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Product Review Legal Threat Could Be Start of 'Mainstreaming' Internet Speech

 
Posted Monday, May 12th 2014 @ 4pm

A high tech company's threat of a lawsuit against a man who posted a negative review of its product on Amazon.com is being decried as 'bullying' and the company has lost it's right to sell products on Amazon as a consequence, but a local business and trademark attorney says legal threats like this is an indication of the maturation of the internet, 1200 WOAI news reports.

"We're starting to see now, very traditional causes of action, like defamation or business disparagement or libel finding its place in new media, including social media," said Debra Innocenti at the local form of Strasburger and Price.

The Florida man got a 'cease and desist' letter from Mediabridge after he wrote a negative review of one of its routers on Amazon.  The letter told the poster that his claims were 'false, defamatory, libelous, and slanderous.'

Innocenti says, far from being a brake on free speech on line, the arrival of the sorts of protections which are commonplace in traditional media may make the internet a more believable place, and may end up making its consumer reviews and comments a lot more useful.

"The reviewer or the user on these web sites are frequently not even a customer," she says.  "It may actually be a competitor and it is often somebody who has not even bought the product."

She says legal actions like this are not aimed at genuine customers who have purchased the product or used the service and are legitimately dissatisfied with it.  Instead, it is aimed at internet 'trolls' who for malicious reasons post fake and disparaging reviews of products for personal gain, because they have been hired to do so, or for other reasons.

She says the introduction of libel, slander, and business disparagement actions on line, far from chilling free speech, are actually bringing to on line media the same protections which have been added to traditional speech for years.  She says a 'troll' would face the same potential legal problems if the person posted a fake review in a newspaper.

"I think people do need to be very cognizant of what they say in whatever the medium," she said. "You are going to have repercussions for whatever you say."

She says in additional to making on line reviews more 'genuine' and therefore more believable, the addition of traditional legal principles to on line speech could end the 'viciousness and bullying' which is commonly seen in on line forums, where people take advantage of the anonymity of on line posting to cyber-bully individuals.

Innocenti says the Communications Decency Act holds the web sites harmless for this type of speech, meaning the poster is ultimately liable.

 

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