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Is saying something "sucks" considered slander?
Just got a cease and desist.
Perfection

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 8:17 pm on Jul 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

So I just got a cease and desist letter about an older blog post of mine that is sort of a review of a product. Let's call the product "Blah Blah Blah."

The title of this post is: "The Blah Blah Blah Sucks"

The cease and desist I got is telling me I need to rename this post (and it's url which also contains that title).

My question is, do they really have me on something here, or is it my legal right to say their product sucks in this manner?

Thanks in advance.

 

willybfriendly

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 8:47 pm on Jul 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

Slate covers the word "sucks" quite eloquently in an article "Suck It Up - A defense of the much-maligned word" [slate.com]:

"Sucks is the most concise, emphatic way we have to say something is no good. As a one-syllable intransitive verb, it offers superb economy. Granted, some things require more involved assessments (like, say, James Joyce: I find his early work unparalleled in its style and its evocation of emotion, while his later writing became willfully opaque in a manner that leaves me cold). But other things don't require this sort of elaboration (like, say, John Grisham: He sucks)."

Jane_Doe

WebmasterWorld Senior Member jane_doe us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 8:52 pm on Jul 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

This site seems to have withstood the legal challenges to have it taken down over the years:

[amexsux.com...]

Jane_Doe

WebmasterWorld Senior Member jane_doe us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 8:57 pm on Jul 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

Particularly this page

[amexsux.com...]

piatkow

WebmasterWorld Senior Member piatkow us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 9:00 pm on Jul 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

My vacuum cleaner sucks ....... sorry I couldn't resist that.

aspdaddy

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 9:48 pm on Jul 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

Do they really have me on something here

Yes if you implied it was factual

Lapizuli

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 9:54 pm on Jul 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'm no lawyer, and I don't know what jurisdiction you're under, anyway, but I think that libel (which may be the form of defamation you're thinking of, as your situation applies to published materials) has to be:

1) damaging to a reputation and

2) either a false or misleading statement, or a disclosure of something that shouldn't be disclosed (like an invasion of somebody's privacy or something contractually bound to nondisclosure, or whatever.)

And exhibit two...

From Wikipedia, referencing Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co., 497 U.S. 1 (1990)

[en.wikipedia.org...]

Opinion is a defense recognized in nearly every jurisdiction. If the allegedly defamatory assertion is an expression of opinion rather than a statement of fact, defamation claims usually cannot be brought because opinions are inherently not falsifiable. However, some jurisdictions decline to recognize any legal distinction between fact and opinion. The United States Supreme Court, in particular, has ruled that the First Amendment does not require recognition of an opinion privilege.


Since using the word "sucks" is (in any interpretation I can think of) expressing an opinion, and opinion is not a statement of fact, and assuming your title isn't misleading or an invasion of privacy, and this is not, um, taken to the Supreme Court, then any such statement wouldn't seem to be libel.

Just my off-the-cuff never-set-a-foot-in-law-school take on it. Whew! Why did I feel I had to include tons of legalese-style qualifications with that...?

But this is an interesting philosophical and legal issue, and one that will crop up more and more as increasing numbers of people express their opinions of products, agencies or people online, and potentially make or break reputations - and possibly huge economic and political sectors - with the click of a "submit" button.

It's unprecedented in a social unit of this (worldwide) scale. Since the opinions remain in databases indefinitely, even if they're changed or retracted, and since they reach a potentially infinite audience over the course of time, they can carry significantly more weight than opinions expressed in magazines, newspapers, and other print publications that had limited distribution and less ease of access. Which means an opinion now is not equal to an opinion in 1950, just as an opinion after the widespread use of the printing press wasn't equal to an opinion before it.

I wouldn't be surprised at some point in the future to see something on the order of "actionable due to nonsincere opinion propogated with bad-bad nasty malicious intent to defame" or some such mumbo-jumbo introduced. Not pleased, but not surprised.

It would be horrible, because one thing that's so nifty about the Internet is its equalizing influence. One person can effectively fell a corporation with a true word or a sympathetic opinion that appeals to the masses - thus making large, institutionalized public and private entities accountable to the people they influence. And individuals themselves become more accountable for what they say, because once it's published, it's set in stone, somewhere, whether it's in the index, in an archive, or on somebody's hard drive - which is a pretty organic way of making people act decently and honorably. Ironic, that electrons can accomplish that...!

All of the above is merely in my opinion, and should not be construed as legal advice, forever and ever, amen.

Perfection

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 10:00 pm on Jul 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the info guys.

So I'm thinking that if I change the title from

The Blah Blah Blah Sucks

to

The Blah Blah Blah Sucks In My Opinion

I should pretty much be completely in the clear, right?

Demaestro

WebmasterWorld Senior Member demaestro us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 10:10 pm on Jul 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

dam piatkow I was going to say it isn't slander if blah blah blah is a vacuum company. You stole my joke.

Of course IANAL but my understanding is that reviews and opinions are expressly protected in many areas of law.

Your right to express your opinion outweighs their right to exclusive use of their product name.

If they have a claim of exclusive use of that product name it would fall under Trademark law, which revolves around avoiding confusion in the marketplace.

You are not using their trademark in a way that would introduce confusion into the marketplace and you are simply giving your opinion in a review.

They have nothing on you unless you live somewhere that doesn't see things that way. Maybe China.

I wouldn't reply to them at all.

Demaestro

WebmasterWorld Senior Member demaestro us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 10:18 pm on Jul 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

The Blah Blah Blah Sucks

to

The Blah Blah Blah Sucks In My Opinion

I should pretty much be completely in the clear, right?


I guess that depends on their complaint. Are they accusing you of slander or of trademark infringement?

The fact that they asked you to re-title and take the name out of the URL it makes me think their issue is with you using the brand name, not with you slandering it.

The changes you offered would address Slander but not Trademark issues.

Either way I am of the opinion that you are fine all around as is.

Samizdata

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 10:28 pm on Jul 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

I am not a lawyer, and you won't get legal advice on WebmasterWorld.

Laws vary from country to country (or state to state) - in some places it is actually illegal to insult certain people or things (rulers, flags etc) and saying they suck could potentially land you in jail.

In most of what is amusingly referred to as "the free world" you are generally entitled to hold an opinion about a product and to express it, as long as it contains no falsehoods.

Laws on defamation often apply to statements about people, with slander being the term for spoken words and libel the term for written ones. The case you describe would probably fall under the heading of "product disparagement".

In some US states there are special laws about food products, where opinions must be "based on reasonable and reliable scientific inquiry, facts, or data".

A Cease and Desist letter is essentially a threat of further action and yours will presumably detail what action may be taken if you do not comply.

It may be just an attempt to bully you ("chilling effect") or it may be that you have published something that could prove very costly in the long run - you have the choice to fight or fold, and need to consider what either is worth to you and how sure you are of your ground.

Everything depends on everything else.

If in doubt you really should seek qualified legal advice.

Hope this helps.

...

Perfection

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 10:35 pm on Jul 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

I guess that depends on their complaint. Are they accusing you of slander or of trademark infringement?

The fact that they asked you to re-title and take the name out of the URL it makes me think their issue is with you using the brand name, not with you slandering it.

The changes you offered would address Slander but not Trademark issues.

Either way I am of the opinion that you are fine all around as is.


Nope they are all about the slander aspect of it. They literally said "change the title because it's slanderous."

arieng

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 10:42 pm on Jul 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'd be suspicious of a cease and desist notice that misunderstands the difference between slander and libel. Is the letter from an individual, a company, or an attorney?

Perfection

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 10:47 pm on Jul 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'd be suspicious of a cease and desist notice that misunderstands the difference between slander and libel. Is the letter from an individual, a company, or an attorney?


The letter itself is from the law office of whatever and whatever, but it was emailed to me by a company saying this product is their client.

I definitely do get the feeling though that it's mostly just an attempt at scaring me into deleting a post that ranks extremely well for searches containing this product's name.

Demaestro

WebmasterWorld Senior Member demaestro us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 11:15 pm on Jul 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

"change the title because it's slanderous."


Well in that case I can say with some certainty that you can tell them to go fly a kite.

If you want to cover your butt you could go with the change you suggested, it doesn't really take away from what you are saying. However as pointed out using the word "sucks" already implies that this is an opinion.

It isn't like there is a scientific method to determine suck levels. If you said something like "blah blah blah fails lab testing" then you better have factual data to back that up.

BeeDeeDubbleU

WebmasterWorld Senior Member beedeedubbleu us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 7:45 am on Jul 7, 2010 (gmt 0)

Regarding the use of the product name, the Paypal Sucks website is perhaps the best known of this genre. If you Google Paypal the "sucks" site is on page one of the SERPS.

They have been using Paypal's brand name in this way for years and they even use modified versions of their logos. As you know Paypal is a very large company and they have been unable to do anything about it, which would suggest to me that you can tell them to {insert expletive} off!.

IANAL.

Jonesy

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 1:48 pm on Jul 7, 2010 (gmt 0)

I would follow up with a blog post outlining this farce!

The spam fighters on usenet call such a "legal notice" a cart00ny.

httpwebwitch

WebmasterWorld Administrator httpwebwitch us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 2:48 pm on Jul 7, 2010 (gmt 0)

IANAL, of course... same legal disclaimers apply

Ignore the letter. These things are sent out en masse by firms who do a google search for "keyword", hoping some of the recipients will bite the bait.

It's a way that lawyers make money. The more little victories they can claim, the more they can charge their client for services performed in the name of reputation management.

I definitely do get the feeling though that it's mostly just an attempt at scaring me into deleting a post that ranks extremely well for searches containing this product's name.


That sounds spot on to me

StoutFiles

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 2:55 pm on Jul 7, 2010 (gmt 0)

Nope they are all about the slander aspect of it. They literally said "change the title because it's slanderous."


They just don't want people searching for the product and seeing "Blah Blah Sucks". It's somewhat of a turnoff for people considering purchasing the product. Naturally they want that removed from the serps.

That's too bad for them though. They can't legally do anything about it. Don't touch it at all.

httpwebwitch

WebmasterWorld Administrator httpwebwitch us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 3:04 pm on Jul 7, 2010 (gmt 0)

I would follow up with a blog post outlining this farce!


I like that idea, too. Publishing C&D threats is prime blog material. Publishing the C&D might make your site rank even higher for their keyword, and makes them look even worse as a pleasant side-effect. Do some strong interlinking between the C&D and the original post.

If you wanna be nasty. LOL

g1smd

WebmasterWorld Senior Member g1smd us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 3:09 pm on Jul 7, 2010 (gmt 0)

Change nothing, to do so partly admits that maybe they are right.

They aren't.

Follow-up post sounds good too.

directwheels

5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 6:41 pm on Jul 7, 2010 (gmt 0)

I highly doubt they can do much to you. If a site like #*$!.com and microsoftsucks.org can exist against these multi-billion dollar companies, I am pretty sure you are fine.

maximillianos

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 6:57 pm on Jul 7, 2010 (gmt 0)

I would change it to "blah blah blah REALLY SUCKS" and then add some facts about how they contacted you to change the title... =)

physics

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 7:10 pm on Jul 7, 2010 (gmt 0)

This thread sucks.


:p

StoutFiles

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 7:12 pm on Jul 7, 2010 (gmt 0)

I would change it to "blah blah blah REALLY SUCKS" and then add some facts about how they contacted you to change the title... =)


Editing the title may lower the search ranking. Even though you should be legally safe, mentioning the C&D in a new article would guarantee you would get sued if they're threatening it now, and that would be annoying, so I suggest just emailing them back saying you won't touch the article because it is an opinion piece. If they offer (you can't suggest this) money to take it down, then great, otherwise, just go about business as usual.

incrediBILL

WebmasterWorld Administrator incredibill us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 7:41 pm on Jul 7, 2010 (gmt 0)

Change nothing, to do so partly admits that maybe they are right.


I'm not lawyer nor do I play one on TV but I'd do exactly that - nothing.

It's only damaging if you know you made false statements in your post.

Besides, how seriously can you take an attorney that doesn't know slander from libel?

ken_b

WebmasterWorld Senior Member ken_b us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 7:49 pm on Jul 7, 2010 (gmt 0)

Is saying something "sucks" considered slander?

What did your lawyer say when you asked him/her/them?
.

bwnbwn

WebmasterWorld Senior Member bwnbwn us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 7:56 pm on Jul 7, 2010 (gmt 0)

Well I am a lawyer got me a title from one of the online schools. Got it posted on the wall offical title and everything. Heck all I had to was pay them the money and presto I got a title neat little thing there.

In my legal opinion the word use of sucks if used correctly is fine just doin't use it improperly and if used improperly please call me at 1-555-sucks and let me know. Might even have one of them there class action gizmoes we can go after.

Sorry for the no nonsense post but heck can ya help it

Demaestro

WebmasterWorld Senior Member demaestro us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 7:57 pm on Jul 7, 2010 (gmt 0)

Besides, how seriously can you take an attorney that doesn't know slander from libel?


That is the main reason it smells like a fishing trip to me.

Most likely a legal assistant Intern is having their day filled by looking for and filing these in a hope to generate some revenue.

nomis5

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 4165399 posted 8:08 pm on Jul 7, 2010 (gmt 0)

I was asked to remove a review page for the same reason. I had previously gone to the trouble of including "this article is our opinion only ...." to every review page.

I wrote back saying it was an opinion only and never heard any more. They had originally threatened legal action.

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