Vision Media's Bogus Lawsuit Dismissed; And Much More Attention Focused On Vision Media's Business Practices
from the well-that-worked-well dept
We’ve written a few times in the past about the attempt by Vision Media TV to use legal tricks to force down critiques of its business practice. The company, as has been covered in detail by the press, tends to focus on charities, suggesting that it will create a news report that may air on “public television” with “Hugh Downs.” But the reality is that they’re expecting the organization to pay, and there’s no evidence that the content ever gets on TV anywhere. And Hugh Downs only participates in very, very limited cases. The company — or one very much like it, based from the same basic place — has gotten into legal troubles in the past. Even though the NY Times and NPR have covered Vision Media’s method of doing business, Vision Media has not sued them, even though it has claimed such articles are defamatory.
Instead, it sued 800Notes.com, a website that highlights the details of various telemarketers, and claimed that it had tricks to get around the obvious Section 230 safe harbors the site faced. Thankfully, before the case could get that far, it’s been tossed out. Paul Alan Levy who helped Julia Forte and 800Notes defend against the lawsuit, lets us know that the case has been dismissed on jurisdictional grounds even before the safe harbor questions came into play.
However, more important is how this is a case study of how badly such a lawsuit can backfire. The whole point of the lawsuit was to force one small site to hide criticism of Vision Media TV. But, in the process, all it did was draw a lot more attention to Vision Media’s practices. As Levy notes:
As a result of the litigation, half the hits on the first page of a Google search for “Vision Media TV” now refer to the litigation and to the accusations against Vision Media. The litigation taught many prospective customers about the anonymous charges made against Vision Media — that Vision Media promotes its video production services by cold-calling non-profits and deceptively suggesting that it can get them free airtime on public television. An experienced non-profit communications director, Jeff Cronin of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, detailed the various tricks Vision Media and associated enterprises had used to try to trick his group into buying its services.
Vision Media’s counsel made a ham-handed request for a gag order, complaining that public discussion of the lawsuit had become embarrassing and was threatening its relationship with Hugh Downs — a name that Vision Media sales representatives used as entree to non-profit targets who recall Downs’ former broadcast roles with respect. And that attention led to a story on National Public Radio, embracing the anonymous accusations and reporting more detailed problems, as well as stories in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. The Better Business Bureau withdrew its favorable rating; the rating has since been downgraded to C-, and a representative of Hugh Downs, who had been allowing Vision Media to play on his name and reputation, publicly announced plans to cut his ties with Vision Media.
When a company has been attacked online, and believes that it has hard evidence that the attacks are false, it faces hard choices about how to respond to those attacks. What those companies don’t need is the blandishments of lawyers who hope to make an easy buck by telling them that they can easily suppress criticism by suing the web sites where that criticism is hosted.
As for non-profits, Vision Media has already tried to perpetuate its business by adopting the new name Great America HD. Non-profits should be on the lookout for this same operation adopting new sheep’s clothing. At one point, Vision Media added the names of several staff members to the litigation. That listing can be found here. Non-profits who consider doing business with a TV production company employing any of these individuals — be on your guard!
We keep hearing that lawyers are finally realizing that filing frivolous lawsuits to try to silence critics can backfire badly — but we keep seeing new examples to the contrary. Hopefully, with each such example people realize that silencing criticism through bogus lawsuits is not a reasonable path to take.