May 14, 2009

Not in my name - VC loses fight for his domain

A former lecturer at the University of Kingston has won the right to continue using the domain name - the name of Kingston's vice-chancellor.

Howard Fredrics, a senior lecturer at the university between 2002 and 2006, has used the website to air grievances against Sir Peter Scott and the university.

Sir Peter complained to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), arguing that he had built up "substantial and extensive goodwill" in the name "Sir Peter Scott", that it constituted a trademark and that the site contained "insulting and defamatory material".

Sir Peter said: "Dr Fredrics has been posting inaccurate statements about my colleagues on a website that carries my name, is headed by my photograph and is one of the first websites that comes up if you google me.

"The risk of misunderstanding that I'm responsible for these statements is enormous. There's ... no attempt to curb Dr Fredrics' right to criticise Kingston, but he should do so under his own name."

Dr Fredrics denied the claims, arguing that protecting the website was a freedom of speech issue and insisting that he used it for educational and artistic purposes.

The WIPO did not uphold the vice-chancellor's complaint. It said that he had not acquired sufficient goodwill to establish the name as a trademark, and that Dr Fredrics had not commercially exploited it.

"Even though this case would seem to raise an important issue concerning legitimate criticism and free speech, (our) policy simply does not extend to cases in which the complainant has not established the requisite trademark rights," Alistair Payne, a WIPO panellist, said.

He noted that court proceedings were pending, and suggested that this would be the best forum in which to resolve the matter.

Dr Fredrics is suing Kingston for defamation in connection with a newspaper story published last year. He supplied the Surrey Comet with emails suggesting that an external examiner at Kingston had been pressured into changing a report.

The story included a claim that Kingston had "categorically denied the authenticity of the emails", but a subsequent Quality Assurance Agency investigation considered them to be genuine after the examiner confirmed that the exchange had taken place.

A claim filed by Dr Fredrics at Surrey County Court says his name appeared in the articles and it was obvious to readers that he had provided the emails.

"The university therefore committed an unlawful act of libel by knowingly, deliberately and maliciously breaching the Defamation Act of 1996, causing damage to the claimant's professional and personal reputation," the claim states.

He is asking for unspecified damages and a published apology.

A spokeswoman for Kingston said: "The university's solicitors have advised that the claim is unsustainable, both legally and factually. We will apply to court to have it struck out without a full trial at the earliest opportunity. For legal reasons, we can make no further comment."



Anonymous said...

A trip down memory lane...

November 2006 Academic unions have their heads in the sand...

Pierre-Joseph, I think your cartoon is unfair. As a UCU (formerly AUT) casework officer I deal with cases of workplace bullyng constantly. Union officials and lay activists like myself spend a lot of our time and energy trying to support bullied academics. The main problem has been that until recently, workplace bullying was not in itself illegal: it was only illegal if it was discriminatory or could be shown to cause personal injury (very hard to prove in law). Thanks to the Majrowski ruling in the House of Lords, that should now change.

all for now,

Sue Blackwell
UCU, University of Birmingham

3:44 PM

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon said...
Dear Sue,

I have no doubt that good and active union members like yourself and perhaps many more, are indeed interested to support your academic colleagues and work against workplace bullying. You and the other active members of academic unions, is not the problem.

The problem is with the leadership of the our academic unions (AUT + NATFE = UCU), who for many years remained inactive, and in many cases caused harm. I speak not only from personal experience.

Please do not promise that due to the Majrowski rulling things will improve. What of the many who lost their jobs and their health - like myself? How is the damage repaired? I will never be able to practice my job anymore. This is the end of my academic career.

Our union reaction was and is so formulaic, that it has become predictable sadly.

The case below highlights the normal pattern:

"The behaviour of the AUT and their solicitors (Thompsons of Edinburgh) in relation to my case was abominable. It may seem counter-intuitive, but I felt considerably less stressed once I had decided to represent myself than when I had been represented by the AUT's solicitors. The solicitor who initially handled my case failed to advise me that I could have filed my initial claim under the Public Interest Disclosures Act, 1998. This failure had significant ramifications for the way the case was subsequently brought. The same solicitor failed to pass information from ACAS (the Arbitration and Conciliation Advisory Service) to me or from me to ACAS, thus prejudicing the possibility of a settlement without going to an employment tribunal. He also repeatedly failed to reply to my queries. At one point (when the University submitted a large dossier of papers) the case seemed to become too much for him and he passed it on to a junior colleague. She then sent a report to the AUT which managed to get the reason for my resignation wrong and made so many other misrepresentations that I had to send a nine page list of corrections to the AUT's legal aid committee. It was to no avail. The AUT decided to go with the solicitors misrepresentations, conveniently allowing them to avoid funding a potentially lengthy hearing.

The main thing that I learned from my correspondence with AUT officials and their solicitors was that the union subscriptions I had paid since 1986 were a complete waste of money. I urge all AUT members to think very carefully about why they are subscribing to this union and to consider cancelling their membership. I will make the correspondence available to any AUT member who is interested to consult it in London.

Should either the AUT or Thompsons Solicitors wish to contest what is on this page, I am more than prepared to answer them. If necessary, correspondence can be put up here."

And some more cases:

'...After 2-3 years of inaction and no support from my union, with the last few months on medication and receiving mental health councelling, all this while on suspension because I tried to expose institutionalised bullying, and while I watch the serial bully being promoted and taking over my office, I very reluctantly decided to write to the top persons in my union a very polite letter reminding them that I have not received the support I needed. This is the reply I received: "Our union does not have a specialist on workplace bullying to deal with your case now. We do not normally use any specialist consultant..."

'...After the TUC (Trades Union Congress) I will be writing to the ILO, and then last I will resign my union membership making sure that the media know why...'

'...The trade unions already see, realise, understand the plague of bullying in the workplace. They are quite happy with it. That is the way things are meant to be. One man's [or woman's] workplace bullying is another man's [or woman's] strong management / flexible workforce mantra...'

'...It is one thing to have my employers not understanding bullying, and it is another thing if the union itself is ignorant...'

'...I have no doubt that unions and TUC are hopeless [with workplace bullying]. I still think it is worthwhile showing the world how hopeless they are - at a cost of a stamp...'

'...The TUC general secretary will say that he has no powers to intervene in the affairs of an individual trade union. The TUC is simply the trade union's trade union... I would have been relatively happier if my trade union had maintained indifference. They ended up working against me by destroying and delaying documents, passing confidential info to my employers, all sorts of things...'

'...I have first hand experience of one particular union that has sat on its hands twice, in cases I have seen and been involved in. That union of shame is XXXXXX. No wonder so many health workers live in fear, there is no protection whatsoever...'

'...The actions of my union have damaged my mental health and sense of trust far worse that the bullying of my employer...'

Dear Sue, I have no problem accepting that perhaps - as I stated above - you are indeed very active and very concerned about workplace bullying, and as a UCU activist you are perhaps trying hard, BUT we do have a very long way to go, and I for one have paid a very heavy price for the inaction of my union, which left me with NO representation for over 8 months!

The pain of loosing your job, your colleagues, bullying, intimidation, etc, etc is something I can't describe, and all my union rep did was refer me to a web page...


So Sally that was in 2006

Now it is 2009...

Where have UCU got to?

Letter in THE April 23rd 2009 suggests that UCU have not got very far...

Removing the heads won't stem the rot

... The power in my university is in the hands of those whom I believe are driven by their own egos and their own glory. In this I believe they are supported by an obedient board of governors and a sychophantic union. I have spent a number of years challenging practices in my university in relation to Dignity at Work issues. Several grievances later I have got nowhere. In my experience, the university with the support of its governors, uses its power to prevent effective investigation. When that tactic fails it resorts to buying its way out of trouble. The union does nothing...

So Sally what are you going to do about that?

To date my local union rep has managed to write a letter...

I think we need more effective action don't you Sally?

Have you been reading the bullied blogger in the THE?

Aphra Behn

Anonymous said...

The current forced transparency with regard to institutional practices in the British government has not come about willingly...

... many MPs obediently followed the rules that they set themselves...

...rules that supported corrupt practices...

... probably senior management - like that in some universities - responded with silence and denial when challenged by courageous employees...

The transparency has been brought about by the actions of whistleblowers...

There comes a time when morally the duty of confidence to employers can no longer be maintained.

Speak out against workplace bullying

You know it makes sense.

Aphra Behn