Online 'Reputation Management' Company Brags About Abusing Copyright Law To Take Down Bad Reviews

from the oh-really-now? dept

Regular Techdirt commenter Ehud Gavron recently forwarded me an email conversation he had with a "representative" from yet another "online reputation management" company. This one is called "Reputation Defenders," which sounds like half a dozen other similar companies with similar names. The company had apparently spammed Gavron, but he wrote back to see if they'd reveal more about how they do what they do. The company responded, explaining the "three tools" to "remove" a bad review from Ripoff Report:

There are three ways to effectively remove a Ripoff report:

Method 1. Take legal action and sue the offender. Then once you have won the lawsuit you go here and submit it to Google. https://support.google.com/legal/contact/lr_courtorder?product=websearch&vid=null

They may or may not remove the Ripoff report within a few months. This approach is very expensive and time consuming with no guaranteed outcome. We do not use it or recommend it.

Method 2. Bury the Ripoff report from off of the top pages by using a variety of website, links, blogs etc... that go above the Ripoff report and push it off of the front pages so no one will see it.

Method 3. This involves a legal method that the US congress signed up to in 1988 and many people are unaware that this provision exists and how effective it is. It can remove a Ripoff report from the search engines permanently.

We use methods 2 and 3 together and can have your Ripoff report neutralized and removed effectively at a fraction of the cost of going to court!‚Äč

"Method 3" certainly sounded... interesting. What law was passed in 1988 that "many people" were "unaware" about that Congress enabled to allow someone to "remove a Ripoff report from search engines permanently"? Gavron asked for more info... and, of course, the answer is copyright:

The other method we use is reporting "copyright infringement" to Google.

This is a legal method that exploits the use of copyrighted material on the internet.

We use a copyright company to copyright your name, company name and any other phrases that triggers the report to show. We then have a letter drafted in jurisprudence (written by a lawyer in legal language) and this is submitted to Googles legal department.

This states and proves that the Ripoff report website is using your copyrighted name, company name etc... without your permission and Ripoff report is breaking the law and you are requesting that Google respect the 1988 Berne Copyright convention act that the USA and Canada signed up for and that you would like the Ripoff report listings about you removed from off of their search engine.

Google take the law very seriously and are very pedantic about copyright and trade names. This is a powerful way to get Google to disavow the Ripoff report listings without having to go to court.

We handle all aspects of the copyright infringement petition to Google and also the "Burying" of the Ripoff report.

This is, of course, nonsense. After Gavron forwarded all of this to me, I thought I'd reach out to Reputation Defenders to ask them about all of this, but I realized I didn't even need to. They have all this same info right on their own damn website, where this abuse of copyright law is laid out in more detail, and even more legal nonsense:

We have a well defined method of making a petition to Google to have your Ripoff report removed.

This involves copyrighting elements of your company name or other aspects of your business that is mentioned in the Ripoff report.

You then legally own that phrase, name, description etc.....

This is under the U.S. Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988 that the USA and 179 other countries signed up for. This is the international law on copyright.

Once you have the certificates of copyright, you can send a copy of the certificates of copyrights, along with a letter written in jurisprudence (Legal Language) to the legal office of Google.

You are not accusing Google or threatening them with legal action, you are simply informing them that Ripoff Report are using your copyrighted name, company name etc... WITHOUT YOUR PERMISSION and that you are requesting that Google respect the law and remove the listings because of "Copyright Infringement based on the US Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988".

Google are very strict when it comes to copyright infringement.

They take a very dim view of someone using logos, phrases and brand names that belong to other companies without their permission.

They will take this seriously and many times will comply. The listings will vanish.

This is, as one copyright lawyer I asked about it noted, "utter nonsense." Almost nothing in that is accurate, though I do wonder how many people fall for it. We have, of course, seen lots of people try (laughably) to abuse DMCA notices to try to delist pages from Google and it rarely works. Google actually is pretty good at ignoring those nonsense DMCA claims.

Indeed, in researching a bit more about "Reputation Defenders" I discovered that we actually wrote about them about a year ago, noting that they appeared to have struck out on every single attempt to use bogus DMCA notices sent to Google to remove reviews on Ripoff Report. Back then, Tim Cushing's story also noticed that they made bizarre claims about owning the copyright on company names (not a thing) and referencing the Berne Convention (irrelevant). It appears that they have not learned that (1) these are legal nonsense, and (2) they don't work. I sent in some questions to Reputation Defenders to see if they have any actual copyright lawyers on staff or if a copyright lawyer has ever reviewed their page, but so far the company has not responded.

The company does appear to keep on filing DMCA notices with Google. While it's a bit sporadic, there were three such DMCA notices filed in February. They all follow the same nonsense formula. Two of them are attempts to delete negative reviews on Ripoff Report. The most recent was filed on February 4th, and is an attempt to delete a negative review from Google's index. If you actually go to the Ripoff Report page, you actually see that the individual in question posted a detailed "rebuttal" to the negative review, including documentation (though the original poster also returns to post more details of the original claims as well). Either way, Google did not remove the review. The same situation plays out for a DMCA notice sent on February 1st, which, from reading through the Ripoff Report, you discover quite the soap opera that may have occurred with an attempt at create a drug treatment facility.

The most interesting notice, however, came on February 2nd, and it doesn't just try to delete some negative reviews on Ripoff Report, but a bunch of news articles as well. Let's look a bit more closely at that one. First the "Description" of the work is... quite something:

We own the copyrighted name of Brian Nelson Willis scammer, Brian N Willis scam, Brian N Willis scammer,Brockstar Group of Companies scam Brockstar Group of Companies scammer, www.amicushouse.com. The www.ripoffreport.com page is using my company name and details without my permission or consent and they are breaking the 1988 Berne convention copyright law that USA and Canada signed up for in 1988.

It follows Reputation Defenders' usual MO of claiming a copyright on various "names" and then tossing in a nonsensical reference to the Berne Convention. But it is notable that it is claiming copyright not just on the guy's name, but also with "scammer" or "scam" next to the name. While there are some Ripoff Report links it tries to delete, it also tries to memory hole a Stuff.co.nz article about a potential ponzi scam:

The Serious Fraud Office is probing a foreign loan provider which charged hefty advance fees for loans that were never delivered.

Transactions involving United States-based Brockstar made an appearance in the SFO's successful conviction of Ponzi fraudster Jacqui Bradley and her B'On scheme, and form part of the SFO's prosecution of the directors of Derivatek and Global Futures Trading.

Later, it notes:

Brockstar, run by Californian man Brian Willis, has been the subject of numerous complaints by investors. An Orange County Superior Court judge last month awarded an investor US$837,000 following a civil suit and described Brockstar's loan business as a "classic con game".

Hmm. The DMCA notice also tries to delete this article from the National Business Review in New Zealand as well, making similar claims about Brian Willis and his company.

Unfortunately for Mr. Willis and Reputation Defenders (but, fortunately for free speech and against the abuse of copyright law), Google has not bowed down to Reputation Defenders' wacky copyright theories and has left all six URLs it tried to memory hole right where they belong.

Filed Under: copyright abuse, reputation management, reviews, takedowns
Companies: reputation defenders, ripoff report


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2019 @ 2:29pm

    The website host is not at fault here (for being victimized by the Bad-Reputation concealer scammers), but could the law be harnessed to give an incentive to the website host for vigorously defending its public? This is, after all, another kind of retaliation for public conversation (SLAPP, except the lawsuit is only threatened.)

    Perhaps TLAPP (threats of lawsuit against public participation) ought to be added to SLAPP statutes: allow the victim to initiate the suit and require the winner to be awarded filing costs even if the perp backs down immediately--and statutory damages if he wins (just like copyright, and in the same range.)

    So people can't start a legal extortion racket without facing the same gun they're trying to shoot at their victims.

    Of course, this wouldn't affect real cases of slander--suit for slander is still an option. But BASELESS THREATS of suit for slander would be treated like criminal extortion--which is simple justice.


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