Internet Defamation Removal Attorneys

Internet Defamation Removal Attorneys

A Blog Focused on Strategies for Deleting Damaging Online Content

False, Negative Online Reviews Challenge Health Care Professionals and Health Care Providers

Posted in False Reviews, Health Care / Physicians, Other Internet Law Issues, Review Websites

Online reviews affect nearly every industry, and health care is certainly one of them. What differentiates health care, in this context, is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA.

Health Care Defamation Online

Under HIPAA, a federal privacy law, health care professionals and providers are not allowed to disclose certain health information about patients without their authorization. This restriction has proven to be a challenge for many health care professionals and providers when it comes to addressing online reviews.

In fact, HIPAA has many in the health care industry feeling as though they have their hands tied behind their backs when it comes to dealing with negative and potentially defamatory online reviews.

In an interview with BuzzFeed for a 2014 feature on this very issue, one California neurosurgeon (who was the subject of an online harassment campaign himself) stated there was no way in 1996 that HIPAA could have anticipated online reviews and the resulting issues.

Responding publicly to false online reviews is risky

Many websites today suggest that business owners or others affected by online reviews simply respond and share their sides of the stories. Ripoff Report, for example, makes the following suggestions to the subjects of consumer complaints:

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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 ReviewsThe court determined that the removal order was an overbroad prior restraint on speech. But many viewed the June 7, 2016 decision as a major loss for Yelp and a blow to the protections that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) provides to many websites.

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. 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. Hassell’s call went unreturned. So 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

Most businesses and professionals defamed on the internet 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 make a judgment call. Therefore, most will not delete content just because a party alleges a post is false.

Many 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.

Obtaining a court order does involve filing an actual lawsuit with legitimate claims and pursuing the online poster. When a defendant is known (or the plaintiff can can identify the unknown person and name him or her a defendant), the parties might settle and each sign an agreed order. The parties can then present the order to the court for the judge 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. Thus, many cases require issuing subpoenas—including to internet service providers (ISPs)—to identify the unknown posters.

Subpoena to Internet Service Provider

This process often involves obtaining internet protocol (IP) addresses from an entity, in response to an initial 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 rarely use their real names or email addresses. In most cases, harmed parties cannot immediately identify the online posters with certainty. This is generally the case 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 first issue a subpoena to the relevant website (or its parent company) for documents containing certain identifying information. This generally includes basic contact information and IP addresses – subject, of course, to the information that websites actually require users to provide for account registrations.

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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.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) shields most websites from liability for any content third party users might publish to their 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 potential customers or clients, among others, can view it, 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. Otherwise, they risk potentially 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, people often form first impressions of businesses 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. Moreover, it can deter 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, Complaint Websites, Defamatory Websites, Domain Names, Other Internet Law Issues

Most internet defamation occurs on third-party websites, often through false reviews.  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, 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 no one can discover their identities.

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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