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Slap: American Psychiatric Association Targets One DSM5 Critic, Ignores Others

Slap: American Psychiatric Association Targets One DSM5 Critic, Ignores Others

Picture of William Heisel

From the way the American Psychiatric Association threatened UK writer Suzy Chapman, one would think APA is fighting legal battles everywhere to protect its trademarks.

But Chapman appears to be in an elite category. Antidote wrote Monday about how APA forced Chapman to change the name and URL of her DSM-5 and ICD-11 Watch site, saying it infringed on APA's trademark for its main guidebook, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

But similar sites and uses of APA trademarks abound. Why hasn't the APA gone after them? Here are just a few that are easy to find with a simple Google search.

Todd Finnerty, a psychologist running for president of the American Psychological Association, the other APA, runs a site with a DSM5 URL, just like Chapman:

Like Chapman, he tells his readers they can "learn more about the new DSM and changes in the DSM-5". But unlike Chapman, he is actually selling something on his site: a book.

DSM5 is the name of a band that promises, "Insanity never sounded so good!" It, too, uses DSM5 in its URL.

And while Chapman was mainly informing people about proposed changes to the DSM, the site DSM5 Sucks takes a much more aggressive stance, saying that "the DSM is often used by the mental health industry, and other fields, to take away people's human rights, and to defame their character."

So far, all of these sites continue to go about their business unhindered.

I asked on Monday whether APA has a legitimate interest in protecting the name of one of its signature products. If that is its main focus, then why the selective legal threats against Chapman? I wanted to find out if APA had a good reason for going this route, and so I asked for a response from a number of different folks at APA. So far, I have not received a response.

I also asked Dr. Allen Frances, the psychiatrist who oversaw the publication of the last DSM revision and an outspoken critic of the latest revision process, about the APA dispute with Chapman. He wrote that APA's actions were "part of a pattern of APA secrecy – with confidentiality agreements among participants – and closed process." He wrote:

Suzy's site is unique and invaluable both for encouraging current discussion and as an archival resource. APA's cease and desist threat included not just her site, but mistakenly also told her to close down a site she did not control – one that contained a petition against DSM 5 that has been endorsed by 47 mental health organizations and 11,000 professionals.

It is not certain whether the 'cease and desist' was for the petition site, was an intentional effort to shut down or intimidate opposition, or was just an incompetent, clumsy, and inappropriate effort to protect trademark. Either way it is evidence of commercialism rather than respect for the public trust. This is disastrous because DSM 5 will have a huge impact on individual lives and public policy and has many reckless suggestions and grave flaws.

Legal threats and lawsuits over trademarks are an everyday occurrence, of course. Companies and organizations such as APA fight to protect their names, their slogans, and their products because misuse of them can diminish their value, both in terms of sales in and in terms of good will.

The American Humane Association (AHA), for example, takes issue whenever someone uses the phrase "no animals were harmed," because it has become synonymous with the AHA seal of approval. Apple has sued and has been sued over numerous trademarks. Most recently, Bryan Chaffin at The Mac Observer wrote about a trademark dispute between Proview Technology in Taiwan and Apple over the use of the iPad brand in China. Note the name of Chaffin's outlet: The Mac Observer. Sounds a lot like DSM-5 and ICD-11 Watch, right? There are many different Mac and Apple publications, most of which have no affiliation with the company itself, and yet they are allowed to thrive because they are considered both part of the price of doing business in a free society and ultimately good for business, too.

A website dedicated in part to noting every move related to the upcoming DSM revision has one guaranteed effect. It builds anticipation for the DSM-5 release.

If APA had simply let Chapman continue, it probably could have had a midnight sale of DSM-5 after Thanksgiving and recouped its entire investment in a matter of hours.

Let me know what you think in the comments below, at or via Twitter @wheisel.

Photo credit: Richard Masoner via Flickr


Picture of Kate  Benson

Thank you for highlighting this situation. I think the context of this second post is indeed key in putting this particular SLAP in context. Well done. A look at her site reveals that Ms. Chapman is very meticulous in her factual recording of the actions of various associations and agencies. I'm sure it was very labor intensive to move so much information to a new site. She could have easily given up and dropped the effort to keep both professionals and patients informed.

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Signed confidentiality agreements, exclusion, and attempted intimidation are are a sorry state of affairs for a group that is supposed to be representing Academic psychiatry.

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Curious that they should go after Ms Chapman; as a Brit she doesn't enjoy our Constitutional rights. Happy coincidence ?


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Suzy Chapman's new homepage about DSM5 can be found at

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A very telling blog! Thanks for digging deeper into this. The APA's legal action against Suzy Chapman appears to be an attempt to inhibit an activist who's opinions they disagree with.

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