Defamation

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
defamation, lawyers, opinions, rankings

Companies:
avvo



Lawyer Ranking Site Avvo Sued By Another Upset Lawyer

from the and-avvo-hits-back dept

We've seen plenty of stories of review or ranking sites that get sued by people upset about their reviews, but one such site that seems to get extra special attention is Avvo -- and that's because it's a ranking and review site for lawyers. Soon after the site was launched a few years back, it was sued -- leading a judge to dismiss the suit, pointing out that rankings are opinions and opinions are protected by that old First Amendment thing. However, it appears another lawyer is suing the site, claiming libel among other things.

Avvo hit back in a blog post highlighting some history that the lawyer in question, Joe Davis, probably doesn't want to generate any more attention (such as being "twice convicted and spent eight days in the pokey") and suggesting that it's the desire to hide this info that is the real reason behind the lawsuit.

So, how does Davis try to get around the whole "opinion/free speech" thing? Well, he tries to find some factual errors in his profile -- such as the page claiming that he practices "100% employment/labor law," which is apparently not the case. That said, it's difficult to see how such an error amounts to libel. Also, apparently Avvo has the wrong address, which Davis suggests is a "misrepresentation." He also claims that Avvo's "failure to take into account" Davis' Board Certification (which is mentioned over and over and over and over again in the complaint as if that, alone, conquers all) is a "misrepresentation" as well.

From there, Davis suggests that various fluctuations he saw in his ratings over a period of a few days "obviously occurred based solely" on his "level of participation" on the site, rather than "what is in the public record." Davis also gets upset that his profile points people to other, competing lawyers, and claims that Google forbids a similar practice. Unfortunately, I believe Davis is simply wrong on this point:
Google's AdWords' policies prohibit AdWords users from doing the very same thing that Avvo.com does--that is, to hijack a competitor's name as a key search word to trigger the appearance of a competitor's ad next to the competitor's search results.
But Google actually does allow that and has fought an awful lot of lawsuits that it's usually won, saying that such a practice is perfectly legal. In fact, Google just recently changed its European policy to have it match the US policy in allowing greater use of trademarked terms in AdWords.

There's also a suggestion that by using Davis' photo from his own website, Avvo may have violated copyright and local Florida statutes on using images of lawyers. The full complaint is a bit rambling, and at times rather informal, which makes for some fun reading, but seems like the sort of thing that a judge might not appreciate:

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