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!​

"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


Reader Comments

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  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 15 Mar 2019 @ 12:10pm

    I can't help but wonder if Ripoff Report has any reports on these guys and the way they rip you off in their futile attempt to get stuff removed from Ripoff Report.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2019 @ 12:32pm

      Re:

      They do, and the one I found would put people off using them. I mean if they cannot keep their own reputation clean how are they going to clean yours.

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2019 @ 12:53pm

      Re:

      Since they're immune under Section 230, which allows sites like theirs to be weaponized, there's no reason to believe in the accuracy of any "ripoff report."

      The site has also removed "reports" in some cases, so you don't even know who is being censored.

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

      • identicon
        TFG, 15 Mar 2019 @ 1:50pm

        Re: Re:

        Yes, yes, we know you want the ability to sue sites that allow people to report your scams publicly into the ground so that you will have a ready set of uninformed rubes to scam.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2019 @ 2:52pm

        Re: Re:

        So what did you do Jhon boy that’s so bad you’re worried about your rep? Was it a live boy or a dead girl?

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous coward, 15 Mar 2019 @ 4:24pm

          Was it a live boy or a dead girl?

          That's sort of what former governor Edwin W. Edwards (now in jail, I think) said, when asked by reporters whether he could lose re-election. If I remember correctly, his response was, "The only way I could lose this election is if I were caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy."

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

  • icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 15 Mar 2019 @ 12:16pm

    Wrong office

    You'd think they'd be bright enough to use (TM) or (SM) and claim each phrase as a trademark or salesmark instead of Copyright.

    You can't Register a generic trademark to get the circled R symbol "making it legal", but there's nothing preventing filing a generic - it won't be granted, but it'll be recorded.

    And considering what nonsense we've seen the US Patent and Trademark office issuing over the last decade or so, they might actually grant the registration of the word "scam" as a Registered Trademark...

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

    • icon
      DB (profile), 15 Mar 2019 @ 12:44pm

      Re: Wrong office

      The whole point of their approach is that Google will ignore a trademark claim, but there is apparently a fair chance that they will rubber-stamp a copyright claim.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 15 Mar 2019 @ 12:55pm

        Re: Re: Wrong office

        Well, that may be what they thought, but given they've apparently yet to succeed even once it's clearly not working out for them very well, though reading about them failing spectacularly is somewhat entertaining, so they're at least good for something.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 15 Mar 2019 @ 12:27pm

    What a deal/steal

    Two scams for the price of one, that's handy. First in trying to convince people that their super-duper effective method has a chance in hell of working, followed by making bogus legal threats in an attempt to do what they claim they can.

    That said in a way I can't blame them for half-assing it. I mean it's not like they face any possible punishment for abusing the system like that, so why put more effort into it than they have to?

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2019 @ 12:50pm

    RipoffReport is a logical result of Section 230. It also makes (most) Americans defenseless against defamation from competitors or disgruntled employees.

    Section 230 in general makes anything we read online unreliable.

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

    • icon
      Igualmente69 (profile), 15 Mar 2019 @ 1:01pm

      Re:

      Except that's not true at all, since you can, you know, sue the actual person who defamed you.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2019 @ 3:21pm

        Re: Re:

        ...only if they actually defamed you. All the examples so far are of people and organizations who did something stupid/illegal and don't want others talking about it.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2019 @ 1:19pm

      Re:

      lol

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2019 @ 1:19pm

      Re:

      pretends nobody distributed anonymous pamphlets with dubious veracity before the internet

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

    • icon
      amoshias (profile), 15 Mar 2019 @ 2:14pm

      Re:

      What a weird place to come to spread this type of nonsense. Of - what, hundreds of millions? - of websites on the internet, you decided to come to one of the few pages with a community that actually cares enough to understand what section 230 does and how important it is.

      And to this community, you decided to come and try to convince people of ridiculous things about section 230. Why?

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

    • icon
      Qwertygiy (profile), 15 Mar 2019 @ 2:25pm

      Re:

      Not true in the least.

      Section 230 means the provider is not responsible for the content of what people post through it, so you have to go after the poster if something illegal or defamatory is said.


      Potential Response Chain #1:

      "But the poster was anonymous!" Well, Section 230 doesn't protect the provider from having to answer a legal subpoena about information on the poster, such as IP address or email address.

      "But I couldn't get a legal subpoena!" If your defamation case is so weak that you couldn't get a court to even consider it and issue subpoenas for information about the defendant, then you weren't actually defamed, you just have hurt feelings.

      "But I couldn't get it because it's too expensive to sue!" If your defamation case is so weak that you searched for and couldn't find any lawyer to take your case with no more payment than a share of the award if successful, then you weren't actually defamed, you just have hurt feelings.

      "But I don't want to give up a share of my award!" Then your hurt feelings, and/or your desire to punish those who have done you wrong, are less important to you than your greed for money.


      Potential Response Chain #2:

      "But it's on their website! They ALLOWED it to stay up even though it's false and mean and hurt me!" It's not their legally-obligated purpose to spend hours examining each review and determining if what they said was their opinion or if it was fact, and determining if any facts stated were false, and determining if those falsely-stated facts caused you real harm. That's the job of a court.

      "But I can't afford to go to a court, it takes too long and costs too much, I need the SITE to listen to me NOW!" See Chain #1.

      "But they took down someone else's comment and not this one! DISCRIMINATION!" Discrimination isn't that simple either. Even without Section 230 protecting against this, you'd need proof that they made decisions to take down the other comment and to not take down this one, and that these decisions were made because of a protected status about you -- your religion, your race, your gender, your sexuality, your nationality, or a physical or medical condition you have been diagnosed with. If there's any other reason for their decision, too bad, it's not discrimination.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2019 @ 2:20pm

    Work at home lawyer uses this one trick to get anything you want taken off the internet! Judges hate him!

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

  • 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.

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

    • icon
      Qwertygiy (profile), 15 Mar 2019 @ 3:47pm

      Re:

      "But could the law be harnessed to give an incentive to the website host for vigorously defending its public?"

      There are several ways this statement could be read. But both ways would contribute to a silencing of legal speech, not encouraging it.

      If you are rewarding a website for taking down content that is not proven to be illegal/defamatory/etc., you are rewarding a website for silencing controversial content, which stifles speech rather than encouraging it. In context, this doesn't seem to be the idea that you meant.

      If you allow Party A to sue Party B because Party B threatened to sue Party A, that is directly stifling the speech of Party B, because saying "I'm going to sue you" is protected speech. The "true threats" exemption to the 1st Amendment is very limited; it only applies to threats of illegal action. Filing a lawsuit is always, pardon the pun, a legal action.

      Threatening legal action unless something is done by the recipient can be punishable under extortion or blackmail laws, and so there is already some redress available there.

      If the lawsuit is actually filed, a proper SLAPP statute will take care of it in exactly the same way as a preventative lawsuit that you suggest.

      And lastly, it would just be a heck of a lot of the same nonsense legal action that it would be aimed at preventing. Just imagine...

      Alice: "If you don't apologize for that insult, I'll sue you!"

      Bob: "If you do, I'll sue you!"

      Alice: "Alright, then. I'm suing you for threatening to sue me."

      Bob: "Ha! I'm suing you for threatening to sue me for threatening to sue you for threatening to sue me!"

      Sue: "I'm issuing a sexual harassment lawsuit against both of you for attempting to force me on each other."

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

  • icon
    wshuff (profile), 15 Mar 2019 @ 5:11pm

    “Excuse me miss. I speak jurisprudence.”

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2019 @ 7:24pm

    Where do all these anomalies keep coming from?

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 15 Mar 2019 @ 9:23pm

    If only there were penalties in the law for misusing it... but the penalties are always only for the recipients never the senders who often are full of shit & using this as a cog in their scheme to get paid protecting the 'reputations' of scammers who are willing to pay scammers to hide their scams so they can keep scamming.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2019 @ 12:26am

      Re:

      ...because anyone who is called a scammer by even one person with an axe to grind, must be one, and therefore there is no need to protect these people's reputations.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2019 @ 8:19am

        Re: Re:

        "therefore there is no need to protect these people's reputations."

        Why is the responsibility mine, or anyone elses?
        Are these people incapable of self defense?
        Certainly they can respond to being called names on the internet, why do they need everyone to help them run their business?

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

      • icon
        Toom1275 (profile), 19 Mar 2019 @ 6:21am

        Re: Re:

        ... Because anyone who explicitly describes a scam they've personally committed must be one...

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2019 @ 1:40am

    Nox Emulator for pC

    if blusestacks is not working they you can try Nox Emulator as it running smoothly in my Mac PC(https://noxemulator.org/)

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2019 @ 7:43am

    Someone please tell me....

    How is it that this person/company is allowed continually advertise on our local radio stations being that they supply nothing but a scam product?

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

  • icon
    btr1701 (profile), 18 Mar 2019 @ 1:18pm

    along with a letter written in jurisprudence (Legal Language)

    Excuse me, sir. Do you happen to speak Jurisprudence?

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

  • icon
    PaloAltoatty (profile), 22 May 2019 @ 7:37pm

    Delisted

    All of this is a mute conversation.

    Google delisted ROR and 4 others March of 2018 on server #1 and punished them again in October of 2018 on server #2.

    Europe was pushed to page 10.

    They were then further punished in April of this year. Every 6 months they will be pushed further off of the platform.

    17M in legal expenses and payroll in Scotland alone dealing with court orders and another 35M in Palo Alto dealing with court orders and payroll all attributed to defamation with ROR 61%. (2018 numbers).

    Internet defamation is Melania's baby and she personally threatened to alpha execs in 2017 and it was either delist "these crap sites" or we will amend 230.

    Google thought amend 230 was a bad idea. After the meeting and this was literally from the lips of a major shareholder:

    "I want that Fu***** site off of my search by 2020.

    The party is over. By 2020 poof gone. Go and search for a random report.

    GONE.

    Besides, my contact at ROR thinks he is ill with something, but not sure if that is true.

    RIP ROR it was a hell of a run.

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


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