Roca Labs Sues Anonymous Commenters In Convoluted Plot To Get Negative Comments De-Indexed From Google

from the try-that-one-again dept

As we've noted in the past, every time we think the Roca Labs story can't get any more bizarre, it does. Roca's lawyers have an amazing talent to come up with totally wacky legal theories that appear to have little basis in reality. However, all of it seems pretty focused on one thing: stopping anyone from saying anything negative about the company's goop that it claims will help you lose weight. The original lawsuit that got our attention was an attempt to get PissedConsumer to delete negative reviews, followed by a bogus DMCA notice to Google, in an effort to get the negative reviews removed from Google's search results.

The latest move is equally creative and wacky. Adam Steinbaugh has the details, in which Roca Labs is now suing 11 anonymous commenters [pdf] who posted comments to PissedConsumer.com. The filing is in a Florida state court. Now, upon hearing such a thing, my first thought was that, like many defamation claims against anonymous commenters, the goal here was to try to unmask them. However, as Steinbaugh notes, that sort of legal trickery is nothing compared to what Roca Labs appears to have up its sleeve. Instead, it doesn't seem all that interested in who wrote the comments, it just wants to get a court order that it can use to pressure Google and others into no longer linking to those reviews. How it's intending to do so is complicated (and legally questionable).

First, Roca builds on its classic misunderstanding of what "defamation per se" means, asking for a variety of comments to be declared as such. You can see the statements in the complaint itself, or on Steinbaugh's site, where he helpfully transcribed them, along with notations about why most of the comments are not, in fact, defamatory (most are either opinion or basic hyperbole):

Now, given this, how does Roca Labs hope to get these comments off the internet? Here's Steinbaugh's summary:
Roca is seeking an order requiring that, at Roca’s request, any “search engines, Web Hosts” which are provided with a copy of the injunction be required to “cease facilitating access to any or all websites through which Defendants post defamatory content.” While vaguely worded, if such an order were indeed entered, Roca could require a search engine to remove sites like PissedConsumer from their index. This will never happen.

While that request is vague, Roca’s declaratory relief cause of action expands upon it. Roca alleges that the internet comments are a “res.” That’s a term of art for real property (e.g., land and buildings) used in the context of determining whether a court has jurisdiction:
The Digital Defamation is digital property and should be considered a res which has been continuously located since the date of its publication in Broward County, Florida, as a result of its continuous publication or republication in Broward County, Florida through various internet search engines such as Google.
This would turn jurisdictional questions — whether the defendant can be hauled into a court in Florida for something they said elsewhere — on their head. This is insane.
Okay, now take the wacky legal theories up yet another notch. Roca Labs not only isn't really interested in identifying those anonymous commenters, it actively doesn't want to identify them, because it believes that if it "publishes" a "legal notice" about this and those commenters don't respond, it will then be able to get a default judgment against those commenters, requiring Google to delete its search results:
Google has adopted a voluntary policy that it will de-index (remove from its search algorithm and its search pages) defamatory postings from other internet service providers such as PissedConsumer.com so long as Google is presented with a judgment that the anonymous posting is in fact defamatory. If this Court enters an order finding the Statements posted by Defendants are defamatory, the Statements will only be removed by the search engine pursuant to its voluntary policy but will remain posted on PissedConsumer.com. [...] In essence, this claim for Declaratory Judgment is merely requesting that pages containing the Digital Defamation be removed from the search engines, i.e., de-indexed. [The order] will not remove the commercially defamatory statements from PissedConsumer.com[. ...] This scenario creates a defacto balancing test between the rights of the Plaintiff not to be defamed and the First Amendment rights of Defendants to be heard.
In other words, the company isn't trying to uncover anyone actually doing anything defamatory -- and probably doesn't really want those statements reviewed by a court to see if they're actually defamatory. It just wants to get a court to issue a default ruling -- based on the anonymous commenters not showing up (and possibly not even knowing about it) -- so it can present Google with an order saying it needs to delete links to those comments (most of which are not actually defamatory, but rather people's opinions).

Once again, we're amazed at the lengths that Roca Labs appears to want to go to stop anyone from finding any negative comments about the company and its products online.

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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 2 Dec 2014 @ 4:03pm

    The company doth protest too much

    I have to say, the most damning evidence against their company and product has got to be the insane lengths they are going through to get rid of any critical reviews and comments about them.

    If the product they were selling really worked, then a few negative reviews would be easy to brush off, as they would be overwhelmed by the positive reviews. Going so crazy over the negative reviews just indicates that they know the only way they'd get positive reviews is if people were forbidden from posting critical ones.

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 3 Dec 2014 @ 9:36am

      Re: The company doth protest too much

      This is the root craziness of Roca: their product is obviously a scam from the get-go. The only way they they can stay in business is to keep doubling down on the crazy.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 2 Dec 2014 @ 4:06pm

    We're sure they haven't retained the brilliant minds from Prenda right?

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

  • identicon
    lars626, 2 Dec 2014 @ 4:12pm

    If this goes much further Google will have to send a junior member of their legal team to the court hearing. They should be more than able to point out the foolishness in all this.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2014 @ 4:23pm

    The comment about drinking the liquid and it turning into cement in your stomach is my favorite.

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

  • icon
    sorrykb (profile), 2 Dec 2014 @ 4:24pm

    If Roca Labs keeps on with this sort of behavior, they won't have to worry about negative product reviews topping their search results. Soon enough, the only results will be stories about their insane legal shenanigans.

    I suppose that's a strategy, of sorts.

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

  • icon
    connermac725 (profile), 2 Dec 2014 @ 4:31pm

    Somee thing to hide

    Sure seems like they are trying to hide something A Google search of their name turns up many scam warnings

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2014 @ 4:47pm

    And this sort of bull is why "right to be forgotten" should never be a thing.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2014 @ 9:18pm

      Re:

      Remember... politicians first create problems so you will go to them to solve them. Double Whammy... they love it... it works too!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2014 @ 5:36pm

    lets think this through logically

    choice a) go after the website hosting the comments
    choice b) go after each and every search engine linking to said website
    Yep, Roca Labs are idiots, they chose b

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 2 Dec 2014 @ 5:45pm

      Re: lets think this through logically

      They tried A first, it... hasn't quite gone so well for them so far. While that's on the burner, they must have figured, why not try and skip that step and go to B, maybe that'll work better?

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

      • icon
        Nigel Lew (profile), 2 Dec 2014 @ 6:24pm

        Re: Re: lets think this through logically

        The seem to solely exist for our amusement.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2014 @ 7:50pm

        Re: Re: lets think this through logically

        Even if it does work, they'll still have to sue Steinbaugh, TD, and all the other news & blog sites that published copies of their complaint. Does it make me a sadist to hope they'd go after Popehat? Or maybe they're just masochists playing out the deepest, most convoluted act of Legal S&M Performance Art ever devised...

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2014 @ 6:19pm

    This is like challenging the laws of gravity...

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

  • identicon
    jackn, 2 Dec 2014 @ 6:46pm

    Roca Turf(R)

    Check out this astroturf

    http://health.i-newswire.com/

    Look around, serious news only on this site. How many articles can you find?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2014 @ 7:19pm

    The only reason Roca Labs would go to these lengths is it is well aware it is selling snake oil. Notice that it is selling it under food additives and not as medicine. Good reason for that. Were it medicine it would be controlled by the FDA and in order to be licensed to sell it they would have to prove it works.

    Under food additive it has to pass almost no tests.

    That they are willing to go to these lengths to try and remove bad publicity tells you more about the product than actually trying it would be.

    It looks to be about as slimy a company as they get.

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

  • identicon
    Well that is all Then, 2 Dec 2014 @ 7:31pm

    Hopeless

    I just want to thank you for all your good reporting, but it's clear that when I hoped to die of an OD in the 80's I was right, I am sorry to have lived this long, it's not just this story but so much else( I remember actually being a bit sorry for the NSA in the early 90's) people betrayed us, people we trusted, people that should have done better, I don't know that I really feel angry anymore, more disappointment, in my parents, my friends, and my entire society.

    I'm just really really sad, we have failed totally as a people, as a species.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hF813vmbcQY

    Kate bush and

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ezgAQ4oToY

    Sinéad O´Connor

    and lastly this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhq-gQzXKXw

    Crass

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

  • identicon
    Benjamin Wade, 2 Dec 2014 @ 9:13pm

    This company represents a valuable resource...

    This company could be used to attack various anti-democratic attempts to control the internet, such as the Right To Be Forgotten meme (Yes, I know it's not an American law). The FFTF, FreePress, ACLU, etc. should be helping this company (to some degree, of course) to shoot other, similar corporate attempts to stifle free speech, in the foot.

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

  • identicon
    Kronomex, 3 Dec 2014 @ 1:16am

    When are the cretins of Roca going to realise that THEY are the ones causing the downfall of their scam business? This has turned into a very bad weekly (that for some reason you can't stop watching) television program.

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

    • icon
      John85851 (profile), 3 Dec 2014 @ 7:47am

      Re:

      When are the cretins of Roca going to realise that THEY are the ones causing the downfall of their scam business?
      That would be never, since it's much easier to blame someone else for your poor sales (such as critics, angry customers, file-sharers, pirates, etc) than it is to take a hard look at your business and realize your product isn't that good.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2014 @ 8:00am

    See here (in the webpage's title) - they insinuate that 100,000 'users' have given a positive review. (this claim is only in the title, the rest of the page backs of the claim).

    https://rocalabs.com/roca-labs-reviews

    but, does anyone have access to their financial statements? I don't think their financial statements would even come close to 100,000 sales - well maybe, but it seems far fetched.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2014 @ 8:10am

    I like this one too

    http://skinnylandweightloss.wordpress.com/

    just enough to make a person think this is a celebrity endorsement - or at least enough for google to pick up the link.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2014 @ 8:15am

    My favorite RocaLabs review

    I'm pregnant, but keeping slim!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2014 @ 8:16am

    and you can sue someone when you dont know who they are or where they are, exactly how?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2014 @ 8:21am

      Re:

      their hope is to reveal the identities during the process. i.e. getting the ISP to reveal who was behind the IP that posted the honest review.

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

  • icon
    Get off my cyber-lawn! (profile), 4 Dec 2014 @ 1:48am

    call them ALMOND Roca Labs

    cause their all nuts!

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


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