The following is an article reprinted with permission from the Winter 2007 edition of The WWR Letter:
Protecting Your Internet Presence: Defending Your Business From Internet Libel
By: Robert Rutkowski, Esquire
For some reason, people feel that they can express themselves more freely on the Internet than in traditional media. Perhaps it is a false sense of anonymity that emboldens people. In any event, it is very possible that people are being critical of or even libeling your business on the Internet without your knowledge. Do a Google search in the name of your company and follow it through a few pages. Do you see anyone ‘Google bombing’ you?
Google bombingis the practice of creating links on a blog or web page in such a way to get a particular search term associated with something. For example, if you Google “worst company in the world,” you get a list of companies for which people have expressed dislike. Ironically, as I write this, Google itself tops the list. You can create an RSS feed for this type of search in order to automatically update you when new search results appear concerning your company name.
It’s very easy for an individual to give a business bad press on the Internet. The question becomes: how do you deal with it? Some have suggested that you should first try to work it out with the person, especially if that person is a customer. This is fine, but in my opinion, if the customer or malfeasant is unwilling to cooperate, sterner measures need to be taken.
The first tool that merits consideration is the cease and desist letter. This can be very straightforward. You are merely telling the person that you are aware of their activity, that the information expressed is baseless and that if it is not taken down you will pursue legal remedies available to you.
If this doesn’t work, you can seek a temporary restraining order and then an injunction. If you have damages, you can sue for those as well. The problem with lawsuits is that you may not be able to locate the defendant. Sure, you can sue a “John Doe” like the Recording Industry Association of America does, but you really need to identify the person at some point.
If this information about your business violates Google’s rules, you may also be able to contact Google and get the information taken off of their search engine. This option is certainly far less expensive than litigation. Moreover, if your antagonist is outside of the United States, you may not have much legal recourse at all unless your company has the wherewithal to pursue him or her in another country.
Vigilance is your best defense against Internet libel. If you are aware of the problem, at least then you can take steps to stop it. If you can’t stop the perpetrator, at least you can stay on top of the problem and can fight the war of public opinion.
Robert Rutkowski is the Managing Partner of WWR’s Credit Union department. Located in the Brooklyn Heights operations center, he can be reached at (216) 739-5004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.