered by the blogs. People in the skeptical community, though, might not be aware of another recent instance of the use of threats to silence a critic.

The APA, some might know, is completing the DSM-5. It’s been extremely controversial, and many scientists and others have been highly critical of the process. (Here, for example, is an open letter and petition with more than 10,000 signatures, stating in part:
Though we admire various efforts of the DSM-5 Task Force, especially efforts to update the manual according to new empirical research, we have substantial reservations about a number of the proposed changes that are presented on As we will detail below, we are concerned about the lowering of diagnostic thresholds for multiple disorder categories, about the introduction of disorders that may lead to inappropriate medical treatment of vulnerable populations, and about specific proposals that appear to lack empirical grounding. In addition, we question proposed changes to the definition(s) of mental disorder that deemphasize sociocultural variation while placing more emphasis on biological theory. In light of the growing empirical evidence that neurobiology does not fully account for the emergence of mental distress, as well as new longitudinal studies revealing long-term hazards of standard neurobiological (psychotropic) treatment, we believe that these changes pose substantial risks to patients/clients, practitioners, and the mental health professions in general.
and calling for an independent scientific review of controversial portions:
As you know, it is common practice for scientists and scholars to submit their work to others for independent review. We believe it is time for an independent group of scientists and scholars, who have no vested interest in the outcome, to do an external, independent review of the controversial portions of the DSM-5. We consider this especially important in light of the unprecedented criticism of the proposed DSM-5 by thousands of mental health professionals, as well as mental health organizations, in the United States and Europe.

Will you submit the controversial proposals in DSM-5 to an independent group of scientists and scholars with no ties to the DSM-5 Task Force or the American Psychiatric Association for an independent, external review?)
One site providing information and critical analysis of DSM-5 development has been Suzy Chapman’s. In December, Chapman received two cease-and-desist letters from the American Psychiatric Association demanding that she remove “DSM 5” from her domain name or face legal action for trademark infringement:
Name: Redacted
Email: Redacted

December 22, 2011
Suzy Chapman

RE: DSM 5 Trademark Violation

Dear Ms. Chapman:

It has come to our attention that the website is infringing upon the American Psychiatric Association’s trademark DSM 5 (serial number 85161695) and is in violation of federal law by using it as a domain name.

According to our records, the American Psychiatric Association has not authorized this use of the DSM 5 trademark. Consequently, this use of the DSM 5 mark is improper and is in violation of United States Trademark Law. Your unauthorized actions may subject you to contributory infringement liability including increased damages for willful infringement. We request that you immediately cease and desist any and all use of the DSM 5 mark. Furthermore, we request that the DSM 5 mark is removed from the domain name .

The American Psychiatric Association has a good-faith belief that the above-identified website’s use of the DSM 5 name and marks is not authorized by the American Psychiatric Association, its agents, or the law. I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct and that I am authorized to act on behalf of the American Psychiatric Association.

Please confirm, within the next ten (10) days of the date of this letter, that you will stop using our trademark in , and provide documentation confirming that you have. Any further use will be considered an infringement.

Thank you for your prompt cooperation in resolving this issue.

Very truly yours,

Licensing and Permissions Manager
American Psychiatric Publishing, A Division of American Psychiatric Association
1000 Wilson Boulevard Suite 1825
Arlington, VA 22209
E-mail: Redacted
This is simple intimidation. Everyone is familiar with “____ Watch” groups and sites, and this is widely viewed as fair use. As Chapman argues:
This experience has taught me that the APA trademark claims were not only misguided, but probably legally indefensible. ‘Nominative fair use’ is permitted those who are publishing criticism within texts if use of the trademark is relevant to the subject of discussion or necessary to identify the product, service, or company. Courts have found that non-misleading use of trademarks in the domain names of critical websites (like is to be considered ‘fair use’ by non-commercial users – so long as there is no intent to misrepresent or confuse visitors to the site and when it is clear that the site owner is not claiming endorsement by, or affiliation to, the holder of the mark.

Everything I have read suggests that my clearly non-commercial use of my previous subdomain name ( – with its prominent disclaimer and no intent to mislead – falls well within the concept of ‘fair use’. This then raises the obvious question – what grounds did APA have for serving me with demands and threats of possible legal action? Several people have independently sent me materials on ‘SLAPP’ lawsuits (strategic lawsuit against public participation). These are threats of legal action intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense – so that they will abandon their criticism or opposition.
Changing the name of her blog naturally led to a substantial reduction in traffic. Fortunately, the professional and internet community came swiftly to her defense, and this episode has likely garnered her site much more attention than if the APA had left her alone. But this should never have happened.

I think what we may be witnessing with the broad challenges to the DSM-5 is the beginning of the end for this psychiatric model. Its flaws, failures, and cooptation by corporate interests are becoming more widely known, and it’s unraveling. Efforts at evasion and intimidation like these merely dramatize the process.


  1. It's maddening when it's the cost of defence, not the likelihood of success, is what these large entities use to scare into silence or obscurity their critics.

  2. Thank you, Salty, for posting on this APA legal threats issue. There is a bit more to add.

    I am not disclosing the content of the second letter served by American Psychiatric Publishing's Licensing and Permissions department since this communication relates to matters concerning a third party. But the second letter demanded that I cease and desist immediately any and all use of the DSM 5 mark in the domain names of three additional internet platforms - a website and two social media platforms - for which I am not the owner or have any responsibility.

    Evidently American Psychiatric Publishing omitted to establish ownership of these internet platforms before issuing demands and threats of legal action. So not only was the wording of these letters nasty, with no prior attempt having been made to discuss and resolve this issue with me informally, before getting heavy, but the second letter had been served to the wrong party.

    What was the APA doing serving "cease and desist" demands for websites and social media platforms but failing to first establish ownership and the names of domain registrants? Had these letters (which are chock full of legalistic gems like "I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct and that I am authorized to act on behalf of the American Psychiatric Association") been run past a legal department?

    I have received no apology nor explanation for being the recipient of a claim of violation of United States Trademark Law in respect of sites which I do not own.

    The timing was interesting, too. I was given ten days from receipt of communications within which to comply.

    These letters were served just one working day before offices shut down for Christmas, with just three working days in between Christmas and New Year in which to change my (sub)domain name, before December 31. I don't know about the US, but as a UK resident, it would not have been easy obtaining specialist legal advice during a holiday period. And it may also have proved difficult discussing this issue with the APA's Licensing department by email or phone (no telephone number was provided on either letter) or with my site hosts, or with legal advocacy organizations. Possibly administrative oversight but there have been other interpretations in response to the timing.