In a series of articles focusing on Internet legal issues, Mudd Law Offices will help explain basic concepts about which individuals and entities need to be concerned. In this article, I discuss issues relating to Internet defamation about corporations, not for profit organizations, or other organizations.
Defamatory statements online can cause significant harm. Given the ubiquitous use of search engines, nearly any website or webpage containing statements – good or bad – about a company can appear in search results. Moreover, with search results scraping various portions of the relevant text to provide content to the search terms, the results alone may convey the defamatory statements that appear online about corporations.
Many of the statements that corporations find to be defamatory arise from consumers or customers posting comments on so-called gripe sites. In other cases, competitors will often use shills to post negative statements about competing products or companies on gripe sites or other mainstream portals for reviews.
When a corporation or corporate entity first learns of the negative defamatory content, it often seeks guidance from in-house counsel. A corporation’s general counsel will often seek input from outside counsel. Regardless, it becomes essential for a corporation to obtain Internet legal counsel promptly for three significant reasons.
First, an expired statute of limitations will bar any ability to pursue claims against the individual or individuals who posted the defamatory comments. A statute of limitations represents a window of time within which a lawsuit needs to be filed. Often, the statute of limitations for defamation will be one year. However, statutes of limitations vary from state to state. Consequently, it is imperative that counsel be obtained from an Internet attorney familiar with defamation law at the earliest opportunity.
With respect to content on the Internet, a statute of limitations will often begin upon the first date of publication. Under this “single publication rule,” it matters not that the content remains on the Internet and a company learns of the content only after the statute of limitations has elapsed. Rather, the statute of limitations will begin to start counting down from the first date the content appeared online. For this reason, an Internet or Cyberlaw attorney should be consulted immediately upon learning of the content.
As a side note, the foregoing represents a basis to suggest that a corporation or entity assign an individual to periodically search for the entity’s brands, products, services, marks, trademarks, titles, Intellectual Property, tradenames, legal names, etc.
A knowledgeable Internet or Cyberlaw lawyer will understand the application of the statute of limitations and be able to guide you appropriately. Depending on the circumstances, a variety of options may be available to a defamed party.
Second, many hosts and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will retain information about the post and the party who posted the information for a short, limited amount of time. In fact, this time period often will be less than the statute of limitations. Thus, it becomes even more of an imperative that a corporation or entity consult with a knowledgeable Internet or cyberlaw attorney promptly. An attorney well-versed in this area of law will be able to efficiently guide a process of obtaining the potentially identifying information including, but not limited to, Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. For, if you cannot obtain the information that will lead to an individual’s identity, a company may well be left without an adequate remedy despite the statute of limitations not having lapsed.
Finally, for purposes of this article, and perhaps most importantly, the longer content remains on the Internet, the more a reputation can be harmed. Indeed, the longer content remains on the Internet, the more pervasive the content becomes. Many search engines will gauge a page’s importance by the number of times the page is “hit” or visited or read. In this case, increased activity on a page will increase its ranking and make it more visible to the person searching for particular key terms. Thus, the imperative will be to secure the removal of the content promptly and efficiently.
This last point leads to a discussion of when litigation will be the best strategy and when alternative means of securing the objective will be more appropriate. An Internet attorney knowledgeable of defamation and cyberlaw will best be able to guide a party to the best, most efficient, and most economical approach to take.
Should you have any specific questions you wish answered, please feel free to contact me at Mudd Law Offices. While Mudd Law Offices cannot provide specific legal advice unless one becomes a client, we can provide general comments on these legal issues.