Internet Business Defamation

  • Business Law
July 15, 2016

A good reputation is essential for your business to survive, but social networking and consumer review websites make it easy for disgruntled customers, former employees and even business competitors to destroy your company’s good name by posting defamatory statements. A statement is defamatory if it tends to harm the businesses’ reputation by lowering the business in the estimation of the community, or if it deters a third party from associating or dealing with the business. See Burns v. McGraw-Hill Broadcasting Co., 659 P.2d 1351, 1357 (Colo. 1983).

It does not take a marketing genius to understand that when potential consumers read bad reviews about a company on the internet, they are less likely to engage that company. The internet does not provide consumers a way to know if a review is true or false. On some consumer review websites, owners can respond to defamatory reviews by posting their side of the story. In fact, some business owners have no problem firing back at bad reviewers. But not all internet forums that publish defamatory reviews have a procedure to dispute or respond to a defamatory review (such as personal blogs). Plus, not all businesses feel that responding to a defamatory review is a professional way to handle things. For instance, responding to a defamatory review does not prevent people from seeing the defamatory review, and the response may be just as off-putting to potential consumers as the bad review itself.

The attorneys at Jorgensen, Brownell & Pepin, P.C. are experienced in handling internet business defamation cases. When considering whether your business has a case for defamation, the most important thing to look at is whether the bad review is true or false. If the bad review is true, your business does not have a case. Even if there are some false parts contained in the bad review, when the bad reviewer asserts truth as a defense, the bad reviewer is not required to justify every word. Rather, it is sufficient for the bad reviewer to prove that the gist of the matter is true. See Gomba v. McLaughlin, 504 P.2d 337 (Colo. 1972). So, embellishing the facts in a bad review is perfectly legal if the review is substantially true. CJI-Civ 22:16. However, it is not legal for a bad reviewer to post a defamatory review knowing that the statements are probably false or that there is serious doubt as to their truth. See Denver Publ. Co. v. Bueno, 54 P.3d 893, 899 (Colo. 2002).

In general, there are three goals to accomplish in an internet business defamation case. The first and most important goal is to get the defamatory statement taken off the internet as soon as possible. The second goal is to prevent the bad reviewer from ever posting another defamatory statement again. The third goal is to obtain an award for damages that resulted from the defamation. To accomplish these goals, our firm first seeks out an affirmative injunction and restraining order to get the defamatory review removed from the internet and prevent the bad reviewer from ever posting defamatory reviews again. After the injunction and restraining order are in place, our firm proceeds in its prosecution of the defamation claim.

It is important to have an experienced and knowledgeable attorney working on your internet business defamation case. While Colorado only has a small handful of statutes that speak to defamation (CRS § 2-2-304, CRS § 13-21-106 and CRS §§ 13-21-124 to 13-25-125.5), the courts have spent over a century developing various defamation rules and standards. There are different standards for the judge or jury to consider depending on whether the plaintiff is a public official or public person, if the statement pertains to a matter of public interest or general concern, or when the statement is a private matter and the plaintiff is a private person.

It is incredibly easy for an inexperienced attorney to get the different defamation rules and standards mixed up. Your business cannot afford to lose your case because of a mix up. That is why you should contact the experienced lawyers at Jorgensen, Brownell & Pepin, P.C. for a free 30-minute internet business defamation consultation. Our Longmont business attorneys can be reached at (720) 491-3117.

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