Online Trade Libel Case Study: The Battle Of The Mail-Order Bride Websites

academic defamation lawsuits
An online business thought their competitor was behind a so-called “suck site”, so it sued.

A pair of mail-order bride websites – Anastasia International and EM Models (dba, Elena’s Models) — went toe-to-toe in court. By way of a lawsuit, Anastasia accused EM of false advertising, trademark infringement and defamation, alleging the latter hired a Web developer to make a “suck site” called anastasiadatingfraud.com.  EM Models denied the claim, and in the end a judge sided with the defendant because the plaintiff couldn’t produce enough proof.

How This Online Trade Libel Lawsuit Started

Anastasia International is a fee-based online dating service featuring women from Russia and Ukraine. It’s based in Kentucky, with offices in New York. In May, the mail-order bride type site filed a lawsuit against one of their competitors, EM Models. Why? Well, executives at Anastasia were convinced that EM had paid Juha Natunen to create anastasiadatingfraud.com, a website which accused Anastasia’s women of stringing men along with the intention of “breaking their hearts” in the end.

Irate over the website, Anastasia sued for defamation, false advertising and trademark infringement.

Could A Hyperlink On The Suck Site Work In Favor Of The Plaintiff?

Apparently, when Anastasia International first filed the lawsuit, someone removed a link on anastasiadatingfraud.com that had led to EM Models. During the proceedings, the judge said the removal of the link was the “strongest factual claim bolstering [Anastasia’s] argument” that EM paid to have the site created. In the end, though, the judge decided that “such an allegation of temporal proximity is not enough to show any connection or communication whatsoever, let alone an agency relationship, between Juha Natunen and EM Online. In other words: a link is not proof enough that EM hired Natunen to build the site.

The court ordered Anastasia to pay Elena Model’s attorney fees because the former kept the latter as a defendant without proof for an extended period of time.

Competition Litigation No-No: Don’t Make It Obvious You Only Care About Hurting The Competition

If you’ve been following along, you may have thought, “Hey, why didn’t Anastasia sue the website operator, Juha Natunen, for defamation instead of just suing competitor EM Models?” If that thought did cross your mind, you’re not alone. The judge in the case factored this thought into the ruling, reasoning that Anastasia’s refusal to drop EM Models from the lawsuit smacked of “a competitive ploy.”

Be Smart, Don’t Purposefully Jump On The Trade Libel Wagon

You may have the urge to secretly fund an attack website of your competitor. Don’t do it. It’s more likely you’ll be found out than not. And if you are, the amount you’ll most likely have to pay if you lose a defamation lawsuit may far outweigh the potential profit gain from plating dirty.

Kelly Warner Law deals with all things business and defamation law-related. Whether you need an attorney to draft an operating agreement or help you go after a competitor who is playing out of bounds, we can help. We are a top-rated law firm that won’t cost you a small fortune. Get in touch today to begin the conversation.

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