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K-12 tutoring company fires law firm over blog spat

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A private K-12 tutoring service announced yesterday that they've fired a law firm that threatened to sue an online magazine over a reader comment left on the magazine's website.

David Silver, spokeman for Academic Advantage, said the comments published by pop culture site Boing Boing were not libelous, and the LA firm representing the company was wrong to say they were.

Started in 1988, Boing Boing is popular for its off-beat, insightful writings on culture, technology and politics. Academic Advantage is a K-12 tutoring service started in 2000. The company's website features a ringing endorsement from former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The retraction comes amid outrage over a letter sent to the magazine by Academic Advantage's attorney, Jubin Niamehr, of the firm Lazar, Akiva & Yagoubzadeh. The letter, dated Jan. 13 and made public earlier this week, demanded that Boing Boing take down a July 2009 blog post written by Cory Doctorow.

Doctorow's article, Autism as an academic advantage, cited examples in which autistic students excelled in college settings. The word "scam" comes up in the comment section, where a poster wrote:

"Went to college expecting it to be the place of knowledge, an all encompassing and way to get information instantly. I quickly found its a scam..."

Yet, Niamehr's letter said the article had possibly irrevocably damaged the company Academic Advantage by linking the words "Academic" and "Advantage" to the word "scam."

Niamehr wrote:

It is clear there is no purpose to this web address but to falsely accuse the Academic Advantage of being a scam or at least associating the Academic Advantage with a scam. There is absolutely no helpful reason for the website to have the words 'Academic,' 'Advantage' and 'Scam' which leads me to believe it was created for malicious purposes.

Peter Scheer, executive director of California's First Amendment Coalition, called Niamehr's letter bizarre. Under the law, if a untrue or damaging comment is posted on a website, the only legally responsible party is the posting person and not the publishing website, Scheer said.

"This case is extraordinary because they're complaining about something that wasn't said," Scheer said. "It's hard to say whether a law firm could get it more wrong."

Boing Boing was circumspect when asked to comment about the matter. But Monday, Doctorow revealed the controversy with a blog titled "Stupid legal threat of the young century."

"Everything we have to say on the matter right now was in Cory's post," said editor David Pescovitz.

Silver emailed California Watch the following statement:

Academic Advantage has severed it relationship with the law firm of Lazar, Akiva & Yagoubzadeh. The letter that the law firm sent to BoingBoing claiming that libel was committed on BoingBoing’s website was a mistake.

Niamehr did not respond to California Watch's request for comment.



Filed under: K–12, Daily Report


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