Government can't keep TV 'snake oil salesman' quiet

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Government can't keep TV 'snake oil salesman' quiet

Fri Aug 28, 2009 @ 11:48AM PST

By Eriq Gardner

More_natural_cures_book_kevin_trudeau_98o9 If you tune into late night television, you've probably seen Kevin Trudeau's infomercials. Over the years, the pitchman has been the modern day Jonas Salk, inventing cures for Cancer, AIDS, hair loss, memory loss, excessive debt, severe pain, slow reading, and on and on.

Except all things too good to be true are probably not true.

What Trudeau really represents is one man's battle against the FTC on the limits of what you can say. Trudeau claims he's exposing conspiracies to keep Americans unhealthy, but the FTC says Trudeau is a 21st Century snake oil salesman. A good relationship, we must say.

Now comes a fascinating decision yesterday by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The FTC has tried to ban Trudeau from doing any more informercials. The informercial king has remained obstinate, doing one to promote his book, The Weight Loss Cure "They" Don't Want You To Know About. The FTC fined Trudeau $37.6 million for violating a consent decree and pitching his "easy" and "simple" plan that regulators found to be yet another misrepresentation.

Judge John Tinder accepts the FTC's word and a lower court ruling, yet still throws out the huge fine and a 3-year ban on informercials. He makes his ruling based on this technical point:

The trouble with the infomercial ban is that it lasts for three years no matter what Trudeau does. Trudeau could take all the steps in the world to convince the FTC and the district court that he will be truthful in his next infomercial, but even if he offers to read his book word-for-word and say nothing else, he cannot free himself of the court's sanctions. Rather, the three-year ban is like a 'prison term of a definite, pre-determined length without the contemnor's ability to purge,' which we have held is 'generally considered punitive and therefore criminal contempt.' Simply put, the infomercial ban is not purgeable and therefore not a proper coercive contempt sanction.

Trudeau gets off for today. The FTC will have to fight Trudeau at his own game — by getting a little more creative with its punishment.

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The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to [email protected]

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