Ripoff Report Wins Against Extortion Claim

from the for-now... dept

Ripoff Report is a site that we've discussed a few times before, as it's dealt with a bunch of lawsuits -- all of which it has successfully defended itself against -- from organizations upset that users wrote negative reviews on the site. Of course, as you should know, Ripoff Reports has a strong Section 230 safe harbor defense: it's not creating the content, and thus, is not liable. But, over the past few years we've seen more and more attempts to get around Section 230 with creative lawyering. In the latest case against Ripoff Report, the workaround was to charge the company with RICO (racketeering) violations for trying to "extort" companies. Specifically, a company named the Asia Economic Institute (AEI) was upset about a series of negative complaints about its work environment, and asked for them to be removed. Ripoff Report notes that it never removes content, but did pass on information about its Corporate Advocacy Program (CAP), where, for a fee, it tries to effectively moderate between the company and the complaining individual. AEI suggested that this was presented in an extortionary manner -- as in "if you want to fix your reputation, you need to pay."

As Eric Goldman notes, this particular attack appears to have failed miserably, in large part due to the fact that Ripoff Report secretly recorded all of its phone calls. AEI fought against revealing the content of the phone calls, noting that it did not know its staff were being recorded -- and, in the end, the judge actually does deem the evidence inadmissible. But just the fact that Ripoff Reports presented the recordings made the two principles from AEI suddenly have their memories jogged, and admit that they might have been "confused" about what was actually said in the calls. From there, the judge found little evidence that the CAP program actually represented any kind of extortion.

AEI claimed that Ripoff Report's promise to defend itself against any lawsuit represented a legal threat. However, the judge points out that such an interpretation makes little sense. Claiming you will strongly defend yourself against any lawsuit is hardly a threat. On top of that, the judge notes that a "a threat to take legal action cannot constitute extortion unless the threat was made with knowledge that the threatened claim was false and without merit." Furthermore, the judge notes that the threat to defend itself from any legal action was entirely separate from the CAP program. Thus, the supposed (but non-existent) "threat" was entirely independent from any request for money.

As for the CAP program, the judge doesn't see that as a threat either, specifically noting that Ripoff Reports makes it clear that no reports on the site will be removed, so there's no demand for payment to remove a negative report.
Unfortunately, the case isn't entirely over. The judge did leave open the slim possibility of a RICO charges based on wire fraud, and AEI is heading down that path now. Still, as Eric Goldman notes in his writeup, AEI may have difficulty showing any "harm" to its business due to the following:
AEI was a content publisher from 2000-2009 (it's now out of business), and during those 9 years, it had zero revenues. This could make it hard for AEI to garner much judicial sympathy over any harm to its business.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    BearGriz72 (profile), Aug 3rd, 2010 @ 5:54pm

    Are they "Out of Business"?

    "AEI was a content publisher from 2000-2009 (it's now out of business), and during those 9 years, it had zero revenues. This could make it hard for AEI to garner much judicial sympathy over any harm to its business."

    Now I realize Mike was quoting Goldman on this, but I just looked and there is an 'Asia Economic Institute (AEI)' website still up at http://www.asiaecon.org/

    From the 'About Us' Page: "The Asia Economic Institute (AEI) began in 1999"
    From The 'Contact Us' Page: "Correspondent Office ... Wilshire Blvd ... Los Angeles, CA"


    Looks like the same company to me, are we sure they are out of business? I would hope they are with the bull they are trying to pull, but the website seems to still be active. Of course they could have paid for the hosting in advance and just never bothered to take the site down.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2010 @ 6:44pm

      Re: Are they "Out of Business"?

      Also, how does a company with no revenue afford a retainer for hiring attorneys to sue other companies?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2010 @ 6:34pm

    Seems That AEI is plagiarizing Articles

    Poking around that site and I see that the majority of the content seems to be directly lifted verbative copies from news sites. Think that they licensed them??? I wouldn't bet on that.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2010 @ 7:45pm

    Unverified

    I personally have known about this site for a while. I had a friend that had an ex-employee try to start all kinds of crap on the site with different names. The first was his report, soon after another filed by a "customer" appeared, soon after another by someone trying to get hired all within a short period of time.

    I wouldn't take anything on the site serious or believe half of it since anyone can post anything under any name and it stays unless you pay. Great concept but apparently ran by assholes looking for a quick buck and it does sound like extortion to me.

    I was looking for one about Ripoff Report but didn't see one. Maybe I'll post a complaint about them posting invalid complaints or accuse them of extortion, would it stay up?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2010 @ 8:29pm

      Re: Unverified

      Wow, shill much?

      I mean really, you couldn't be any more obviously connected to AEI in some way as to be the only person asserting exactly the same claims as they are, of course Mike knows where you are posting from, don't you Mike.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2010 @ 8:54am

        Re: Re: Unverified

        I'm sure every report on the site is accurate to the most minute detail and there couldn't possibly be any bullshit on the site. Great deduction Sherlock.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2010 @ 8:59pm

      Re: Unverified

      When you say "friend" you really mean yourself, dontcha

      You know, I'm sure a smart business plan could use this to identify some issues and address them to the one making the complaint and also maybe..internally...

      Nope fixing anything in your organization is too much effort. Bring on the lawreys

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2010 @ 9:54am

        Re: Re: Unverified

        Sorry retail shops aren't my thing. I worked there when I was a teen and still do IT work for him and I really don't think a smart business plan will take care of a single person that gets canned because of work ethic.

        There were no lawyers involved with RR, that would be insane for a few local retail shops. He did have his lawyer send a letter to the ex-employee that outlined the fabrications made. The guy wasn't real smart and documented lies, that could be proven as such, in the report. But again, even showing that the guy was off in the head and a liar, the report remains some 7 years later.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2010 @ 12:04am

      Re: Unverified

      Try it and let us know how that goes.

       

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    John Doe, Aug 3rd, 2010 @ 9:04pm

    Good Post ....

    The judges ruling seemed very sound. I am curious how Asia Economic Institute (AEI) is able to afford the lawsuit if they are out of business. Anyways, I hope they get penalized with the defendants legal fees given the lawsuit is bad as it is. Great post and look forward to follow up.

     

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    Danny, Aug 4th, 2010 @ 5:47am

    I'll bet

    that they aren't completely out of business and this is a last ditch effort to drum up some revenue. As in since they apprently failed in the market (I think we can agree that after 9 years there being zero revenue meets the conditions of fail) so now they are grasping straws to pull in money somehow.

     

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    Mark, Aug 4th, 2010 @ 5:53am

    Ripoff Reports doesn't just affect Companies...

    Just to be clear here, Ripoff Reports doesn't just attack large corporations. They'll take any "report" on anyone who runs a (small) business.

    Here's the tale of one such young man who's life was affected by Ripoff Reports.

    http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/related/ckcjc/reddit_can_you_please_help_me_for_five_y ears_i/

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2010 @ 10:01am

      Re: Ripoff Reports doesn't just affect Companies...

      Thanks for the post, good read. Much better than the jackasses that replied to my post thinking I was with this company and that apparently have tunnel vision and can't think outside of what's hand fed to them by Mike.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 4th, 2010 @ 7:32am

    Right On!

     

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    Another anonymous coward, Aug 13th, 2010 @ 2:35am

    My name showed up on that terrible site RR and I don't own a business nor ever owned a business. The problem is that I am an accountant. And my name showing up as a scam artist isn't a good thing.

    They even went as far as to say they had a private investigator check me out. Of course all that info was completely incorrect. But how many people would I have to show my resume too and have them go through my references to prove it is all lies?

    And by then the harm is done. People need to trust the accountant they hire for their business. And even though I have a squeaky clean background check it's hard to bypass that lingering word, scam artist.

    And the worse thing is, I've already read about people that have won court cases against people for deformation on that site, yet RR still refuses to take down the info. Check youtube, there was a news story about a woman that happened to in Chicago. And they were all complete personal attacks. None of it was related to a consumer issue.

    RR needs to be shut down!!!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 9th, 2010 @ 11:19am

    The next step in the natural evolution of things...of this protected extortion, libel, defamation and slander is to hire a hit squad.

    The dirt bags who run these sites have created "haven of evil" and so in the natural progression of such, take-em out!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2010 @ 6:42pm

    If you have an asshole you have encountered you should let it be known at http://www.AssholeReport.com perhaps he will apologize or right the wrong.

     

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    Ripoffreport Remover, Mar 19th, 2013 @ 12:03pm

    Samantha Rollins deserves a ripoffreport.

    Hi Samantha Rollins,

    You struggled to get help here and there on the internet, unforgettably your big name is still along with ripoffreport and I am sure it will last forever.

     

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


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