Woman Sues Google Because SEO Guy Wrote A Mean Blog About Her Company

from the that's-not-how-this-works dept

I’m still baffled about how there are lawyers out there who seem oblivious to Section 230 of the CDA and how you can’t just sue a platform because of something a user did. Apparently lawyer Harry J. Jordan from Washington DC is either unaware of the law, or simply decided to ignore it, in filing a silly lawsuit against Google asking for $8 million on behalf of Dawn Bennett and the “sports apparel” firm she runs called DJ Bennett. The story is a fairly familiar one. A guy named Scott Pierson claimed to be a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) expert, and convinced Bennett to pay a large sum of money to improve the performance of DJ Bennett’s website. Things didn’t work out, there was an exchange of words, some threats to negatively harm the website and an agreement on final payment (and also something about a lost check that was eventually rectified). Bennett claims that after all of this Pierson set up a blog on Google’s blogging platform that made a bunch of negative remarks about DJ Bennett, some of which may very well be defamatory.

But, do me a favor, and look at the caption on the lawsuit, and tell me where Scott Pierson is as a party to the lawsuit?

Hmm. No Scott Pierson? Instead, there’s just a giant corporation that didn’t do anything here? Yup. This has all the hallmarks of a Steve Dallas lawsuit where a marginally connected big company is sued because “Hey, they’ve got the money.” The rationale for Google being the defendant is just as ridiculous as you’d expect:

Google continued to carry Pierson?s blog after plaintiffs? counsel repeatedly alerted it of the factual distortions and malicious intent of Pierson?s blog and his abuse of the internet process to distort public interest in his blog. Google therefore shares in the responsibility with Pierson in plaintiffs? financial damages.

Plaintiffs will show at trial that they have lost more than $3 million in actual and potential business revenue because of Google?s publication of Pierson?s blog, and separately, Dawn Bennett has suffered several times that amount in damages to her business and professional reputation.

Right, see, that’s not how this works. Just because Google hosts a blog, it doesn’t make it liable for anything posted on it. And that’s true even if you alert Google to not liking content. Hell, it’s even true if the content has been proven defamatory in court (though Google tends to take things down upon receipt of such a ruling).

I can understand why Bennett is upset. But if the content is truly defamatory, then sue Pierson, who is responsible for it. And the lawyer — Harry Jordan — should let her know that Pierson is the only one she can sue over this, and should know that any attempt to sue Google will get tossed out of court super fast. But instead, he pushes forward with this lawsuit — and doesn’t even make the slightest attempt to get around Section 230, suggesting he may not even be aware of it.

Hell, it’s not even clear that Jordan understands defamation law. Unlike most lawsuits of this nature, it doesn’t cite the law in question. Instead, it makes claims about what is defamatory that are simply not accurate. Here’s what the lawsuit says:

A defamatory statement is one which tends to expose a person to public scorn, hatred, contempt or ridicule, thereby encouraging others in the community from having a good opinion of, or from associating or dealing with that person. To determine whether Pierson?s blog meets this standard, consideration must be given to what was stated, what was intended by the statement, and how it was likely to have been understood by those to whom it was communicated.

That’s uh… not what defamation is. Notice that critically missing here is any question of whether the statements are false. A mere statement that exposes someone to public scorn, hatred, contempt or ridicule (assuming it doesn’t reach the actual tests for defamation) is clearly protected speech. Just for reference, Washington DC’s actual defamation law requires a very different standard, including (as it must) that the statements be false and defamatory. Furthermore, corporations are considered public figures, meaning that the test also must include the “actual malice” standard (which, for all we know, could be shown), but it would still need to be shown against the right defendant. And that’s not Google.

The lawsuit makes similar and equally problematic claims about “tortious interference” and “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Those are also clearly inappropriate under Section 230. And again, the link to Google is exceptionally tenuous.

As Google was aware of plaintiffs? complaints that Pierson?s blog was factually false and a malicious vendetta against them and meant to cause crippling financial damages, it is therefore equally responsible and liable for the damages plaintiffs? have suffered.

Nah, that’s not how it works.

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Companies: dj bennett, google

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Comments on “Woman Sues Google Because SEO Guy Wrote A Mean Blog About Her Company”

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kasper11 says:

We need the courts to start enforcing Rule 11, or otherwise start punishing lawyers who bring these cases (the court can issue an order to show cause sua sponte).

Also, sorry to nitpick, but that is the proper definition of a defamatory statement. The problem with the complaint is that making a defamatory statement is not in and of itself a tort. Rather, a plaintiff needs to prove that the defendant made a defamatory statement that was false and led to actual injury (or was defamation per se) and was not protected.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Right, see, that’s not how this works. Just because Google hosts a blog, it doesn’t make it liable for anything posted on it.”

Back up a second. Are we even sure Google is the blog host? I mean, the complaint says that Google “published” and “circulated” the blog, and I don’t think it ever specifically claims that it hosted it. I’m guessing that Google merely *listed* the blog and that’s the entire basis of the complaint. (I’m not quite good enough to figure out who the host is. GoDaddy is the registrar and it’s apparently powered by WordPress.)

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

A little more digging suggests that the site is also hosted on GoDaddy but they have several MX records to use Gmail for their mail. There’s also a couple of TXT DNS records for SEO & analytics purposes that use Google URLs. Enough so that if someone was just looking at the DNS records and didn’t bother to do a reverse DNS lookup on the IP address used for the A record, it might look like it was hosted by Google.

So, it looks like they’re wrong on the actual location of the blog as well as the law underlying their complaint.

David says:

Re: Re: Re:

That text record is a google webmaster tools verification record. It’s used by web master tools to verify that you have some sort of control over the domain before it give details of search activity.

Yes, if they are complaining about “publishing” the blog, the actual “publisher” is godaddy. And as usually, Google is simply an indexer of the content. So that makes this case even more of a stretch. Might as well file suit again Dell/HP/etc for allowing the content to be displayed in front of her eyes.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yep, I know what the records are for. I was just noting that if you do a quick host lookup, most of the records mention Google. If you’re ignorant enough of how these things work to not know that MX and TXT records don’t tell you who hosts the domain or don’t care (say, a lawyer smelling a big payday who doesn’t know that his preferred target has automatic protections against his claims), you can see where the confusion might appear.

But, yeah, if the content was hosted on Blogger or another Google platform he might have had a hope. Here, he’s not even targeting an entity that has anything to do with the content or its hosting. But, they sure do have deep pockets…

That One Guy (profile) says:

All wallets are not created equally...

As Google was aware of plaintiffs’ complaints that Pierson’s blog was factually false and a malicious vendetta against them and meant to cause crippling financial damages, it is therefore equally responsible and liable for the damages plaintiffs’ have suffered.

Which of course is why Pierson and Google are being sued, as they’re both ‘equally responsible’.

Oh, right, she’s only suing Google, she didn’t actually bother to sue the one who’s blog is supposedly so damaging, she’s going after the large, very rich company instead.

Oh yeah, she is so very concerned about what was posted, and isn’t in this for the money at all, and/or trying to do an end run around actually demonstrating defamation and just pressuring the company to take it down to save costs…

Anonymous Coward says:

I don't know how Dawn Bennett isn't in prison

She treats her employees like garbage, and doesn’t pay what she has agreed to despite services clearly being rendered. She doesn’t understand or value the services provided to her because she is deeply entitled and yet seems to believe she is some kind of objectivist. (protip: the protagonists of Rand’s works always honored their agreements Dawn, you cretin)

I heard a story from an American Asian (e.g.; NO ACCENT) employee that Dawn while in one of her typical maniacally abusive managerial rants asked this poor girl if English was her first language. I let her know it was possible that she might have a very good case for a civil lawsuit under title VII. Unfortunately, it was never pursued.

I also never pursued it when I was ripped off for thousands of dollars.

I just watched the karma flow in as Dawn was first sued by the Dallas Cowboys for $20 Million and then a bevy of other suits followed in which she loses her license with FINRA, destroying her financial investment business, and is also barred from continuing her financial advice show (in which she occasionally consulted things like the ICHING and TAROT cards… It might as well have been VOODOO)

This idiot dropped a ton of money into gold as she was starting her business… Right before gold TANKED.

She has a victim complex and thinks everyone is out to get her and her money. She doesn’t seem to understand how she is going around creating all her own enemies.

My position was even outsourced at one point which left me laughing because I knew my replacement was incompetent because Dawn has no ability to gauge competency in her workforce because all of her employees hate her because she is so nasty to them. I knew I would be rehired and surely enough I was – but it was short lived as the company continued to struggle and didn’t even have me working in the same capacity. It finally ended with me choosing to part ways and them deciding to not pay a sizeable amount of the outstanding money that was owed (for VERY clear cut and measurable work that had been demonstrably completed: Think marketing email deliverables going out)

Well, I didn’t go after her for the thousands she ripped me off for – I just take sweet pleasure in watching the rest of the wolves tear her apart. I hope she ends up destitute or in prison. If Dawn fancies herself a character from one of Rand’s novels – I’d says its Peter Keating, James Taggart, and Lillian Rearden all rolled into one.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I don't know how Dawn Bennett isn't in prison

I should add that I firmly believe the lawyer here KNEW EXACTLY what was going on.

He just wanted to collect his fee. He knew this was going to get bounced… and probably TOLD DAWN.

She is such a pigheaded fool that she probably told him to move forward anyway and and so he was like… “you wanna pay me anyway? Ok stupid”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: I don't know how Dawn Bennett isn't in prison

No, It isn’t Scott. I knew Scott outside of the company and was the person who recommended him to DJBENNETT.

You don’t have to take my comment at face value, a large part of it you can verify by using google – as the majority of what I said is a matter of public record. Please feel free to discount the anecdotal stuff if you so choose.

I have been subscribed to TechDirt for many many years, I love that this story made it here… Scott was not the only person that DJBENNETT didn’t pay. As a former CTO – toward the end or my tenure there I was getting call after call from contractors and companies seeking remuneration for services they had provided. It was not a happy feeling.

Beware of the leopard says:

What about the utilities supplying internet resources..

such as electrons, and cables, and pathways for nasty words to travel on? Hell, Congress should be sued for allowing fools to build roads to transport the fuel for the electron-emitting power stations!!

And what idiot is allowing people to use sufficiently contrasting frequencies of light, such that these nasty words are even visible? Isn’t this stuff copypatented yet?

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