Consumer review based websites like Yelp have grown in popularity and power. Consumer voices are often trusted, and a bad online review can have costly consequences. However, online anonymity has led to abuse, and if someone has posted an online review about your business that is false there may be legal recourse for your injuries.
Defamation is an action brought to defend reputation. It involves intentional publication of false, defamatory, and unprivileged information that has a tendency to injure or cause special damage.
One recent case involving defamation claims, mLogica, Inc., et al., v. Pankaj Karan, CA Super. Ct. No. 30-2010-00342873 (December 30, 2013), shows how defamation for online activity works. Two companies entered into a contract for the creation of some custom software. The party purchasing the software posted numerous negative reviews about the other company on its blog, and emailed its business partners and customers alleging that the software was delivered late and that the company employees were “swindlers” who “milked many of their clients of money and time.” The emails were very damaging to the company’s reputation in the industry, caused many projects to be cut, and a resulted in a significant loss of income.
While truth is an insurmountable defense in defamation actions, the software company was able to show at trial that the software was fully functional and delivered on time. Furthermore, at trial, the defendant could not identify one unpaid vendor or defrauded customer.
A jury in Orange County, California awarded $1.23 million to the software company for the damage to its reputation. The decision and verdict were affirmed on appeal. In fact, the appellate court believed that the evidence supported damages of “about $10 million. Maybe more.”
This case shows that there is a balance between preventing people from being critical on the Internet, and limiting false speech that does not promote the “marketplace of ideas.”
Ezer Williamson Law provides a wide range of both transactional and litigation services to individuals and businesses. Contact us at (310) 277-7747 to see how we can help you with any business dispute concerns you may have.