Building Company Realizes That Threatening A Blogger With Bogus Libel Suit Was A Bad Idea; Sincerely Apologizes

from the you-don't-see-this-very-often dept

For years, we've covered stories of companies reacting badly to finding something they don't like about themselves online, and threatening to sue those who posted the content with libel. Many lawyers tend to go to extremes in threatening people, with the idea of scaring them into just taking content down. These days, of course, that's quite likely to backfire, as the recipient can just go public with it, and shame the company. Even so, it's rare for those companies to come out with a really sincere apology. Aaron DeOliveira points us to an interesting story involving a building company, Guardian Building Products, that freaked out over a blog that showed "a lousy installation" of their insulation. The company threatened to sue, saying that the blog post "constitute[s] libel, slander and commercial disparagement." In response, the blogger, Dr. Allison Bailes, went public with the threat.

And here's where Guardian realized that perhaps it was doing something really, really wrong. It sent a very apologetic letter:
While you can (reasonably) argue that the company should have known better than to send the original threat letter, there is something to be said for owning up to the fact that you made a big mistake, and (hopefully) actually learning from it.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Nov 10th, 2011 @ 3:13am

    And in the end, they just did want their product name tied to the idea of bad.
    People improperly installed some fiberglass with the company name on it. Pictures were posted saying this is the wrong way to install fiberglass. Rather than politely say, we are afraid people will think our product is bad could you blur our name? they went insane.
    A much better play would have been to supply the blogger with a series of photographs of the product properly installed to be a more good idea bad idea photo series, or to ask how can we make our product better to avoid these things.
    People need to put the button to deploy the lawyer under lock, and get someone else to agree it is the right way to handle an issue before handing over the key.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2011 @ 3:28am

    Imagine SOPA and how would be used in this case they would get every bank and credit processor to stop business with that guy.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    anonymous, Nov 10th, 2011 @ 4:03am

    if the woman had been in the wrong, would the company have expected to be paid a fortune? of course they would have! so what is she going to get out of this mess? nothing, i bet, apart maybe some costs for fighting?

     

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  4.  
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    DannyB (profile), Nov 10th, 2011 @ 5:49am

    Its those darn rogue web sites again

    Wouldn't a blog posting that says anything negative about a commercial company (even though true) automatically classify the blog site as a rogue web site?

    Shame on those rogue web sites for shaming a commercial company into doing the right thing.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2011 @ 6:35am

    Mike, I think you are being a little less than honest here. The company isn't stopping threatening the blogger because it was a bad idea, they are doing so because they have had their name removed from the photographs, and any ongoing harm has been removed as a result.

    The blogger is in compliance, and this note is just a happy "we didn't mean to use our angry voice" missive that comes when they get everything they want.

     

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  6.  
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    NullOp, Nov 10th, 2011 @ 6:45am

    Good Woik...

    Sad that it has come to the state where the first thing a company does is to throw its weight around when faced with criticism. Also, is it not obvious that a blogger holds a lot of the cards in the game of threats vs truth? I guess not. In the coming days I hope companies realize "opening a can of dumbass" is NOT the way to respond to negative stories.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    NullOp, Nov 10th, 2011 @ 6:46am

    Good Woik...

    Sad that it has come to the state where the first thing a company does is to throw its weight around when faced with criticism. Also, is it not obvious that a blogger holds a lot of the cards in the game of threats vs truth? I guess not. In the coming days I hope companies realize "opening a can of dumbass" is NOT the way to respond to negative stories.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    NullOp, Nov 10th, 2011 @ 6:47am

    Good Woik...

    Sad that it has come to the state where the first thing a company does is to throw its weight around when faced with criticism. Also, is it not obvious that a blogger holds a lot of the cards in the game of threats vs truth? I guess not. In the coming days I hope companies realize "opening a can of dumbass" is NOT the way to respond to negative stories.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2011 @ 6:56am

    Re: Good Woik...

    Because it needed repeating three times.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2011 @ 7:22am

    How is this article related to "Tech" as in TechDirt? The guys claim that figerglass bats are "difficult to install" is an opinion. Obviously, an opinion that the folks at Gaurdian didn't want associated with their product. Just because a lawyer sends you a letter doesn't mean it's legal action. If it isn't a court summons or signed by a judge consider it for what it is, correspondence.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2011 @ 7:48am

    Re:

    The high court vs low court standards. Big corporations always get better treatment than Joe Blow.

     

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  12.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Nov 10th, 2011 @ 7:57am

    Re:

    I hate myself right now, but I have to agree with you AC. ARRGGGHHH!!!

    "In addition, now that the pictures have in fact been blocked in your article"

    So the threat of litigation stifled your free speech, and now we are happy la la la la la, screw your pesky little rights, and the next time we do lousy work and dont fix it, we can get away with it.

    Guardian Fiberglass - Quality, a word we ignore.

     

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  13.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Nov 10th, 2011 @ 8:05am

    Re:

    "For years, we've covered stories of companies reacting badly"
    Really AC?
    "Guardian disagrees with [the] assertion that it is difficult to install fiberglass insulation well. … It is Guardian’s position that these comments by your company together with the picture of Guardian’s products constitute libel, slander, and commercial disparagement."

    Sounds like a threat to me.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2011 @ 8:15am

    Re: Re:

    Nope, they are just stating their opinion, and allowed the blogger / site owner to make a choice without facing actual legal action. Think of it as the slander / libel version of a DMCA notice, they gave him a chance to clear things up before they moved forward.

    That a bunch of whiny people emailed the company after shows only that they clearly have never dealt with an issue like this.

     

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  15.  
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    Ninja (profile), Nov 10th, 2011 @ 8:36am

    Re:

    Threatened user went public thorugh TECHNOLOGY that delivers the wonderful world of online blog and got the company to apologize for a threat many content holders use against blogger. Tech related: check!

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2011 @ 8:39am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "before they moved forward."

    They made legal threats before they 'moved forward'. They are not just 'stating their opinion' they are implying that they will take legal action (they are making a legal threat) if they don't get their way.

    "Think of it as the slander / libel version of a DMCA notice"

    Which is more reason why these sorts of laws need sound safe harbors, and why we need good anti-slap laws, so that people can not deliver threatening notices for no good reason and be expected to be taken seriously and to deter corporations from sending bogus legal threats in response to criticism.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2011 @ 8:45am

    Re:

    No... SOPA wouldn't punish Dr. Allison Bailes, the complainant, but the entire Wordpress.Com domain on which it was hosted and the company that runs it.

    Since, you know, it's obvious that Wordpress.com is dedicated to infringement.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2011 @ 9:25am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Actually, it is pretty much part of the law. It is considered good legal process to inform the "offending" party of your feelings, and give them to to modify their position (and often to issue an apology or retraction). It's already part of the deal in the real world.

     

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  19.  
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    btrussell (profile), Nov 10th, 2011 @ 10:21am

    Re: Re:

    In addition, If I was being sincere, I wouldn't call her "Mr.," I'd address her as Dr.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    kenichi tanaka, Nov 10th, 2011 @ 10:24am

    It's disingenuous for a company to apologize after they have demanded something to be taken down, you comply with their request, and they apologize after?

    This isn't an apology. It's sort of like sticking your ass up in the air at your intended target, smiling at them and saying "I'm sorry".

    This apology letter is a BIG FAIL.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    DogBreath, Nov 10th, 2011 @ 10:25am

    Re:

    The company isn't stopping threatening the blogger because it was a bad idea, they are doing so because they have had their name removed from the photographs,

    Plus the fact that they made themselves look like like fools in the eyes of the public. Now they'll probably move on to sending legal threats to other sites who post the "before" and "after" edited pics.

    and any ongoing harm has been removed as a result.

    They harmed themselves much more than the original poster of the article ever could have, by their own hand. I wonder if Guardian Building Products legal department will soon be receiving a threatening letter (from their own legal department) for "commercial disparagement" of their own products.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    DannyB (profile), Nov 10th, 2011 @ 11:02am

    Re: Re: Good Woik...

    It was only repeated twice. After being said once.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2011 @ 11:13am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    You either didn't read what I wrote or you have a serious reading comprehension problem.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2011 @ 11:57am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The point is that there was no defamation here, and the law should do more to deter these sorts of legal threats. There should be no need for the blogger to issue an apology of retraction, the ones that should be issuing an apology of retraction are the building company, and it shouldn't be public pressure that gets them to do so, it should be our legal system that deters them from issuing bogus legal threat to begin with.

    That's partly what's wrong with our legal system. It was public opinion, and not our broken legal system, that compelled the lawyers to retract its inappropriate legal threats. A properly functioning legal system should sufficiently deter most company lawyers from issuing bogus legal threats to begin with.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2011 @ 1:35pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    threats *

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2011 @ 1:51pm

    Re:

    Their 'apology' was a result of public pressure in order to try and maintain good public relations, and that's nonsense.

    The primary thing that should deter them from issuing bogus legal take-downs should be their internal moral standards. If they see some mistakes, instead of issuing a take-down, they should voluntarily and willingly tell the blog something to the extent of "thank you for bringing this to our attention. Some of our employees may have installed this a bit too quickly. Please note that this should not reflect on the company as a whole and we will seek to remedy the problem immediately. If anyone else notices any other problems with other buildings, please visit our website, click on feedback, and submit the details of the problem so that we may remedy any such problems. Thank you!" and they should offer to fix the problem. That would give them very good reviews and more customers. That was a big fail.

    If their moral standards aren't enough to deter such behavior, the second thing that should deter them should be our legal system. Our legal system should give them absolutely no ground to request an injunction and it should make very clear that any sort of attempt to do so could easily result in huge frivolous lawsuit damages and punitive anti-slapp damages, money that will quickly go to the defendant (the blogger) on summary judgement with no chance of appeal and a quick refusal to appeal at very little cost, and huge rewards, to the defendant. But that was a fail, because clearly frivolous legal threats still abound.

    The third deterrent against bogus lawsuits (though that doesn't really apply here) should be the federal government stepping in with anti-trust suits against companies like Righthaven and Intellectual ventures and other companies that try to initiate bogus, anti-competitive legal threats and lawsuits for no good reason (especially non-practicing entities). Being that the federal government is doing nothing to stop these bogus lawsuits and, instead, they are going after Google for no good reason, that's a third fail.

    The last and final deterrent to bad behavior should be public opinion. Unfortunately, we live in a society where this is the first and primary deterrent because the other three deterrents don't work, and even the last deterrent often wrongfully gets censored from various government established mainstream media monopoly outlets. So, in many ways, even the fourth deterrent is a fail thanks to bad laws and our broken government.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 10th, 2011 @ 1:52pm

    Re: Re:

    (public opinion/public pressure/the fear of public humiliation should be the fourth). *

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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