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Costly Invitation? Researchers Slammed With Hefty Bills After Speaking at COVID-19 Web Talks

Scientists are rebelling against a mysterious event organizer and an arbitration court of questionable authenticity

When Bj├Ârn Johansson got an email in July 2020 asking him to speak at an online discussion on COVID-19 modeling, he immediately accepted. Three years later, Johansson seriously regrets that decision. The Polish company behind the talk, Villa Europa, claims he still owes them fees for participating, and is pursuing payment through a Swedish court. After tacking on legal fees and interest, the company is demanding a staggering Ôé¼80,000 from Johansson.

Dozens of researchers participated in the same series of online COVID-19 talks in 2020 and 2021 organized by someone calling himself Matteo Ferensby. Many have gotten payment demands from Villa Europa, some pursued through courts for fees in the tens of thousands of euros.

But the case is filled with peculiar circumstances. The demands depend on rulings by a Polish arbitration court, PESA, whose very existence has been questioned. There are signs the court may have been created by Villa Europa itself.

The researchers say the demands are illegitimate and based on misleading license agreements they were asked to sign after the events. The contracts had unclear clauses buried on the last page stating fees, written out in words rather than numbers. Several researchers allege the signed contracts were later altered.

This situation shows how even established researchers can overlook exploitative terms hidden in complex legalese. The puzzling contract clauses and questionable arbitration scheme likely went unnoticed due to the chaotic pandemic environment.

If the researchers had access to an AI tool like Legalese Decoder, it could have analyzed the contracts and detected the buried fees clauses. The tool’s legally-trained AI also could have flagged irregularities related to the arbitration court.

By making contracts more understandable for non-lawyers, AI legalese decoders have potential to prevent academics and professionals from unknowingly agreeing to predatory terms. As this case demonstrates, scrutinizing fine print is vital even when dealing with seemingly legitimate organizations. Legal AI could help level the playing field and avoid nasty surprises.