traverselegal - September 25, 2013 - Defamation Law, Legal Elements of Defamation, What is Internet Defamation?
Matt: Hi, and welcome back to Defamation Law Radio. My name’s Matt Plessner, and today’s subject targets business owners and managers. Google is a great place to get reviews. Good reviews can get a business a lot of great success, though bad reviews can be harmful or even fatal to a businesses reputation. How far is a person allowed to go with a bad review? And is there anything that you can do about it? We’ll answer these questions and more as we talk again today with the defamation attorney Enrico Schaefer of the Traverse Legal office of Traverse City, MI. Enrico, nice to have you.
Enrico: How are you doing today, Matt?
Matt: Doing very well, thank you very much. Let’s start out by talking about defamation. Enrico, what is defamation?
Enrico: Defamation is when someone makes a false statement of fact about you or your company or business and posts it on the internet as, when it’s actually written down, it’s called libel, and when its actually spoken, then it’s slander. So the way we see this happening is if it’s in a YouTube video or a radio show like this, it might be [slander]. And if it turns out getting written up and post it on the internet, then you’re going to have a libel. Both of those are known as defamation. So it’s a false statements of fact that tends to harm your reputation or your business’s reputation.
Matt: So Enrico obviously, writing a negative review, if you’re a customer and dissatisfied, id legal. But at what point does it cross into internet defamation?
Enrico: There are two key factors here, Matt, that any internet defamation lawyer is going to look at in order to determine weather or not the review is legitimate (first amendment protected review) or weather or not it is defamation on the internet. And the two key factors are: first, it has to be a false statement of fact opposed to a statement of opinion. So if I post a review that says “I tried to call that business a dozen times and they never returned my call.” that is provable as true or false, right? I could get my phone logs out. I could get the person to admit that, in fact, they never called my business. So, these are things that tend to be more fact-based that can be proven true that actually happened or not. An opinion is “I didn’t like the way that business handled my matter and felt they did a really poor job.” that cannot be proven true or false if it’s a statement of opinion. So, opinions are protected by the first amendment. Facts are protected by the first amendment. What is not protected by the first amendment are false statements of fact which, and now get to the second piece of the puzzle, tend to harm your reputation. So it has to be something that is negative that is going to lower your reputation to the relevant audience. So, if again, going back to my initial example of, if I post a review saying that I called your business five times and they never returned my call…be careful of this business, well then that certainly potentially is a false statement of fact-let’s say it never occurred-and it certainly harms my business’s reputation because calling customers back is an important thing to most people, and it may affect weather or not someone contacts my company or hires my business for whatever product or service I am offering. So, a false statement of fact, tends to harm your reputation, [and] now you’re in the discussion of weather or not this is defamation or weather or not this is a bogus review.
Matt: Now Enrico, this hits home to because I am a business owner (my own DJ services, Solid Sound Music). How much can contract play a part in this. Like, for example, I write up contracts with brides and grooms all the time, saying exactly what we’re going to play, what we’re going to do, and stuff like that. And if I meet those requirements and they say that I didn’t, or they still write negative reviews, do I have a case against defamation possibly?