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Threatened with legal action
macavity




msg:1562576
 10:07 pm on Nov 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

A recent post was made to one of my forums alleging that a certain real estate company was using "dirty tricks" to poach business from competitors. There was then an exchange of views in this forum topic between the original poster and someone working for the company in question (although they did not reveal that publicly). I was later contacted by the owners of the company demanding that the post be removed. I refused to remove it as one of the main purposes of the forums is to expose shady tactics used by "cowboy operators" but posted to the forum myself stating that I would allow both parties to put forward their side of the argument once more before locking the topic. This was not acceptable to the company in question who accused me, as the forum moderator, of allowing a smear campaign to take place. The company directors then stated that they had been in touch with those accusing them and that it transpired a third party had been passing themselves off as the original company. I replied that if the original poster were to retract their comments I would delete the topic. This took place a few days later and I removed the topic. I then mailed the company to inform them that the comments had been retracted and the topic removed, only to find that the matter is now in the hands of their solicitors. They haven't been more specific but I assume, based on their previous correspondence, that their intention is to accuse me of some kind of libel.

I appreciate that cross-border legislation is a nightmare but does anyone have any idea where I might stand?

Cheers,

Mac

 

macavity




msg:1562577
 10:11 pm on Nov 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

PS I am contacting my own solicitor, which I appreciate is the best course of action on legal matters, but would appreciate any comments and experiences from anyone who has been in a similar situation.

Thanks,

Mac

kevinpate




msg:1562578
 10:38 pm on Nov 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

And perhaps their intention is simply to cause you a sleepless night or three. Otherwise, you're already on the right track. Luck your way.

AlexMiles




msg:1562579
 10:41 pm on Nov 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

I think the accuser usually have to prove damage for libel (a type of defamation) except where you are talking about someones 'fitness' for a trade.

So I would say you were on dodgy ground. But then again thats the UK. You say 'boo' to a goose in the UK and you can get arrested for harrassing the goose. Well, if you say it twice.

In the US is should be a lot more liberal, but you need a US expert and that isn't me.

Oh, except to say - if you haven't any money they probably won't waste theirs trying to get it.

[Note I edited this to correct a factual innacuracy]

bobothecat




msg:1562580
 10:45 pm on Nov 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

but does anyone have any idea where I might stand?

Not sure where you stand... but I would not communicate with them directly any longer... you need to hire an attorny, and let them do that.

macavity




msg:1562581
 11:15 pm on Nov 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

Many thanks for those quick replies. Fortunately, perhaps, I've got sod all money so perhaps that'll work in my favour for once! More seriously, I'll be very disappointed if they take this further...my site has helped many people over the past five years and I feel that my moderation in this case, involving both editing the original post and then removing it when the allegation was retracted, was fair and reasonable. On top of that every email I've had from the company in question has been rude and aggressive, and it gets my back up that I might end up carrying the can when I've tried my utmost to be far to all parties. Presumably that won't carry much weight in the eyes of the law (or perhaps I'm being overy cynical). If anyone's interested I'll update this topic as things progress. Perhaps some good will come out of it if I can warn other forum owners of potential problems ahead...

Cheers,

Mac

AlexMiles




msg:1562582
 11:32 pm on Nov 9, 2005 (gmt 0)

You know, I would guess this company is no stranger to a courtroom. You did everything you reasonably could, and you have no money.

Thats three things in your favor.

Sanenet




msg:1562583
 12:18 pm on Nov 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

Cross border, you say? Sit quiet. Don't bother contacting them.

IF you get a letter from them, refer it to your solicitor. Don't contact them directly.

Remember - if they want to sue you for libel, then they're going to have to bring up the original matter in court. You might want to *politely* remind them that they will have to go on public record about the original problem, despite the fact the original post has been removed.

Knowing most real estate agencies, even if the original allegation isn't true, they won't be too keen on bringing it up as it'll probably drag something else up!

Marketing Guy




msg:1562584
 12:30 pm on Nov 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

Aye Sane is spot on.

Been in the same position myself (recruitment agencies instead on real estate though) - in the end I found it was less hassle to just not allow specifics on the forums.

The main issue is that given our profession, any mention of a company, even on a forum is likely to end up ranking right behind (or even ahead of) the company for a brand search in the SERPs. That's a nightmare for any company, but for industries where dirty tactics are common it ends up dragging you into a dumbass rivarly war between different agencies - it's just not worth the hassle.

In one of the cases where I refused to remove the comments (didn't think they were all that bad tbh), the company contacted my host and threatened them with legal action, who then threatened me with the bill for their lawyers. Fortunately my hosts are pretty cool and gave me a heads up before anything kicked off and I (very) reluctantly backed down.

These days I'm a little more objective - there's loads of people out there that will misuse your good faith just to stick one into their competitors - it's not worth the hassle.

At the end of the day you can educate your community about dodgy tactics without mentioning specific company names and that is what is important.

That said, if I had the money and the legal team to back it up, I'd be all for throwing a cat amongst the pigeons to take down some dodgy operators. ;)

MG

bradley phil




msg:1562585
 1:55 pm on Nov 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

That said, if I had the money and the legal team to back it up, I'd be all for throwing a cat amongst the pigeons to take down some dodgy operators. ;)

high time for something like that, IMHO

Marketing Guy




msg:1562586
 2:00 pm on Nov 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

high time for something like that, IMHO

You offering some funding? :P

Sanenet




msg:1562587
 2:33 pm on Nov 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

Hey, setup a ltd in the Caymens, find a decent hosting in, say, Iran and post a decent TOS - off we go. If I had some decent co-mods to help out with the content and a bit of a business plan I'd be willing to go ahead with it.

It's the difference between a get rich quick plan and a moral crusade ;)

bradley phil




msg:1562588
 12:15 am on Nov 13, 2005 (gmt 0)

You offering some funding? :P
I'm just some poor biochem student from the UK :p

let us know how things go though - best of luck

rogerd




msg:1562589
 1:41 pm on Nov 13, 2005 (gmt 0)

Sorry to hear about the threats, macavity. First, a forum like this isn't the place to come for legal advice. Laws are different in every jurisdiction, and only an attorney (or a solicitor, if you prefer :))will be able to get your full set of facts and advise you.

Forum owners sometimes comment that their largest annual expense item is legal fees, for exactly the kind of issue you describe.

From a purely business standpoint, probably the wisest decision is to remove the controversial content when you are contacted. This will almost certainly be the lowest-cost, lowest-risk route.

It may seem like you are caving in to the demands of crooks. You are, but is standing your ground worth losing the forum and your business or personal assets? Even if you are legally correct, a well-funded opponent can still drain you.

If you have the resources to fight it, or if you have no resources and don't care, then standing your ground may be a good option. And there's probably a significant chance that these threats are all bluster. Just be aware of the risks of calling their bluff.

In the meantime, review your TOS and be sure they are full of suitable disclaimers.

macavity




msg:1562590
 5:22 pm on Nov 14, 2005 (gmt 0)

Sound advice indeed. I think the strategy of removing content as soon as possible is certainly the way to go in matters of this kind (if your pockets aren't deep enough to fight legal action against you).

In addition I've learnt the following from the lawyers I've contacted, perhaps something will be of use to others:

1. To some degree this is still a grey area with legislation both differing between countries and still being under development within the countries themsleves. However, there is evidence to suggest that the balance of the argument is swinging in favour of the parties bringing such complaints and away from forum owners (each case, of course, still being judged individually).

2. I have been told that as the Internet is a worldwide medium and whatever is published can be viewed worldwide it may be possible for action to be brought in almost any country against the forum owner. Equally, I've been told that action would be brought in the country when the complainant resides or the country where a website is registered. Like I said, a grey area!

3. Just to repeat the point. Removing material as soon as someone asks you to do so would seem to be the best way of avoiding action against you.

In this case I've yet to hear from the company in question (fortunately). It has been suggested to me that offering to publish an apology at my site would be a sensible way of cooling things off. I think that's good advice. I'm not going to do so (at this stage, anyway) because I'm still infuriated by the attitude of the company in question and I don't honestly see that I've got anything to say sorry for but nevertheless it's a good strategy for anyone else who might find themselves in the same situation (and can see things with a more level head!).

Thanks to everyone for their help and support, much appreciated.

Mac

Rosalind




msg:1562591
 5:38 pm on Nov 14, 2005 (gmt 0)

I'm in a similar situation. People started talking about a particular company on my forum, and some of the comments were quite negative. The thread is quite high in the SERPs for the company name now.

So someone from the company contacted me and asked to remove posts. Well initially I talked him out of it and agreed to keep an eye on future posts (which I would do anyway). But I've decided to remove some lately that are potentially more libellous. I hope this was the right decision, but we'll see. I don't have the resources to investigate the truth behind every thread that appears on my forum.

I'm starting to see the virtue in WebmasterWorld's refusal to allow us to discuss specifics. It seems strict, but it must make for a whole lot fewer legal headaches.

macavity




msg:1562592
 6:22 pm on Nov 14, 2005 (gmt 0)

"I've decided to remove some lately that are potentially more libellous. I hope this was the right decision"

I think it must be, sounds eminently sensible to me now.

Mac

NoLimits




msg:1562593
 7:58 pm on Nov 15, 2005 (gmt 0)

I would tell them to go fly a kite.

I've stood firm on 4 attempted suits. I WILL NOT remove content from my public forum - posted by members of the public.

You should disclaim your content as information of opinion.

You can say ANYTHING in opinion form.

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