from the thin-skin-still-surprisingly-expensive dept
[Windermere Cay's] Social Media Addendum, published here, is a triple-whammy. First, it explicitly bans all "negative commentary and reviews on Yelp! [sic], Apartment Ratings, Facebook, or any other website or Internet-based publication or blog." It also says any "breach" of the Social Media Addendum will result in a $10,000 fine, to be paid within ten business days. Finally, it assigns the renters' copyrights to the owner—not just the copyright on the negative review, but "any and all written or photographic works regarding the Owner, the Unit, the property, or the apartments." Snap a few shots of friends who come over for a dinner party? The photos are owned by your landlord.The Florida apartment complex claims the stupid clause is needed to prevent "unjust and defamatory reviews." It makes this claim -- not in a statement given to Ars Technica (which was tipped off by a resident) -- but in the introductory paragraph of the Addendum. From there it gets worse. Doing any of the following triggers a $10,000 fine, with $5,000 added on for each additional "infraction."
This means that Applicant shall not post negative commentary or reviews on Yelp!, Apartment Ratings, Facebook, or any other website or Internet-based publication or blog. Applicant agrees that Owner shall make the determination of whether such commentary is harmful in Owner's sole discretion, and Applicant agrees to abide by Owner' determination as to whether such commentary is harmful.Then come the copyright demands.
Additionally, each Applicant hereby assigns and transfers to Owner any and all rights, including all rights of copyright as set forth in the United States Copyright Act, in any and all written or photographic works regarding the Owner, the Unit, the property, or the apartments. This means that if an Applicant creates an online posting on a website regarding the Owner, the Unit, the property, or the apartments, the Owner will have the right to notify the website to take down any such online posting pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.Of course, when confronted by Ars about the Addendum, the property managers claimed this was all someone else's fault.
Asked about the Social Media Addendum by Ars, Windermere Cay's property manager sent this response via e-mail: "This addendum was put in place by a previous general partner for the community following a series of false reviews. The current general partner and property management do not support the continued use of this addendum and have voided it for all residents."I would imagine the support was removed and addendum voided shortly after Ars publicized it, and not a moment before. According to Ars, the resident who contacted the site was asked to sign this suddenly-unsupported addendum only "days before." But Windermere Cay's management now very likely regrets ever including it in the first place. Like so many others before it, Windermere Cay is learning that attempting to preemptively shut down criticism with bogus clauses and high fees almost always results in more criticism. Its Yelp page is swiftly filling up with negative reviews and -- like every other emotionally-charged incident on the internet, has already achieved Godwin.
Obviously, there are better ways to handle allegedly defamatory reviews. A $10,000 fine and a preemptive usurpation of tenants' copyright isn't one of them.
[And neither is this bizarre Craigslist ad from another, unrelated rental property -- which makes vague claims about "defamation" while shouting "LAWSUIT LAWSUIT LAWSUIT" across the ether.]
As multiple entities have learned over the years, you can't stop criticism on the internet. You can only hope to contain it. Legal threats and punitive fines tend to blow the walls right off the containment scheme. What should be handled with exceptional customer service and the rare lawsuit (for truly defamatory statements) is instead turned over to hamfisted legalese and intimidating dollar amounts -- both of which make things worse for the entities they're ostensibly in place to protect.