A federal lawsuit filed by Keith Raniere against cult tracker Rick A. Ross and others was dismissed last month by US District Judge Katharine S. Hayden after 14 years in federal court.
Raniere, of Albany, NY, is the founder of NXIVM (pronounced nexium), a “human potential company” that offers personal growth seminars based on his “Rational Inquiry” system.
In his lawsuit, Raniere claimed defamation, copyright and trade secret violations after Ross published reports by Dr. Paul Martin, a psychologist, and Dr. John Hochman, a psychiatrist, which characterized NXIVM as a cult that brainwashed seminar participants.
The reports excerpted passages from copyrighted NXIVM materials, but did not include the full text or substantial portions of it.
Based on his requirement that students sign confidentiality agreements not to disclose or disseminate any written copywritten they receive in the seminars, Raniere sued and initially attempted to obtain an injunction to remove the reports from the internet after they appeared in July 2003. The injunction was denied including on appeal up to the US Supreme Court.
The reports were never removed and remain online on the Cult Education Institute website.
In addition to Ross, and his Cult Education Institute (formerly the Ross Institute), Raniere sued former student Stephanie Franco, her parents, Morris and Rochelle Sutton and Dr. Martin.
Morris and Rochelle Sutton allegedly paid Ross to “deprogram” their son, Michael who, after taking courses with NXIVM allegedly began questioning his role in his family’s business, LT Apparel, a manufacturer of children’s clothing.
Franco, Michael’s sister, who also attended NXIVM seminars, gave her study notes from classes to Ross to help him dissuade her brother from continuing with classes.
The notes formed the basis for the doctors’ criticism.
Judge Hayden, in dismissing the lawsuit, concluded, “that defendants’ use of NXIVM materials was limited and protected critical reporting under the fair use doctrine. Defendants did not attempt to use the copyrighted work for commercial profits, for unfair business advantage, or as an attempt to compete. Insofar as plaintiffs characterize the psychologists’ articles as an attempt to undermine NXIVM’s business, the Court notes there are First Amendment concerns to be reckoned with. ‘If criticisms on defendants’ websites kill the demand for plaintiffs’ service, that is the price that, under the First Amendment, must be paid in the open marketplace for ideas.’”
Clare and Sara Bronfman, two heirs to the Seagram’s liquor fortune, reportedly funded Raniere’s lawsuit.
NXIVM and Raniere were represented by, among others, Kevin Luibrand [Luibrand Law Firm] Aden L. Olsen [Schmeiser, Olsen& Watts] Justin A. Heller [Nolan & Heller] William B. McGuire, Grant W. Maguire, and Richard A.
Ulsamer [Tompkins McGuire Wachenfeld & Barry] Robert D. Crockett, Joan E. Karn, and John M. Falzone [Latham & Watkins] Robert M. Leonard [Drinker Biddle & Reath] John P. Bartolomei, [Bartolomei & Associates].
Throughout the 14 year litigation, Dr. Martin, Ross, and his institute were represented pro bono by various attorneys including Douglas Brooks of Massachusetts, Thomas Gleason of NY, and Peter Skolnik, Michael Norwick and Thomas Dolan of Lowenstein Sandler in New Jersey. Public Citizen of Washington D.C. and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University also provided assistance to Ross.
The Albany Times-Union has called NIXVM a “Litigation Machine” and reported that the Bronfmans have funded Raniere’s lawsuits and other initiatives and that he “has swallowed as much as $150 million of their fortune.”
Raniere lost another lawsuit recently when U.S. District Judge Barabra M.G. Lynn dismissed his claims against AT&T and Microsoft. Raniere sued based upon claims that he invented video conferencing and held certain patents which the companies had violated. Judge Lynn admonished Raniere when he was unable to prove ownership of the patents, criticizing Raniere for deceiving the court and awarding attorney fees and costs to defendants, AT&T $935,300 and Microsoft $202,000.
Ross recently wrote “Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out”. Raniere’s training is discussed.
A 2003 Forbes article stated, “Raniere runs a cult-like program aimed at breaking down his subjects psychologically, separating them from their families and inducing them into a bizarre world of messianic pretention, idiosyncratic language and ritualistic practices.”
In a recent development, Raniere guided Clare Bronfman to commit perjury in a federal criminal case against newspaper publisher Frank Parlato in Western New York, Parlato alleges.
In two civil lawsuits, Clare Bronfman swore under oath that she had no written contract with Parlato, but, in the criminal case, according to a letter written by Assistant US Attorney Anthony M. Bruce, Bronfman swore in the grand jury that a binding contract did exist with Parlato – even though she never signed it.
The on-again-off-again contract is the central document for charges against Parlato related to the Bronfman sisters.