from the back-to-bogus-libel-lawsuits-then,-I-guess dept
There are any number of existing applications for the bill once signed into law. Companies are still including non-disparagement clauses in contracts, despite there being ample evidence all it really does is generate massive amounts of disparagement from parties not bound by the contractual language. It's basically a pre-emptive federal anti-SLAPP law narrowly focused on protecting consumers from litigious companies who feel the "service" part of "customer service" involves a process server. (That being said, there's nothing stopping companies from filing bogus libel lawsuits over negative reviews -- one of many reasons there needs to be a federal anti-SLAPP statute.)
But that's not the only thing the law will prevent. The language will also keep companies from placing a bunch of restrictions on customers as a thank you gift for choosing to do business with them. Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen points to another all-too-frequent abuse of customers this law will address.
Readers of this blog may recall an article that I posted in late September, taking issue with a proposed contract that the local professional soccer team has transmitted to season ticket holders who are in the process of renewing their season tickets for the coming season. My concern that the contract includes language in which fans waive the right to post “in any media any description, account, picture, video, audio or other form of reproduction of any D.C. United game or any surrounding activities.” Regrettably, despite many fans having objected to the proposed contract, to the extent of telling team sales people that they won’t be renewing if signing this contract is required, and even though the team tried to deflect the adverse coverage by saying that its lawyers would be looking at possible changes to the contract language. However, late last week the team sent out the same contract for signature, and told me privately that the lawyers had decided not to make any changes because the language is “industry standard.”
Nothing says "thanks for supporting our team" like "shut up and stop talking about us." DC United wants to retain strict control of its social media presence, apparently feeling that any "social" aspect should be solely restricted to the official channels. With the new law in place, the ridiculous "industry standard" will no longer be legal. Presumably, this also means it will no longer be the "industry standard."
Levy points out that the law has received the most attention for its banning of non-disparagement clauses, but it's also written to address this sort of contractual overreach.
[I]t forbids a form contract that “prohibits or restricts the ability of an individual who is a party to the form contract to engage in a covered communication,” Section 2(b)(1)(A), and defines “covered communication” to include any “ written, oral, or pictorial review, performance assessment of, or other similar analysis of . . . the goods, services, or conduct of a person by an individual who is party to a form contract.” Section 2(a)(2). The DC United contract that forbids fans from posting written descriptions or pictures of a game (that is, a review or performance assessment of the team’s conduct) is squarely within the law’s prohibition.
While companies should take care to protect their intellectual property and reputations, this can all be accomplished without forcing customers to accept ridiculous restraints in exchange for a product or service. Companies may point to such concerns when writing these clauses, but underneath it all, it's usually just an attempt to control public perception -- either by discouraging negative reviews or shutting down social media postings that don't align with the official company narrative.