Businesses Step Up Lawsuits against Online Criticism


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Human Resource & Payroll Services And Solutions - Houston, Dallas, Austin - Texas Online postings have the power to damage and even destroy products, services and careers. However, companies are increasingly fighting back with defamation and libel lawsuits.

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Businesses Step Up Lawsuits against Online Criticism

  1. 1. Toll Free: 877.880.4477 Phone: 281.880.6525Businesses Step Up Lawsuits against Online CriticismLawsuits againstOnline Criticism
  2. 2. » Individuals making comments on the Internet criticizing products and services may be surprised to discover that businesses are increasingly fighting back. The trend is for businesses to no longer sit back and take online criticism of their products or services lightly.» Whats more, courts often side with the businesses and award large damage awards.» Also, people may think they are anonymous when they are online posting comments. However, with the evolution of Internet law, a persons name is subject to disclosure. Businesses can -- and do -- sue posters for defamation.» When a business has critical comments, the vendor may ask the service provider, or the service provider may request the person, who posted the critical comment, to remove it. If the person fails to do so, a lawsuit could follow.
  3. 3. » The issue is whether the comment is an opinion or an untrue statement. In other words, does it involve the First Amendment right to free speech (an opinion) versus a defamation claim (a false statement of fact).» For example, if a consumer opines that a restaurants food tasted terrible, that may be considered an opinion. But if the consumer states that the restaurant had rats without any basis in fact, that would be defamation. Keep in mind that written defamation is libel.» Libel is the type of defamation with a permanent record. Libel comes into play in newspapers, letters, website postings, emails, pictures, or as part of a radio or TV broadcast.» If a business can prove that someone libeled it, and that person does not have a good defense, a court may presume that the business suffered damages and award money to pay for the damaged reputation and loss of profits.
  4. 4. The basic elements of libel are:1) A written false statement;2) The statement was made to a third party; and3) The statement caused harm.If someone sues for defamation, the most common defenses are: Truth (known in law as "justification") - The statement is true. Absolute privilege - Usually a statement made in court during a proceeding. Qualified privilege - When a party is acting is good faith, without malice. Fair comments - Honest statements of opinion, based on facts, and not malicious. Responsible communication on matters of public interest (depending on the jurisdiction).
  5. 5. How Identity Is Discovered with a Doe Subpoena» A "Doe subpoena" seeks the identity of an unknown defendant in a lawsuit. Most jurisdictions permit a plaintiff who does not yet know a defendants identity to file suit against John or Jane Doe and then use the tools of the discovery process to seek the defendants real name.» A Doe subpoena is often served on the online service provider or ISP for the purpose of identifying the author of an anonymous post.» First, the plaintiff issues a subpoena to the hosting website requesting the IP address of the poster. After, obtaining the posters IP address, the plaintiff must then subpoena the ISP that owns the address. This second subpoena requests the contact information associated with the account of the computer to which the IP address was assigned at the time the post was made.
  6. 6. Providing Notice» Courts do not require the target of a subpoena to provide notice to the person whose identity is sought. However, in most jurisdictions it is required by law to notify its subscriber before revealing any personally identifiable information in connection with a subpoena.» A defendant who receives notice may file a motion to quash, which asks the court to block the subpoena and prevent the ISP from complying. ISPs may also challenge Doe subpoenas on their customers behalf, but they are not required to do so.» It should be noted that the federal Communications Decency Act (Section 230) generally protects service providers from lawsuits because of third party postings.
  7. 7. » However, the law is evolving. Possibly, if a service provider knows that the post is fraudulent and refuses to take it down, it could be liable in a lawsuit.» Consult with your attorney if defamation occurs. Developing a strategy to immediately respond can minimize the damage that online attacks can make.
  8. 8. 14550 Torrey Chase, Suite 100 Houston, TX 77014 USA Toll Free : 877.880.4477 Phone : 281.880.6525 Fax : 281.866.9426 E-mail :