3D Printer Creator Withholding Long-Delayed Shipments To Early Backers Over Supposed 'Defamatory' Comments
from the yeah,-that's-not-how-that-works dept
There are a lot of ways to deal with unhappy Kickstarter backers. Being generally unresponsive to complaints isn’t a good idea. Withholding already-delayed shipments and blaming it on allegedly defamatory comments definitely isn’t.
Cobblebot promised shipments to its earliest backers by October 2014. It’s now April 2015 and some have yet to see the 3D printers they’ve paid for. Worse, other backers of other products by Cobblebot have already received theirs. (Cobblebot started another Kickstarter project shortly after this one was funded, as well as using IndieGogo to raise additional funds.) It’s the earliest backers — at least those who have been critical of numerous shipping delays — who are still waiting for their paid-for printers to be shipped.
Whatever the real reason behind these delayed shipments, Cobblebot has chosen to portray this as a (highly dubious) legal issue.
One customer, who goes by the handle of JeffRandall on the Cobbleverse forum, recently contacted the company via email with the following message:
“Can you please tell me what the status is for my final shipment. I paid the final invoice over a week ago and I am one of the 99 super early bird backers [these backers had an expected delivery date which passed 6 months ago!]. The message from you was that the package had been prepared, yet it hasn’t shipped in over a week.”
Jeff received the following, rather alarming reply shortly after:
Sorry for the delay and an explanation is necessary. Your account was placed on hold by our legal department. Under Texas law, it is unlawful to engage in defamation of another’s character and reputation. The law presumes certain categories of statements are defamatory per se, including statements that (1) unambiguously charge a crime, dishonesty, fraud, rascality, or general depravity or (2) that are falsehoods that injure one in his office, business, profession, or occupation. Main v. Royall, 348 S.W.3d 318, 390.
Several of your recent posts on various internet forums were being reviewed by the legal department for inclusion in our fourth round of upcoming legal actions being filed to protect our company’s reputation from the illegal act of defamation.
All the above being said, we did receive a hold release from the legal department today and will proceed with the shipping of your package. What does it mean when the legal department releases a hold? It normally means one of two things: 1) The legal department has decided the reviewed statement(s) were not defamation under Texas law; or 2) They have decided to issue a warning (Cease & Desist letter) to provide the opportunity to stop defaming the company’s reputation.
Keep in mind that the support department does not have access to the legal department’s records, so we don’t know anything for certain. We are just attempting to explain the type of hold that we saw placed on your account and what that type of hold means.
In any case, the hold has been released and we will move forward with the shipping of your final package.
Thanks for supporting Cobblebot and have a wonderful day!
All in all, a ridiculous response. Why further anger an already angry customer? Especially when “Cobblebot Team” can’t be bothered to specify what exactly Randall (or others) said that was “defamation per se.” As Popehat’s Maxim states: “Vagueness in legal demands is the hallmark of frivolous legal thuggery.”
This legal vagueness is part of Cobblebot’s colorful history. It’s been complaining about comments by unhappy backers since August of last year. This post in its forums — sporting the rather unreassuring title of “Everything is ON SCHEDULE” — claims people are flooding its inbox with concerns about “defamatory” posts by others.
We have also been receiving a large number of emails concerning some of the negative publicity that we are getting from certain individuals, some 3D printing communities, and people who work for competing businesses. As someone who has been using the internet since back in the 1200 baud modem days, I can say with confidence that the internet has always been and will likely continue to be filled with very opinionated individuals. These individuals, regardless of their ignorance with regards to Cobblebot, our operations and suppliers, are entitled to their opinion. We are aware, as many of you have pointed out to us, that some of these individuals have crossed certain legal lines into things like defamation. While many of you have asked us if we plan to respond to these individuals or what we plan to do – I’m afraid that we cannot answer that question. Any action Cobblebot decides to take or not take to defend its reputation is an internal matter and will not be made public by us. That being said, we do appreciate the efforts that many of you have made to defend against some of the accusations being tossed around, as well as the efforts made to bring these things to our attention.
The most ridiculous claim in the C&D sent to Randall is this: that the “legal” arm of Cobblebot is completely walled off from the “support” side. In all likelihood, they are one and the same. The man behind Cobblebot is Jeremiah Clifft, who’s also an attorney… or at least was one. This makes composing and sending C&D’s full of scary legalese very, very cheap. It also indicates that — even if there are two walled-off divisions of the “Cobblebot team” — one man stands astride both, holding a recently-expired license to practice law.
To date, Cobblebot seems to have sent out more C&Ds than printers, apparently targeting customers unhappy with shipping delays, unkept promises (like the inclusion of assembly instructions/videos) and its general unresponsiveness to legitimate complaints.
Now, Cobblebot has every right to pursue truly defamatory comments, but there’s a process for that and it should be wholly unrelated to the process of fulfilling backers’ orders. By its own statements on the matter, its order fulfillment team is completely removed from its legal team. There’s no reason these two should be mixing in this fashion, and they only appear to do so when it works out in Cobblebot’s favor. Defamatory comments or no, the backers have paid for their products. They should be given what they’ve paid for.
To use this as an excuse to put shipments on hold just gives more credence to the theory that Cobblebot is making promises it can’t possibly keep. Its own Kickstarter pitches suggest a move towards a more triangular business model.
So just how did CobbleBot manage to ship over 1,150 3D printers costing $299, when they themselves stated that the average price for a machine of this size is over 12 times that price, ‘$3,716.57’? Well, they haven’t.
It still has yet to ship more than a handful of these 3D printers, despite three successful crowdfunding campaigns. Now, it’s apparently taking internet orders and shipping those first, all the while claiming defamatory statements by early backers are what’s keeping them from receiving theirs. Something’s rotten in this deal and it’s not the heated comments of pissed off backers.
Additional suggested reading:
Cobblebot’s Google+ page, which contains many more details on Cobblebot’s shipping deficiencies.
A long and thorough explanation of how business models like Cobblebot’s simply aren’t feasible — at least not at this point, as well as a few equations that can give backers a good estimate as to when similar Kickstarters will run out funding.