Fake Customer Reviews and Internet Law

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Professor Eric Goldman has an excellent post about Internet fake client reviews: What Are Appropriate Compensatory Damages for 3 Fake Competitor Reviews? The Surprising Answer–Fireworks Restoration v. Hosto.

Nominal actual damages were awarded but $150,000 in punitive damages were slapped against the guy writing negative fake client reviews against his former business partner.

As I’ve explained to my Internet law clients, there are plenty of ways to compete fairly online without resorting to “black hat” marketing tactics that end up costing your business far more than you’ll ever make by using them.

Given the importance of online client reviews to many companies, both Internet-based and brick-and-mortar establishments, this issue will continue to wind its way through the courts because the temptation to post fake negative reviews is simply too great for some to pass up. You see it all the time in reviews on Google, Amazon, etc. Someone with an axe to grind decides to smear the reputation of a company by posting a false client review.

No one says you have to promote your competitor’s business online. But it’s good practice to treat your competitor’s reputation the same way you’d like your competitor to treat yours when engaging in Internet marketing strategies and tactics.

Court rejects blogger’s claim to be a journalist

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A Montana blogger accused an attorney of being a thug and a thief.

Lawyer jokes aside, the attorney didn’t find the blog post funny and sued for defamation.

The federal judge hearing the case ruled that the blogger was not a “journalist” apparently because she didn’t have journalist credentials or experience, and wasn’t affiliated with a traditional media organization. Since she isn’t a journalist, the state shield law designed to protect journalists won’t apply.

Looks like the blogger is going to be on the hook for $2.5 million.

Unless reversed on appeal, this case will have a chilling effect on bloggers.

Internet Romance Lawsuit

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internet romance lawsuit - cyberdating

An Internet romance lawsuit is a risk of cyberdating

Before the Internet romance lawsuit, there was cyberdating

A woman from Michigan, and a man from Washington State met online through Facebook before starting a cyber relationship that would end in an Internet romance lawsuit.

The couple’s interest in the Facebook game Mafia Wars initiated the relationship, but as the woman sent presents and flowers to the man the relationship seemed, at least to her, to consist of more than just internet activities. Despite intimate behavior online and the exchange of gifts in real life, the couple has never met outside of the internet during their six month relationship. However, to those involved, and to those observing, this brief relationship has spawned new thinking about what a relationship consists of, and whether or not online activities are sufficiently connected to real life to justify an Internet romance lawsuit.

What went wrong with the relationship that led to an Internet romance lawsuit?

Convinced about the authenticity of their relationship, the woman purchased plane tickets with the intention of flying to Washington to visit her cyberspace “boyfriend” in real life. However, when man announced that he was seeing someone new, and that he did not want to visit with her in real life, the woman became furious.

Upon hearing about the new relationship with another, the woman filed an Internet romance lawsuit to recover the expenses she had lost as a result of purchasing gifts and the plane tickets to visit him. That lawsuit, however, was dropped by the woman who decided she should instead file a second Internet lawsuit against the man for an astounding $8,368.88. Provoking controversy for the sheer audacity of suing an online boyfriend for the recovery of damages for gifts she had willingly purchased on her own, legal commentators, dating analysts, Facebook enthusiasts, and others have all weighted in to the validity of suits of this kind.

What will likely happen with a Internet romance lawsuit of this kind?

Many legal experts expect that the woman will be unable to recover for the lost funds she spent under the assumption of dating that occurred only in cyberspace. Typically, giving someone a gift does not constitute a contract or anything less than a simple transfer of property. The woman will also face difficulty in proving that man owes her money for a flight she purchased for her own personal use. Perhaps had the money spent on the man been done in a way which seemed less like gift giving, and more like negotiated agreements, the woman would have a better chance at arguing her case.

Additionally, the woman claims that man posted defamatory messages on her internet site after the breakup. For this, she is claiming she deserves damages for emotional distress and for defamation from him. Again, the woman might face difficulty in proving this claim, but the Internet romance lawsuit does shed light onto the potential cyberdating legal issues thereupon could pose for the future.

Internet Attorney: Online Defamation

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internet-attorney-defamationAs an Internet attorney, I get complaints all of the time from prospective clients who have either written something bad online about another party or have been on the receiving end of a negative review on some website. The words defamation, slander, and libel are tossed about freely accompanied by demands to do something about the underlying dispute.

Unlike many countries, the free speech is constitutionally protected in the United States. Along with the good comes the bad. It really depends on whose ox is being gored as to whether one is promoting free speech online or demanding censorship. Your Internet attorney can discuss with you in detail why truthful statements (no matter the harm they might cause) are generally protected against defamation claims in U.S. courts. The same cannot be said in places like the United Kingdom.

Even with free speech rights, some aggrieved individuals will still try to sue the other person into retracting statements made. In a recent case, a small Chicago concrete company sued a woman for $10,000 because she wrote a negative review of the company on a website. If what she wrote is the truth, there is little chance the company will win a suit for defamation even if the words hurt the business. To learn more, you can watch a video about this Internet defamation case.

Does this mean you should “get even” with people by writing nasty stuff about them on the Web? Of course not.

If you’ve decided that online reviews are the way to pay back some wrong, check with an Internet attorney before posting content. Where emotions are involved, some people do cross the line. And if you’re sued, your Internet attorney can refer you to a good defamation litigator to take care of the matter in court. Remember that trial attorney skills are a specialty.