Internet Defamation Removal Attorneys

Internet Defamation Removal Attorneys

A Blog Focused on Strategies for Deleting Damaging Online Content

Order Requiring Non-Party Yelp to Remove Defamatory Reviews Affirmed by California Appellate Court

Posted in Cases & Court Decisions, Communications Decency Act, Defamation Removal, Yelp

A California appellate court recently affirmed a lower court’s decision to require Yelp to remove three defamatory reviews. The First Appellate District did, however, remand the case to the trial court to narrow the terms of the removal order, which ordered Yelp to also remove potential future reviews.

Yelp Ordered to Remove Defamatory ReviewsDespite the court determining that the removal order was an overbroad prior restraint on speech, the June 7, 2016 decision was seen as a major loss for Yelp and a blow to the protections provided to websites by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA).

Background

Dawn Hassell is the managing attorney of the Hassell Law Group, a California personal injury firm. Hassell and her firm represented Ava Bird during the summer of 2012.

However, after 25 days, Hassell withdrew from representation and, in January 2013, Bird published a negative—and allegedly false—review about her experiences with Hassell and her firm.

Hassell attempted to speak with Bird about the Yelp review. After Hassell’s call went unreturned, her office sent Bird an email requesting that she remove the “factual inaccuracies and defamatory remarks” from Yelp.

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Removing Defamatory Statements From the Internet Using a Court Order

Posted in Defamation Removal, Google, Internet Defamation General

For businesses and professionals defamed on the internet, most simply want the false content removed. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to obtain removal, one of which is through a court order.

Court Order re: False and Defamatory StatementsWebsites and other entities do not want to be tasked with having to weigh the facts of any situation and making a judgment call. Therefore, most will not delete content just because a party alleges a post is false.

Most websites will, however, remove content declared false by a court, even though court orders are typically against the actual posters of the content and not the websites themselves.

In short, court ordered removal involves obtaining a judgment against the poster of defamatory content online and then presenting the court order to the websites (or, when relevant, Google) on which the false content is appearing.

Of course, obtaining a court order involves filing an actual lawsuit with legitimate claims and pursuing the authors of the harmful content. When a defendant is known (or can be identified and later named as a defendant), the parties might settle and each sign an agreed order, which can be presented to the court to grant the requested judgment.

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Utilizing IP Addresses to Subpoena Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

Posted in Identify Anonymous Defamers, Internet Defamation General

The majority of online defamation is posted anonymously or pseudonymously, and many cases require issuing subpoenas—including to internet service providers (ISPs)—to identify the unknown posters.

Subpoena to Internet Service Provider

As discussed below, this process often involves obtaining internet protocol (IP) addresses from an entity, in response to a subpoena; determining the ISPs that own the respective IP addresses produced by the subpoenaed entity;  and then issuing additional subpoenas to those ISPs.

Subpoena process generally

Individuals looking to attack others on the internet almost never use their real names or email addresses. In most cases, harmed parties cannot immediately identify the online posters with certainty, even if they have suspicions of the posters’ identities.

Therefore, to pursue legal claims against a presently unknown poster, it might be necessary for a defamed party to issue a subpoena to the relevant website (or its parent company) for documents containing certain identifying information like basic contact information and IP addresses – subject, of course, to the information that the posters actually provided to the website upon registering an account with the websites.

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Best Practices, Worst Practices for Responding to Internet Defamation

Posted in Communications Decency Act, Defamation Removal, Internet Defamation General

There are a number of ways in which one can respond to internet defamation. There are also a number of ways not to respond.

Options for Responding to Internet LibelBelow is an overview of some different response options that affected parties should and should not consider.

How not to respond to online defamation

We have said repeatedly on our blog that solutions are fact-dependent. But there are several potential responses that companies and professionals (and their attorneys) should generally avoid.

For example, alleged victims of internet defamation must neither attempt to sue websites (or their parent companies) for third party users’ postings, nor threaten to file a lawsuit without an adequate legal basis.

Under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA), most websites today are shielded from liability content published by third party users of the websites.

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Removal Often the Best Solution for Online Defamation

Posted in Defamation Removal, Internet Defamation General

For businesses forced to deal with internet defamation, in our experience removal of the harmful content is generally the best solution.

Online defamation/libel removalSolutions are fact-dependent.  However, the longer false content remains online and can be seen by potential customers or clients, among others, the more damage it is likely to cause to a business.

Thus, to the extent possible, businesses should work to get false and defamatory content about them removed from the internet quickly, or potentially risk being indefinitely harmed.

Top search results akin to “storefronts”

For many businesses today, the search engine results pages (SERPs) pertaining to them—particularly each business’s first page on Google—are similar to brick-and-mortar storefronts.

In recent years, the first point of contact for many people with a company has been its first page of Google search results.  In other words, many consumers go online to conduct research about unfamiliar businesses and, therefore, first impressions of many businesses are often formed based on what people find atop the search rankings.

Positive and neutral results are obviously good, but negative results—in particular false content—can drive away large numbers of potential customers, not to mention possible employees or investors, among other parties.

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Defamation and Bad Faith Registration, Use of Domain Names Under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP)

Posted in Competitor Defamation, Defamatory Websites, Domain Names, Other Internet Law Issues

Most internet defamation occurs on third-party websites – often through a Ripoff Report posting or other false review, for example.  However, some people are so intent on disparaging other professionals or companies that they will go as far as creating their own websites, registering carefully selected domain names and publishing content through them that is calculated to cause harm to those other people or companies.

Defamation and Domain Names

These individuals often register domain names that are identical or confusingly similar to the trademarks belonging to the targets of the websites.  Thus, in addition to the defamatory statements published online, there is also potential trademark infringement-related harm.

Like with more ordinary instances of online defamation, parties defamed through such websites located at the specially-registered domains can pursue the authors of the harmful content through traditional legal techniques.  However, in these instances, a defamed party might even seek to have the identical or confusingly similar domain names transferred to them (or just cancelled altogether).

This is a possibility under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (often abbreviated as UDRP), which is governed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and incorporated into each registrar’s domain registration agreements.  Specifically, an affected party can initiate a UDRP proceeding and aim to convince a neutral single- or three-member panel to rule in its favor.

‘Bad faith’ under the UDRP Policy

According to paragraph 4(a) of ICANN’s UDRP Policy, a complainant must prove the following three things to obtain an order that a domain name or multiple domain names should be transferred to them (or cancelled):

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How to Remove Defamatory Reviews From ComplaintsBoard.com

Posted in Complaint Websites, ComplaintsBoard.com, Defamation Removal, False Reviews

One of the more prominent consumer complaint websites out there is ComplaintsBoard.com.

Remove Defamatory ComplaintsBoard.Com ReviewIt might not have quite the brand name or search engine strength of Ripoff Report or even Pissed Consumer. Nonetheless, ComplaintsBoard.com is another popular destination for publishing complaints about businesses.

Self-branded as “The most trusted and popular consumer complaints website,” ComplaintsBoard.com is nonetheless similarly a destination for some bad actors to attack the reputations of businesses and professionals through defamatory postings.

Of course, the website’s Terms of Use prohibits defamation and similar bad acts; specifically, according to the Member Conduct section, users agree to both not defame others and publish defamatory material.

But this language has not deterred many people, including those who publish anonymous defamatory posts, thinking their identities cannot be uncovered.

Fortunately, ComplaintsBoard.com, operated by Mediolex Ltd. (which appears to be based out of Latvia) does entertain removal requests. However, as with most complaint websites, a complaining party must have obtained a valid court order.

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Employers Must Avoid ‘Retaliation’ If Suing Employees for Defamation

Posted in Employment Law, Internet Defamation General, Other Internet Law Issues

Employers are vulnerable to being the targets of negative online and social media postings, and sometimes these statements can give rise to defamation claims. However, an employer Employee Defamationconsidering suing a current or former employee for internet defamation must be careful if the (ex-)employee recently engaged in protected activity.

Under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), employees “have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”

In other words, the NLRA protects employees from employer retaliation for engaging in certain activity. This might include employees publishing certain posts on social media or perhaps publishing an employer review on Glassdoor relating to issues such as wages or working conditions.

Thus, while there are situations in which an employer will have a good faith basis for bringing defamation claims against past or present employees, employers must not file an internet defamation lawsuit if it would be considered impermissible and unlawful retaliation.

As the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states on its website: “[t]he law forbids retaliation when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.”

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Internet Defamation and Anti-SLAPP Laws: A Look Back at the Washington Supreme Court’s 2015 Ruling Invalidating the State’s Anti-SLAPP Statute

Posted in Anti-SLAPP, Cases & Court Decisions, Internet Defamation General, Other Internet Law Issues

In late May 2015, the Washington Supreme Court became the first state to find an anti-SLAPP statute unconstitutional, striking down the rule codified as RCW 4.24.525.

Washington anti-SLAPPAt the time (and likely still today), free speech advocates expressed their disappointment in the ruling, believing that the state of Washington would leave media members and others who speak out publicly unprotected from lawsuits aimed at them for their public comments.

Nevertheless, it was a significant ruling and one that is worth a closer look.

Anti-SLAPP Overview

SLAPP is an acronym referring to a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” used as a means to silence critics. As stated in the notes accompanying RCW 4.24.525, SLAPPs are “typically dismissed as groundless or unconstitutional, but often not before the defendants are put to great expense, harassment, and interruption of their productive activities.”

The general idea is that a large company or other deep-pocketed plaintiff, unhappy with another’s public comments about them, will attempt to bury the defendant in costly litigation—often through a defamation and/or tortious interference-based lawsuit—and effectively chill the defendant’s speech.

In order to deter the filing of frivolous lawsuits, brought solely to burden defendants with high legal expenses and keep them from further speaking out against the plaintiffs, many states began enacting anti-SLAPP statutes in the early 1990s. Today, more than half of states have such statutes.

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Nev. Jury Awards Internet Defamation Plaintiffs $38.3 Million in Damages for Anonymous Websites

Posted in Cases & Court Decisions, Defamatory Websites, Internet Defamation General

Three-and-a-half years after filing a lawsuit over false allegations comparing him to Bernie Madoff, a California real estate professional and his company were recently awarded more than $38 million by a federal jury.

Internet Defamation Verdict and DamagesOn February 17, Bradley Cohen—founder and CEO of a Los Angeles-based real estate investment firm, Cohen Asset Management, Inc. (CAM)—and his company were awarded $35.3 million in damages for defamation per se and false light invasion of privacy, plus an additional $3 million in punitive damages.

In August 2012, Cohen and CAM filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada, against a company, its owner and an employee, for comparing Cohen and CAM to Bernie Madoff and Madoff’s former company on a pair of websites. Madoff, of course, was sentenced to prison in 2009 for a maximum 150 years for running what is believed to be the largest financial fraud ever in the United States.

The first website (http://bradley-cohen.com) went live in April 2012 but was quickly removed by the web hosting company, according to the above-hyperlinked Law360 article. However, a second similar website (http://bradleyscohen.com) was anonymously-registered on May 2 and remains online as of the publication of this blog post.

This second website asks both “Is Bradley S. Cohen the Bernie Madoff of real estate?” and “Is Bradley S. Cohen the Next Bernie Madoff?,” followed by Cohen’s photo and Madoff’s mugshot, as well as a list of purported “alarming similarities” between Cohen and Madoff.

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