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.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    Chris ODonnell (profile), 21 Nov 2016 @ 1:20pm

    If only there was a phrase to describe the folly of hiring an incompetent lawyer to draw attention to words on the Internet that you want removed.

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

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 21 Nov 2016 @ 1:20pm

    Lady is jumping the gun here. She needs to wait a bit for the Drumpf 'thin skin' laws he wants to pass.

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

  • identicon
    kasper11, 21 Nov 2016 @ 1:26pm

    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.

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

    • identicon
      RR, 21 Nov 2016 @ 7:04pm

      Response to: kasper11 on Nov 21st, 2016 @ 1:26pm

      I know the courts have previously punished a lawyer in a similar case in TX. Unfortunately I can't find a link, my searches keep getting misdirected by the Oracle sanction request.

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

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 21 Nov 2016 @ 1:30pm

    "asking for $8 million on behalf of Dawn Bennett and the "sports apparel" firm she runs"

    Thats the World of... Luxury Sports Apparel to you little fellah.

    She looks like the life of the party. /s

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Nov 2016 @ 1:31pm

    What are the odds that the lawyer has no intention of actually going to court, but is rather hoping that Google will pay him and his client to go away?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Nov 2016 @ 7:34am

      Re:

      There is not a chance in hell Google would ever pay out on this. The law is clearly on Google's side. If Google paid out on this, it's just asking for trouble with a bunch more law suits going Google's way for things they're protected by law from. Google is not going to pay out a penny.

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

  • icon
    Zauber Paracelsus (profile), 21 Nov 2016 @ 1:32pm

    Maybe what happened is that Scott Pierson because Scott included a "you can't sue me neener neener neener" clause in his contract, and so she's suing Google because she feels she has to sue *somebody*

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

  • icon
    sehlat (profile), 21 Nov 2016 @ 1:43pm

    Once you pay the Danegeld, you never get rid of the Dane.

    This is a very old proverb from the era of the Vikings. Google should keep that in mind and stomp this sort of thing flat or half the pissant lawyers in the country will smell green.

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

  • icon
    Dan (profile), 21 Nov 2016 @ 1:51pm

    Statute of Limitations

    Aside from the obvious Section 230 problem, there's also the minor issue of the statute of limitations--in DC, it's one year for defamation. Sounds like the blog posts were 2+ years old, and DC has the Single Publication rule.

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

    • identicon
      Norahc, 21 Nov 2016 @ 1:59pm

      Re: Statute of Limitations

      He'll, if they're not going to let the Section 230 keep them from suing Google for (g)oodles of cash, why would the statute of limitations matter to them?

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

  • icon
    Trails (profile), 21 Nov 2016 @ 2:01pm

    his abuse of the internet process to distort public interest in his blog

    Ah yes, the internet process, as defined by International Engineering Task Force Against Butthurt.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous, 21 Nov 2016 @ 2:16pm

    Re:

    Maybe she is trying to get the money to pay the SEC fines for exaggerating her companies assets.

    http://www.investmentnews.com/article/20160711/FREE/160719986/dawn-j-bennett-barred-from-indu stry-ordered-to-pay-4-million-in

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

    • identicon
      PartTimeZombie, 21 Nov 2016 @ 4:49pm

      Re: Re:

      I'm not sure the Dawn Bennett being sorted out by the SEC is the same DJ Bennett with poor judgement in Lawyer hiring.
      On the other hand, both of their awful websites have auto-playing audio, so maybe they also have terrible judgement in Webmaster hiring also.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Nov 2016 @ 2:26pm

    Her attorney should be disbarred and she should be locked up.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Nov 2016 @ 5:30pm

      Re:

      I'm sure the attorney knew exactly what he was doing and told her so, probably in writing.

      She refused to listen to his council and said to proceed anyway.

      He then accepted his legal fee and proceeded to do his job knowing that this suit was going nowhere and that his client had been informed.

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

  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 21 Nov 2016 @ 2:47pm

    i can see google's lawyers reply letter.


    "Dear Dawn Bennet/DJ Bennet LLC.

    Kindly fuck off.

    sincerely Google."

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

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 21 Nov 2016 @ 4:19pm

    Even if there was no Section 230... geeez.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Nov 2016 @ 5:24pm

    While you're at it, maybe also sue Google over their search engine. After all, they make the search engine that needs SEO in the first place. (Sue to have your website first in the search results as well.)

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Nov 2016 @ 10:39pm

    "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.)

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 22 Nov 2016 @ 1:40am

      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.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 22 Nov 2016 @ 1:56am

        Re: Re:

        Well, only one thing to do then: File an amended complaint suing Google and Google, because if the original lawsuit is clearly bogus why not double-down when presented with facts that undermine your case?

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

      • identicon
        David, 22 Nov 2016 @ 7:42am

        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.

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

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 22 Nov 2016 @ 8:03am

          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...

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 21 Nov 2016 @ 11:29pm

    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...

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Nov 2016 @ 5:23pm

    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.

    Signed,
    A FORMER CTO of DJBENNETT

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Nov 2016 @ 5:26pm

      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"

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

      • identicon
        Wendy Cockcroft, 24 Nov 2016 @ 5:42am

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

        Scott Pierson, is that you?

        We don't tend to take negative comments at face value here on TD.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 24 Nov 2016 @ 12:12pm

          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.

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

  • identicon
    Beware of the leopard, 23 Nov 2016 @ 7:21pm

    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?

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Techdirt Logo Gear
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.