Combating Fraud: Kelly / Warner On Google’s De-Indexing Policy Change & Protecting Legal Clients

Over the years, attorneys Aaron Kelly and Dan Warner have helped — and continue to help — defamation victims reclaim their good names. Kelly and Warner afforded hundreds of libel victims reprieve from unjust reputation attacks by working with Google’s de-indexing program. However, the search behemoth recently announced changes to its policy.

That said, the change is not stopping their firm from assisting people who are suffering through unfair censure.

Protecting Websites From Liability

Considered one of the most impactful U.S. Internet laws, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act confers immunity to ISPs for third-party defamation. In other words, it’s the statute that absolves Facebook (for example) from taking the fall for defamatory statements posted by users. Parties can successfully sue persons who post defamatory statements on the platform, but not the social media site. Moreover, Section 230 doesn’t force Internet service providers to remove defamatory statements — even when presented with a court order.

Working With Section 230 In the Past

So, if websites aren’t required to remove libelous content, how can defamation victims fight back against unjust online rants? For years, Google “de-indexed” (i.e., removed pages containing defamatory material from search engine results) web pages, if presented with a court order or judgment indicating a given statement was defamatory.

Google Changed Its De-Indexing Policy

Unfortunately for defamation victims, Google recently announced that it would no longer honor every court order or judgment in libel cases; the operative word being “every.” Apparently, the company formed a committee that now decides on whether or not a given court ruling is worthy of the voluntary de-indexing policy. The elements considered by Google’s de-indexing committee are unknown, but we’d like to think they consider all valid court orders for de-indexing.

So people are wondering: What criteria does Google’s review committee follow — if any at all?

A Troubling De-Indexing Decision By Google

When discussing the issue with attorneys Dan Warner and Aaron Kelly, they indicated that Google’s recent decision to honor individual judgments appears to be completely arbitrary. For example, Google declined to act on a hard-fought ruling– even after two years of litigation. Strangely and troublingly, without explanation, Google informed Kelly / Warner that it decided not to take action.

Kelly / Warner Adds Checks To Combat Fraudulent De-Indexing Efforts

Pioneers in Internet defamation law, Dan Warner and Aaron Kelly always do their utmost to ensure their firm handles cases within legal confines.  For example in 2016, although not required by law, Kelly / Warner instituted a policy requiring defendants in certain cases to sign notarized verifications — attesting under penalty of perjury — that all statements made to Kelly / Warner about the alleged defamation were accurate. They rightly believed that such a requirement would prevent fraudulent conduct by desperate third parties and victims. Unfortunately, suspicions have now been raised about the extent to which third-parties and victims went to obtain de-indexing orders, including engaging in suspicious notarizations to side step Kelly / Warner’s safeguards.  This demonstrates just how desperate victims of Internet defamation can get, and what that desperation can lead to.

In an attempt to further combat and prevent individuals from using Kelly / Warner to engage in suspicious activity, and possibly obtaining fraudulent court orders, Aaron Kelly and Dan Warner have implemented additional measures as they deemed appropriate, under the circumstances, to confirm the identities of individuals involved in a potential case to assure against fraud.

Under no circumstances will Dan Warner and Aaron Kelly be deterred from trying to help legitimate victims of Internet defamation obtain relief. However, those who seek to use the services of Kelly/ Warner, to defraud or harm anyone, including third parties and especially courts, should seek legal representation elsewhere.

Consumer Review Fairness Act: Summary and Impact On Small Businesses

graphic of hand choosing rating to accompany post about consumer review fairness actPoliticians gavel’d H.R. 5111, the Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA), into federal law.

What does ratification mean for small businesses? Well, as a whole, not much, because the law only affects folks who use “gag clauses” to prevent defamatory reviews.

The Consumer Review Fairness Act = No More “Gag Clauses”

What the law doesn’t say is this: “It’s perfectly legal to post defamatory online reviews.”

Instead, the statute invalidates contract provisions transferring copyright ownership of online reviews.

What do intellectual property rights have to do with online review defamation?

Well, over the past several years, to mitigate the impact of inaccurate, business-crushing rants, some businesses used contracts with online review parameters.

Here’s a hypothetical example of how it typically worked:

Dentist Amy performs patient Todd’s root canal. Before the procedure, Amy makes Todd sign an agreement — which is standard practice. Amy’s contract, however, also includes an intellectual property clause. You see, Amy’s agreement confers copyright ownership, of any future online reviews about her dental practice, from Todd to Amy. So, let’s say, in a fit of expected discomfort the day after the procedure, Todd posts lies about Amy’s work, despite her having done a perfect job. On account of the agreement, Amy could, theoretically, have proven herself “owner” of the comment and gotten it removed.

But the Consumer Review Fairness Act changes all that. Amy’s (hypothetical) contract — and countless others out there just like it — are no longer valid because the CFRA renders “certain clauses of a form contract void if it prohibits, or restricts, an individual from engaging in a review of a seller’s goods, services, or conduct.”

Reactions to the Consumer Review Protection Act

In praise of the new law, Hawaiian Senator Brian Shatz said:

“Reviews on where to shop, eat, or stay on websites like Yelp or TripAdvisor help consumers make informed choices about where to spend their money. Every consumer has the right to share their honest experiences and opinions of any business without the fear of legal retaliation, and the passage of our bill brings us one step closer to protecting that right.”

Yelp also seems pleased with the Consumer Review Fairness Act. Laurent Crenshaw, the company’s Director of Public Policy, enthused:

“While these clauses aren’t everywhere, when people hear about them, it does create a chilling effect and that’s something we’ve been concerned about and were very glad that Congress has taken steps to eliminate.”

You Can Still Sue Over Defamatory Online Reviews

The Consumer Review Fairness Act doesn’t prohibit small business owners from suing over genuinely defamatory reviews. Comments featuring false statements of fact, which materially harm businesses, may still be actionable. So, if you’re the victim of a libelous review, don’t throw your hands in the air and give up. You may be able to remedy the situation, legally.

Speak with a consumer review defamation attorney to discuss your situation and explore solutions.

Article Sources

114th Congress – CRFA

U.S. Senate Cmte. Announcement of CFRA

eBay Defamation Case Study: Jeweler v. Buyer

picture of eBay signage to accompany a blog post about eBay defamationThis post is about an eBay defamation case currently making its way through the courts. Our firm, Kelly / Warner, doesn’t represent either side. We do, however, help folks in similar situations.

If you’re here to read about a customer review defamation case, keep scrolling. If you’re struggling with an online reputation issue, Kelly / Warner can help. Get in touch today; let’s start weighing your legal options.

Introductions and self-shout-outs aside, without further ado, we present The Case of the eBay Ring Refund

eBay Defamation Case Study: Unsatisfied Client v. Jeweler

Refund Confusion Results In Legal Tussle

Several months ago, a woman (whom we’ll call “Alice”) bought a ring from an eBay store; she split the purchase between two credit cards.

Unfortunately, Alice decided the ring wasn’t for her and initiated the return process. At first, the jeweler didn’t realize that Alice had used two cards and only refunded one.

That’s when things supposedly took a vengeful turn.

Business Owner Said…

Allegedly, the refund confusion compelled Alice to create a phony Yelp page. But Alice didn’t use her own information. Instead, she purportedly created a fake Yelp page under the jeweler’s name — and for the coup de grâce, littered it with negative reviews, including an accusation of “[stealing] thousands of dollars through this diamond scam.”

Customer Said…

No way, insists Alice, who swears she is not the one. In a statement, Alice shared her side of the story:

“[T]here were two other people involved in this dispute with the eBay seller and they were the ones who posted on Yelp and other online sites. I have email evidence that I did not write any of the comments. The plaintiff’s eBay account was shut down due to her misconduct based on eBay’s investigation.”

Reviews Lead To Job Insecurity For Plaintiff and Defendant

The jeweler suffered serious setbacks because of the reviews. Customers canceled orders; eBay removed listings; Intuit even canceled her payment processing account.

Alice didn’t fare any better. You see, for the past decade, she reportedly had worked for the Chamber of Commerce, but lost her job soon after this defamation debacle. Her former employer refused to comment on Alice’s departure, but when asked about the situation, she said, “I am considering filing a countersuit for defamation of character leading to loss of income.”

The Difference Between Bad Reviews and Defamatory Reviews

Judging from online discussions, many people seem to think businesses can sue over negative reviews on sites like (but not limited to) Yelp, eBay, Ripoff Report, and Amazon.

Not true.

Free Speech is an American solemnity. Since the Founding Fathers distributed The Federalists Papers, our nation has enjoyed a long and storied history of public criticism. Every person on U.S. soil can shout their opinions from the top of Denali or a digital pedestal.

But we can’t publicly lie about a person or business, to the point of material hardship. Ask yourself: What would you do if a customer or colleague spread rumors about your circumstances or business? Would you shrug it off, citing free speech, even if the fib destroyed your livelihood?

Winning an eBay Defamation Case

How can plaintiffs win online review lawsuits? Every case is different, but at the very least, claimants must convince a judge or jury that the defendants:

  • Made false statements of fact, which caused material harm to befall the plaintiffs; and
  • Acted negligently — or with actual malice — in publishing or broadcasting the declaration.

Considering An eBay Defamation Lawsuit?

Are you weathering a reputation storm? Wondering whether or not you can sue for defamation? Our team regularly assists people overcome reputation challenges.

Get in touch to talk about your situation.

Online Trade Libel Attorney Gets Facebook Defamation Ruling Reversed

Picture of blackboard featuring the word Trust to accompany blog post about online trade libel caseTo his client’s relief, online trade libel attorney Dan Warner convinced an Arizona appeals court to vacate a trial court’s ruling in a Facebook defamation case. By successfully arguing that the presiding judge failed to properly apply the appropriate legal tests established in Mobilisa, Inc. v. Doe, Warner was able to slip his client from the defamation liability noose.

About the Case: Business Criticism On Facebook Leads To Online Trade Libel Lawsuit

An online trade libel lawsuit, the Plaintiff (whom we’ll call “Acme”) sued an anonymous user (“John Doe”) for allegedly posting false and defamatory statements about Acme’s product on Facebook.

Since the user posted under an alias, Acme filed a John Doe claim to uncover the real name of the anonymous defendant. After initiating the lawsuit, Acme sent subpoenas to Facebook and Domains by Proxy, in search of information (like an IP address) that would help reveal the identity of the product-critiquing user.

Upon receiving the subpoena, Facebook notified John Doe; Doe then retained online trade libel attorney Dan Warner who filed a motion to quash the subpoenas.

Online Trade Libel Catch-22: Preserving Privacy v. Accountability

Online service providers avoid passing out user data like Gremlins avoid bright lights. Why? Because online privacy is a legal quagmire, and if they’re not careful, ISPs can unwittingly find themselves dragged into users’ legal battles. Thus, to avoid unnecessary, resource draining, litigation entanglements, most websites adopt a hands-off approach when faced with civil information requests.

In some cases, however, ISPs are legally compelled to release user data, by force of a court order.  However, in Arizona, to secure a subpoena that forces websites to hand over identifying information on anonymous Internet speakers, plaintiffs must show that:

  • The speaker has been given adequate and a reasonable opportunity to respond to the discovery request;
  • The plaintiff’s action could survive a summary judgment on elements, irrespective of the speaker’s identity; and
  • The balance of the parties competing interests favors disclosure.

Unfortunately, in Acme’s case, the trial court judge denied the motion without making any findings of fact — or conclusions of law — regarding the required three-part Mobilisa test.

Warner’s appeal included several points on which the appellate court could have hung a reversal, but it chose to focus on the trial judge’s failure to adequately apply the “balancing” test, as outlined in Mobilisa.

The appeals court, in Warner’s client’s case, expressly held:

Because of the conclusory nature of the order below, we are unable to tell if the trial court correctly used the 3-part test outlined in Mobilisa v.  Doe, 217 Ariz.  103, 170  P.3d  712 (App.  2007) (using  a  summary  judgment  standard)  or  the  lower  prima facie standard urged by Dream Steam below with their citation to Best W. Int’l Inc., v. Doe, WL 2091695 (D. Ariz. July 2007). See Chaparral DIVISION ONE FILED:  RUTH A. WILLINGHAM, CLERKBY: 6/27/2016 RB Dev. v. RMED Int’l, Inc., 170  Ariz.  309, 311, n.3,  823  P.2d  1317, 1319  (App.  1991) (citation  omitted)  (conclusory  rulings  impair effective  appellate  review).    We  are  likewise  unable  to  discern whether  the  trial  court  engaged  in Mobilisa’s third-prong  balancing test when considering whether the disclosure of Doe’s name outweighed the community’s protected interest in supporting anonymous speech on the internet.

In other words, the court of appeals ruled that it was unclear if the trial court judge considered whether the plaintiff’s business interests outweighed the defendant’s right to anonymously express opinions on the Internet.

Consult With An Experienced Online Trade Libel Lawyer

In today’s digital, viral marketplace, a pristine reputation is crucial to maintaining a competitive edge; protecting your business’ good name is arguably as important as securing seed money.

If you’re fighting a product or business disparagement headache, get in touch with our team of online defamation fixers. We can help.

To learn more about online trade libel lawyer Dan Warner, head here.

Amazon’s New Review Policy: Big Changes

Picture of two business people on couch to accompany blog post about Amazon’s new review policy
Amazon’s new review policy crashed into Planet-Online-Retail, and now feedback facilitators are working round the clock to adjust business models.

Let’s take 3 minutes to outline the situation — in plain language — and examine how the change will affect Amazon sellers and reviewers.

How Amazon Reviews Used To Work

Before this e-commerce October surprise, Amazon let sellers offer discounts in exchange for product reviews, so long as the reviewer included proper disclosures. The system seemed to work and even spawned review facilitation businesses that helped vendors plan and execute discount-for-review programs.

But Amazon never seemed entirely comfortable with paid reviews, of any ilk. In fact, to combat the trend, platform engineers deployed a “learned algorithm that gives more weight to newer, more helpful reviews” and implemented stricter “verified purchase” badge requirements.

Amazon has even sued a few unlucky pay-for-review services, which you can read about here and here.

Amazon’s New Review Policy Points

So, what was the big change? In short: Sellers can no longer offer free products and discounts in exchange for a review. Here is a handful of specific points:

  • Sellers can’t use third-party services to loophole around the restriction.
  • The policy took effect immediately, but vendors shouldn’t worry about past posts. However, Amazon may remove old reviews “if they are excessive, and don’t comply with prior policy.”
  • Sellers CAN “continue to offer discounts and promotions as long as they are not offered in exchange for reviews.
  • Ignoring Amazon’s new review policy is grounds for account suspension.
  • Review facilitators can no longer require members to leave reviews.

Authors Are Exempt From Amazon’s New Review Rules

Which segment of Amazon World doesn’t have to worry about the new review guidelines? Authors. Giving away advanced copies of a book, in exchange for a review, is a publishing industry solemnity — and the online retail giant doesn’t want to disturb the ancient institution. In Amazon’s exact words, the company will “continue to allow the age-old practice of providing advance review copies of books.”

What’s VINE Got To Do With It?

Discount-for-feedback programs are strictly prohibited “unless […] facilitated through the Amazon Vine program.”

Wait, what?

Yep, Amazon is now the only acceptable channel for early offer arrangements. But even that’s a slight misnomer because Amazon doesn’t “incentivize [Vine members to give] positive star ratings, attempt to influence the content of reviews, or even require a review to be written.”

Is Amazon Sticking It To The Proverbial “Little Guy”?

Amazon’s new review policy press release states that “when done carefully,” incentivized reviews “can be helpful to customers by providing a foundation of reviews for new or less well-known products.”

To put it another way: Amazon admits that “incentivized reviews” help online retail startups, but it’s outlawing the practice regardless? Apparently so.

Now, does this mean it’ll be impossible to start a successful FBA store? Not at all. Most review facilitators have already operationally adjusted to the change.

But beyond that, in the simple terms, people like reviewing products. Stick to an effective marketing plan — which includes follow-up e-mails and superior customer service — and you shouldn’t notice a seismic change in sales.

Online Retail Legal Reminders and Considerations

Before our 3-minutes are up, we wanted to leave you with 3 legally minded thoughts:

  • “Unfair and deceptive marketing” rules do apply. Adhere to them or risk and FTC investigation and fine.
  • In light of Amazon’s new review policy, feedback services should make a Herculean effort to contact their review-writers’ networks. Don’t forget, a review that includes something to the effect of “received at a discount for an honest and unbiased review,” is now non-compliant.
  • Account suspension is reversible in some instances. Talk with an online retail consultant who can help pinpoint the exact problem, and provide the best plan of action to restore your account.

Good luck with Amazon’s new review policy. If you have questions, get in touch.

Online Review Defamation: A Client Lied About Your Business. Now What?

online review defamation
Protecting your online reputation can be as difficult as winning the Tour de France…clean. So, what can businesses do when faced with online review defamation? Let’s take a look.

  • First, ask yourself: “Is the review accurate?” This can be the hardest step. If the review is negative but true, the chances of remedying the situation with a defamation claim diminish considerably. Why? Well, under United States law, legal defamation requires falsity. Does this mean you can’t combat the negative review? No, it doesn’t. You can. (We’ll get to “the how” below.)
  • Second, ask yourself another question: “Is the review fundamentally true, but grossly exaggerated?” Hyperbole, believe it or not, rarely passes the defamation sniff test. Sometimes, but not often. In the eyes of the law, reasonable people can distinguish hyperbolic speech from a false statement of fact. For example, an online reviewer condemns: “Mr. Widget’s Widgets are the WORST widgets in the world!” Mr. Widget is peeved about the review and threatens a defamation lawsuit. But the truth is, he probably wouldn’t win an online review defamation lawsuit, because “the worst company in the world,” is an exaggerated opinion and not tantamount to libel. Does this mean you can’t combat negative reviews? Again, no. (I promise we’ll get to how below.)
  • Third, if your detractor did, indeed, make a false statement of fact in an online review, you may be able to sue for trade libel or defamation. That said, most online defamation situations rarely blossom into lawsuits. Attorney intervention usually does the trick; people often — and innocently — don’t realize they’ve crossed a legal line and just need reminding to remove it.
  • If you’re confident a detractor made a false statement of fact, as opposed to a hyperbolic opinion, contact a lawyer. He or she can analyze the situation and help you work through questions like:
    1. Depending on details, should you send a letter, or use another marketing method, to squelch the effect of bad online reviews?
    2. Is the statement egregious enough to move forward with a full-fledged lawsuit? If yes, do you have enough evidence to effectively argue the case in court?

Find a attorney who will tell you, upfront, if your potential case is a dud or a stud.

To learn more about the nuances of online review defamation, click here. To read more about the history of U.S. defamation law, click here.

Online Review Defamation: Consider This Before Suing

A difficult customer or client posts a scathing review, with a low truthiness quotient, on a popular site like Amazon, Yelp or Ripoff Report. What can you, the business owner, do?

You’ve got three options:

  • Ignore the issue, letting the problem fester and grow.
  • Work with an attorney to get the offending comments removed.
  • Work with a marketing professional to neutralize the review’s negative effects.

According to this Forbes article, 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. So ask yourself: do you want to sacrifice business by ignoring a damaging review? I’m sure we can all agree: doing nothing is unwise.

So, with option 1 out of the way, which is better: working with a lawyer or a marketer?

88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. So ask yourself: do you want to sacrifice business by ignoring a damaging review?

Deciding Between Marketing Fixes & Legal Solutions

Before deciding whether to deal with a damaging online review with marketing methods, legal tactics — or both — consider a few facts about U.S. defamation law.

  • Thanks to a high-profile legal scuffle between a preacher and pornographer, satire and parody aren’t legally defamatory. Consider: did your detractor cloak disdain in satire or parody? Yes? Then you’re probably better off working with a marketer. (Chill Tip: In cases of satire and parody, consider laughing it off. Humorlessness and hyper sensitivity are not qualities consumers easily tolerate.)
  • Is the statement an opinion? If yes, then it’s not defamatory under U.S. law. Comments like, “I hate this product!” or “John Doe is the WORST dentist I’ve ever used!” are opinions.
  • Does putting “In my opinion” or “IMO” before a false statement of fact automatically make said statement an opinion? No. IMO is not a legal shield that confers defamation immunity on all who use it.
  • What happens if an anonymous user posts a scathing review? You may be able to uncover their real identity. Click here to read more about the process.
  • What does it take to win a U.S. defamation lawsuit? It’s difficult, but possible. In short, plaintiffs need to prove that contested statements are about them, in addition to falsity, harm, and a level of negligence. For a state-by-state defamation law analysis, go here.

You Have Options. Don’t Wait, Act. Solutions Are A Phone Call Away.

If your business has suffered because of an inflammatory review, and you’re ready to fight back, let’s talk.

Our team has helped hundreds of individuals — and businesses– pluck defamatory content off the Internet. And note, a lawsuit isn’t always nececcary to remedy an online review defamation issue.
Who are we? Kelly / Warner — a group of attorneys, with strong marketing connections, that excels at fixing online defamation problems. To learn more about us, head here.

Reclaim your reputation — and revenue flow. Get in touch today.

Yelp Defamation: Is The Site Required To Remove Defamatory Reviews?

Yelp Defamation

Yelp! (“Yelp”) isn’t happy.

A California judge ordered the review site to remove a defamatory posting. Yelp, for its part, felt the decision defied Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and appealed — but lost.

Will the ruling affect future Yelp defamation claims? Will business owners be helped or hurt by this turn of events?

Let’s review the case and discuss the potential implications for SMBs.

Background Summary: Business Owner Sues For Defamation Over Yelp Review

We live in the Age of Online Reviews, so it happens all the time. A service provider clashes with a client. Eager to share his displeasure with the world, said client (under the altruistic auspices of “warning others”) takes to Yelp and posts a scathing — often hyperbolic — negative review. Within days, the target’s inquiries come to a grinding halt.

It’s every business owner’s worst nightmare, and it happened to an attorney a few years back — so she sued for online defamation.

Who won?

To shorten a long story, the client failed to appear in court, which triggered a default win, and the judge ordered Yelp to remove the defamatory review.

Yelp’s Position: Forcing Content Removal Defies Section 230 of the CDA

But Yelp didn’t want to remove the review.

In its defense, the review website argued insufficient governance, maintaining that Yelp wasn’t party to the lawsuit, and subsequently not subservient to the court in this matter. Yelp also reasoned that the removal order contravened Section 230 of the CDA, which gives immunity to websites dragged into lawsuits involving defamatory user content. Or, to put it another way, it’s the law that stops users from suing, say, Facebook (or even Yelp) over another user’s post.

Now, please don’t read us wrong: you CAN sue individuals who post libelous statements, but not the social media platform on which the contested statement sits. (Section 230 applies to most social media sites. The rules, however, vary for blogs, news sites and other informational platforms that can legally be deemed “the publisher”).

Excerpt From Yelp Defamation Removal Lawsuit

“Yelp’s claimed interest in maintaining its site as it deems appropriate does not include the right to second-guess a final court judgment establishing that statements by a third party are defamatory and thus unprotected by the First Amendment.”

Why Doesn’t Yelp Want To Remove Defamatory Reviews?

Why is Yelp against weeding the site of defamatory posts? In its estimation, removing content is a free speech quagmire, so the company spares no expense in defending removal requests.

A spokesperson for the review aggregator explained:

“The ruling undermines the free speech and due process rights of consumer reviewers and the online platforms that host their content. In a single jumbled ruling, the court managed to contravene and contort longstanding precedent concerning the First Amendment, constitutional due process and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.”

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, or CDA, says, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

Court’s Reasoning: Asking Yelp To Remove Defamatory Review Doesn’t Have Anything To Do With Section 230 In This Case

According to the court, the removal order wasn’t legally damaging, and therefore fell outside the Section 230 sphere. In other words, since Yelp wouldn’t face imminent legal injury by deleting the defamatory post, the removal order doesn’t interfere with the CDA.

And on a technical note, according to the ruling, Yelp allegedly filed its protest motion too late.

Who Can I Talk To About My Yelp Defamation Issue?

Dealing with a defamatory Yelp review? We can help. Our team has assisted countless small- and medium-sized business owners overcome setbacks related to damaging Yelp reviews. Not every case requires a lawsuit. In many instances, we’ve been able to rectify the situation without filing a claim.

Contact us now. We’ll discuss your situation, (even vent about Yelp if you want), and then start formulating a plan — that’s both effective and budget conscious — to reverse the damage done by Yelp defamation.

Yes, Amazon Sues Fake Reviewers

Fake Review Law and Lawyer
The Legal Low Down On Fraudulent Feedback
Online Marketing Legal Reminder: Avoid using and writing paid reviews for Amazon.com. Why? You could be sued or banned!

Amazon is cracking down on phony feedback. Not only is it suing fake review services, but also suspending complicit seller accounts. In fact, just the other day, Amazon announced a lawsuit against a group of third-party sellers who used “sock puppet accounts” to post phony, positive reviews on their product pages.

Recent Action: Amazon Sued Phony Appraisal Services

A few weeks ago, Amazon sued five websites servicing the fake feedback “ecosystem.” An Amazon spokesperson explained:

“We will continue to pursue legal action against the root cause of reviews abuse — the sellers and manufacturers who create the demand for fraudulent reviews, as well as the ecosystem of individuals and organizations who supply fraudulent reviews.”

Ongoing Dragnet Against Fake Review Services

Amazon is obsessed with review integrity because customer posts fuel the e-commerce engine. To that end, last year, the company litigiously targeted parties that allegedly contributed to review corruption. Since then, the online retail giant has targeted about one-thousand phony feedback operations and forced many offline.

Is Amazon’s Review Integrity Initiative Working?

Are Amazon’s attempts to stomp out phony feedback working? Depends on how you assess the situation. Sure, more people now know about the company’s anti-fake review stance, prompting some marketers to stop using them. But, due to the pop-up-shop nature of review services, attempts at extermination have ultimately proven to be whack-a-mole level frustrating.

Need Help With An Amazon Review Problem?

User reviews are essential to the e-commerce success formula. For sellers, the quality and quantity of customer feedback can mean the difference between success and failure.

And unfortunately, unscrupulous marketers use disparaging reviews as a negative SEO tactic.

If you’ve been hit, and you’re ready to right a wrong, get in touch immediately. Our team of attorneys and techs has helped tons of people and businesses overcome various review issues. We can help you, too.

Don’t wait. The longer phony reviews fester, the more damage they can do.

Get in touch immediately to get back on a profitable path, free of fake review problems.

Defamation Hurts: 10 Intriguing Facts & Thoughts On The Psychologically Devastating Effects of Slander and Libel

psychological effects of defamation

Self-described “expert witness and litigation consultant” Nicholas Carroll published a think-piece on the darker side of defamation.  Carroll’s stance, in a sound byte? Slander and libel ruins lives. OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but Carroll does appear to advocate for defamation reform and floats the idea of “sane legislation” that better compensates wronged parties.So, does he have a point? Do we need to rethink our defamation laws?

The Most Defendant-Friendly Defamation Laws In The World

The United States has the most defendant-friendly slander and libel laws in the world. And yes, austere rules means legitimately wronged parties can sometimes find themselves without legal recourse — not to mention a lifetime’s worth of unwarranted social suspicion.

This raises several questions:

  1. Are U.S. libel laws an example of the greater good out-weighing a few unfortunate situations where the bad guys win?
  2. Are such situations an unavoidable side effect of valuing free speech?
  3. Or, do we need to consider the compound effects of digital communications and change online libel laws accordingly?

Here’s the thing: free speech is practically sacrosanct; tweaking U.S. defamation standards is a slippery, Everest-sized, First Amendment slope. Our slander and libel laws rightly cling to caution’s side, in favor of the defendant.

But as a result, winning defamation lawsuits in the United States isn’t easy; plaintiffs need rock-solid — no, titanium-solid — cases.

The potential upside of filing a defamation claim? Damage awards can be gigantic — especially in recent years. As Carroll explains, jury awards are rising, not only to compensate for financial setbacks (lost wages or customers on account of the defamation), but also for emotional distress.

The potential upside of filing a defamation claim? Damage awards can be gigantic — especially in recent years.

10 Conversation Starters About Defamation

depression and defamation
Defamation can cause serious depression — and you may be compensated for it.

Regardless of where you stand on the status of our country’s slander laws, Carroll raises some arguments worth considering (even if you don’t agree with his position).

  1. “Loose lips or poison pens had pushed them over the brink to abnormal behavior.” That’s how Carroll described some defamation victims with whom he has corresponded. It speaks to the potentially devastating nature of slander and libel. Lately, judges and juries are recognizing just how detrimental defamation can be — and they’re starting to hand down large damage awards.
  2. “Dealing with defamation rationally is the exception because defamation is rarely rational.” In this quote, Carroll points out the fundamental paradox of slander and libel situations, for plaintiffs. He also describes defamers as “not only …clinical psychopaths and semi-functional sociopaths, but apparently normal people who have too much time on their hands, best summed up by philosopher Eric Hoffer, ‘People mind other people’s affairs when their own affairs are not worth minding.’”
  3. Carroll chose a popular trope (of uncertain — but exalted — origins) to explain the viral nature of Internet defamation, cautioning, “A lie can be halfway around the world before the truth can put on its pants.”
  4. Studies suggest that only 5% of defamation victims can handle the emotional fallout of slander and libel, rationally.
  5. The so-called Streisand effect stops people, who’ve legitimately been defamed, from taking legal action.
  6. Carroll identified homeowners associations, K-12 schools, churches and the small business world as hotbeds of defamation.
  7. Due to more training, Fortune 500 companies are more likely to “damn by faint praise” and less likely to find themselves in the middle of a defamation battle — with either employees or competitors.
  8. Suicide is a very real consequence of defamation.
  9. Carroll controversially argues that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act “gives far too much license to blogs and social media — without the responsibilities imposed on mainstream media.”
  10. Carroll contends that false accusations are more traumatic than actual bad deeds. He explains: “To compare reality and defamation, which one is more traumatic . . . to accidentally run over your neighbor’s dog and kill it, or be falsely accused of running over your neighbor’s dog? After 14 years of speaking to defamation victims, that’s a no-brainer: being falsely accused is far more traumatic. Killing a neighbor’s pet will distress any normal person, and they will occasionally think about it even years later. On the other hand, the normal human will immediately call the dog’s owner, or take the dog to a pet clinic themselves, and history will read ‘. . . it really broke them up . . . they drove the dog to a clinic, but it was too late.’ Being falsely accused of it can become a running psychic sore, a daily source of stress every time you get a cold look from a neighbor, or the ‘Oh, you’re the one who . . .’ look from someone you just met. When the story is fictitious, there’s no record of you driving the dog to the hospital, because the accident never happened. And where there is no crime, no alibi is possible.”
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Connect With A Defamation Lawyer

Kelly Warner runs a successful Internet defamation legal practice.

Lawsuits aren’t always necessary to effectively combat an online reputation challenge. Our attorneys are top-rated, exceptionally friendly, discreet and most importantly, know all the tips and tricks to remedy defamation situations quickly. Get in touch today to explore options; let’s start restoring your good name.

Article Sources

Carroll, N. (2016, March 22). Defamation of Character: The Road to Emotional Meltdown. Retrieved May 04, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nicholas-carroll/defamation-of-character-t_b_9520124.html

Discounts For Honest Amazon Reviews Is Fine; Paying For Bogus Reviews Isn’t

Amazon Reviews Legalities
UPDATE: Amazon recently changed its policy; sellers can no longer offer discounts in exchange for reviews (in most circumstances). We decided to keep this article up for archival purposes.

Team members from BestReviews analyzed 360,000 consumer posts on Amazon.com. Their conclusion? Amazon is flooded with 4- and 5-star reviews, which raised the question: “Can Amazon reviews be trusted?” The answer: Yes, but be aware.

The team observed that:

  • 66.3% of Amazon user ratings are 4- or 5-stars;
  • A “verified purchase” doesn’t mean “full price purchase;”
  • 96% of people who got a free or deeply discounted product gave 4- or 5-star assessments, even though they weren’t required to post high-ratings, just honest ratings.

Can You Trust Amazon Reviews?

So, what does this all mean? Does it illustrate a flaw in Amazon’s review system? Are Amazon reviews worthless?

No, it’s not that drastic.

What the results DO prove is that recipients of free and discounted goods are more likely to give a positive rating than people who pay full price. Humans emotionally connect to money because it’s associated with survival. As such, the more dollars we part with for a product, the more likely we’ll be critical of its shortcomings.
What the results DO prove is that recipients of free and discounted goods are more likely to give a positive rating than people who pay full price.

How Algorithms Can Affect
Amazon Reviews

To balance the review field, Amazon’s rating algorithm gives more weight to reviews written by people who pay full price than those written by launch reviewers who likely got a free product.

Amazon Doesn’t Care If You Give Away Free Products In Exchange For Honest Reviews

(This policy has since changed.)

You’ve probably seen the words “honest review” in an Amazon post.  That usually means the author got the product for free or at a deep discount.

Yes, it’s against Amazon rules to pay for fake reviews outright. It’s fine, however, to give away free products in exchange for honest reviews.

An Amazon spokesperson explained that the company “does not allow compensation or incentive for reviews” except “when sellers provide a [free or discounted] copy of the product, in advance, in exchange for an unbiased review.”

Yes, it’s against Amazon rules to pay for fake reviews outright. It’s fine, however, to give away free products in exchange for honest reviews.

Amazon Explains Why It Loves User Reviews

When communicating with the BestReviews team, Amazon expressed its love of consumer feedback, explaining:

“We believe that all reviews, positive and negative, help customers make informed purchasing decisions. The fact that customers received the product at a deep discount or for free does not preclude them from having an opinion on the product that can be helpful to other customers. Customers indicate that the content of many of these reviews are incredibly helpful. These reviews often provide additional factual information, videos and photos of the actual product in use, and the reviewers often answer follow-up questions.”

Got Review Issues? We Can Help.

We’re review physicians who revive businesses hobbled by damaging feedback. How do we do it? Well, strategies are detail specific, and everyone’s case is different. Let’s talk about your situation and develop a plan that will get you back on track.

Article Sources

Agarwal, Kriti, and Rafe Needleman. “Can You Trust Reviews on Amazon?” Can You Trust Reviews on Amazon? 14 Mar. 2016. Web. 25 Apr. 2016. <https://www.yahoo.com/tech/can-you-trust-reviews-on-amazon-174800847.html>.

E-Commerce Law: Is It Legal To Pay For Online Reviews?

graphic of search bar juxtaposed against a line of e-commerce entrepreneurs to accompany a blog post answering the question is it legal to pay for online reviews

Is It Legal To Pay For Online Reviews?

You can make money with e-commerce startups. Amazon, eBay, Etsy – even Walmart – maintain incredible platforms for outside sellers. Plus, holiday sales figures prove that Internet shopping anxiety has gone the way of the dinosaur.

Bottom line: there is e-commerce cash-money to be made.

But (there’s always a “but”), as more folks dive into the product marketing pond, competition is stiffer than the Queen’s Guard.

So, how are some sellers standing out from the pack? They’re buying reviews! Which raises the question: Is it legal to buy online reviews?

Online Review Truth #1: Fake Reviews Can Get You Sued

Reviews are a vital cog in the e-commerce machine. Every platform — and entrepreneur — leverages user reviews to sell, sell, sell! Think about it: when you see a product without feedback, do you buy…or hop to a similar product with reviews?

So, what’s a newbie to do? Is it legal to buy online reviews?

E-commerce platforms are serious about review integrity, and they actively work to expunge phony feedback. Not only are algorithms used to scrub “bad” posts, but some platforms, like Amazon, sue paid review services and reviewers.

Are you thinking, “No problem, I’ll just use a paid review service overseas?” Well, foreign governments are also cracking down.

The risk of permanent account expulsion increases, exponentially, if you use fake review services. The danger is real; you may get burned.

Online Review Truth #2: Disclose Material Relationships

What’s the easiest way to avoid review-related suspension hassles? Disclose, disclose, disclose!

If Aunt Bessie buys your organic sea-kale lollipops, genuinely loves them, and wants to shout it from a mountaintop, she can certainly spread the sea-kale gospel via online reviews. BUT,  don’t PAY Aunt Bessie to write a review. (Update: Offering consumers free products is exchange for an online review is now also frowned upon by Amazon. You can read about the rule change here.)

Will you be tossed in the clink if friends and family don’t divulge their relationship, to you, in an online review? Of course not. Let’s be real: how will Amazon — or another platform — know if “Liv4Cats54” is your relative? But be aware that disclosing material relationships is, technically, part of FTC guidelines.

Online Review Truth #3: Don’t Ghost Write Tons of Reviews for Your Products

Is it legal to pay for online reviews? Not really. Is it legal to write your own reviews under aliases? Again, not really.

For e-commerce platforms, reviews are both a blessing and a curse; a blessing because they engage audiences in a meaningful, profitable way; a curse because an outbreak of corrupt reviews has the power to crush a site’s credibility – and ultimately tarnish the brand.

So,  what’s the lesson? Don’t write a ton of fake reviews for your products. Websites use algorithms that sniff and snuff out faux-feedback. Best to avoid them altogether.

Online Review Truth #4: Don’t Sabotage Competitors’ Listings

One night, you’re sitting at home, stewing in a cauldron of frustration. Your e-commerce gamble is not working out as planned! Where are the customers!?

You ask yourself, “Is it legal to pay for online reviews or post fake ones?” And then, in a moment of weakness, frustration takes your wheel and you screed-type some nasty feedback on a competitor’s listing. Your (misguided) rationale? Well, if I trash competing products, more people are likely to find me!

This type of thinking is wrong thinking. Being a rogue, fake-review-dispensing troll will bring you 99 problems, and a possible FTC sanction IS one.

Fake reviews fall clearly into the “unfair and deceptive marketing” strike zone. Plus, depending on the circumstances, you could be sued for trade libel — and lose.

Befriend An E-Commerce Lawyer

You’ve vested a lot in your e-commerce business. Protect your efforts; team up with an experienced attorney with a nuanced understanding of:

Our focus areas (FTC compliance, review defamation, online intellectual property, et cetera) line up perfectly with what Internet businesses need to grow and earn.

Hope we’ve answered the question “Is it legal to pay for online reviews?” for you. Interested in learning more about Internet business law? Yes? Head here.

Using Gag Clauses To Prevent Negative Online Reviews?

gag clauses to prevent negative online reviews

2017 Update: Federal politicians passed the Consumer Review Fairness Act, which outlaws online defamation gag clauses.

Are contractual “defamation clauses” – a.k.a. “gag clauses”—acceptable? Legally enforceable? Can you sneak them into customer agreements in an attempt to mitigate bad online reviews?

Let’s review.

Using Gag Clauses To Prevent Negative Online Reviews Can Backfire – Badly.

If you asked ten U.S. citizens, “What’s the cornerstone of American law,” nine of them might say, “Free speech!” And it’s a solid answer — which is why contractual consumer gag clauses are short sided. Not only is it an affront to the Constitution, but doing so will probably land you a boatload of viral, negative press.

Not All Gag Clauses Are An Assault On Free Speech…

To be clear: not all gag clauses are a spit in the face of freedom. Many contractual articles, which demand confidentiality, are perfectly fine – if not commonplace.

You may be thinking, “WTF!? How is that possible!? What happened to free speech?”

Fair question. But here’s the crux: confidentiality is the focal point of many agreements. To wit, celebrities regularly make employees sign privacy contracts – a type of “gag clause.” Commonly, startups and businesses require employees to sign non-disclosure agreements to protect corporate secrets.

…But Some Are

So, we’ve established that not all gag clauses are the work of a freedom-hating baddie. But, some contracts do cross a Constitutional line.

When online reviews became de rigueur‎, businesses and professionals started stuffing gag clauses into service contracts. But the practice quickly backfired. Netizens took to the Internet and shout-typed outrage over agreements that prohibited negative online reviews. In short order, lawyers who previously advocated for restrained gag clauses began advising against their use.

When Free Speech Crosses The Legal Line

It’s never OK to ban legitimate free speech, but there are legal limits – like defamation. In laymen’s terms, defamation (libel if written; slander if spoken) is purposefully negligent, harmful, and public lie telling.

Some people use gag clauses to prevent negative online reviews, but it typically backfires – especially if the language is hyper-aggressive.

Moreover, time and again, courts have established that the Constitution (and case law) rarely allows for “prior restraint.” In other words, it’s fine to punish a person, post-facto, for committing an act of slander or libel; however, trying to hush someone – before anything untoward actually happens – is contrary to established legal standards (except in certain circumstances, which usually involve commerce and employment).

In other words, don’t use gag clauses to prevent negative online reviews.

Some people try to use clauses to prevent negative online reviews, but it typically backfires – especially if the language is hyper-aggressive.

What Can Business Owners Do About Difficult Clients Who Litter The Web With Negative Reviews?

So, what’s an honest business owner to do when faced with a testy, ranting client? A client that embellishes the truth, but doesn’t, exactly, tell a bold-faced lie?

Talk to a lawyer. (“Yeah, right – you’re just saying that because your law firm handles this type of issue,” you protest. Yes, we’re a law firm that helps clients with reputation issues. But think of it this way: would you want a dentist to operate on your spleen?)

Gag Clause Case Study

FTC Sues Weight Loss Product Company Over Gag Clause

Recently, the Federal Trade Commission targeted a weight loss supplement company (we’ll call the company “WLC”) for “unfair and deceptive” marketing. As the nation’s consumer watchdog, the FTC punishes parties that use underhanded methods to market and promote. In fancy FTC language:

“[The FTC goes after businesses that] cause substantial injury to consumers that is not reasonably avoidable by consumers and that is not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or competition.” 

Specifically, the case against “WLC” involves accusations of:

  • False and unsubstantiated claims;
  • Unconstitutional prior restraint;
  • Failure to disclose review compensations; and
  • Possibly violating HIPPA restrictions by inadvertently disclosing health information to banks and payment processors.

The “Gag Clause” That Had People Seeing Red

The terms of purchase agreement for WLC’s weight loss powder included the following phrase:

“Regardless of your personal experience with [WLC], you will not disparage [WLC] and or any of its employees, products or services.”

In other words: Even if you don’t like the product, you’re barred from saying anything bad about “WLC” – anywhere.

Defamation Clause Deemed Unacceptable by the FTC

Typically, businesses fall under the FTC’s scope for:

  • Making false claims about a product’s effectiveness.
  • Fabricating “studies” that unfairly sway public perception.
  • Engaging in negative option marketing.
  • Not disclosing “discount for feedback” initiatives (i.e., giving away free samples, money or discounts for writing reviews).
  • Deceptive billing.

FTC Rejects Gag Clause Explanation

Ostensibly, “WLC” included a defamation gag clause in its user contract. But the FTC said, “Nah-ah,” which isn’t surprising since the agency has traditionally kept a close eye on supplement manufacturers and marketers. Moreover, the clause included a damning phrase: “regardless of your personal experience with [WLC],” which probably tipped the legal scale; it’s one thing to warn against defamation, but another to threaten against free speech.

Free Contracts, Which Can Be Found Online, May Invite An FTC Investigation

In the resultant case, the nation’s consumer watchdog deemed the company’s defamation clause “unfair and deceptive.”

So, how can businesses guard against “unfair and deceptive” clients? By working with a lawyer who creates practical and protective arrangements that won’t attract the FTC’s watchful eye.

If you use a free online contract, the consequences could be dreadful. Why? Because freebie agreements usually aren’t as comprehensive as they can — and should — be. Sometimes, they include sneaky clauses that work against businesses.

Contacts & Further Reading

To avoid a run in with the Federal Trade Commission, work with an advertising and marketing lawyer. Partner Daniel Warner is an astonishingly effective litigator, and Aaron Kelly – the other named partner, enjoys a 10-out-of-10 rating on lawyer review website AVVO.com. Kelly also maintains a preeminent rating with venerated attorney assessment group Martindale-Hubbell.

To learn more about Kelly Warner, click here. To read more about other FTC cases and legal issues affecting today’s marketplace, head here. If you are currently dealing with an FTC investigation or inquiry, get an attorney. Going it alone could result in an avoidable — and unfavorable — business-crushing fine. Besides, hiring a lawyer to help with marketing initiatives may be a lot less costly than you think – and could ultimately save you a small fortune. Don’t wait. Get in touch today.

The Takeaway: In the United States, home to the world’s most free-speech-friendly constitution, using gag clauses to prevent negative online reviews is tantamount to a criminal act in the minds of many people. Adding egregious clauses to consumer contracts isn’t a wise move.

Article Sources

Trujillo, M. (2015, September 28). FTC sues weight-loss company for online ‘gag clause’ Retrieved January 12, 2016, from http://thehill.com/policy/technology/255130-ftc-sues-weight-loss-company-over-online-gag-clause