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Author Topic: Where do we stand legally on forum posts about commercial products?  (Read 5037 times)

Offline chris

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I would like to ask for help from anyone who may have experience of the field of online reviewing of products and the legal position related to this.

For instance, if someone posts here on the Naked Scientists about their experience of using a product, what grounds does the manufacturer of the product have to make the  person - or the forum owner - take down that post if they decide that they don't agree with the sentiments expressed.

In other words, if someone independently provides a negative review of a product, can the manufacturer legitimately make them remove their opinion? Are they not entitled to an opinion?

I ask since a company have approached me, generically I might add, threatening me with legal action if I don't remove a post made years ago by a forum user, which is frank and not complimentary about the product.

This doesn't seem fair to me; how are people supposed to speak out against bad business if legal challenges can constantly be employed to mask the truth.

Therefore, I would like to hear from anyone else who has experience in this area please.

Chris


 

Offline RD

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After a quick Google I can only see examples governed by American law ...

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Review [web]sites act as public forums, and are legally protected from liability for the content by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA).
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Review_site#Anonymity

http://tycoontalk.freelancer.com/liability-and-legality/214498-how-avoid-liability-libelous-comments-my.html


Maybe offer the company a right to reply.
« Last Edit: 14/07/2012 02:58:28 by RD »
 

Offline Don_1

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I would have thought that if it is clear that an opinion has been expressed regarding a product or service, then the individual who made the post would be entitled to his/her opinion and would be equally entitled to express that opinion in whatever form they wish to do so. That said, it seems to be coming clear that the means by which an individual chooses to express an opinion may be deemed as complicit in the publication of the opinion and thus could be deemed to be in agreement with the opinion. Thereby, the publisher (TNS in this case) could be held jointly responsible for any defamatory comments.

If the post was less of a personal opinion and bordering on ‘expert analysis’, or purporting to be ‘expert analysis’ or ‘expert opinion’ then both the author and the publisher could be sued if they cannot produce evidence to back any claims or criticism.

I agree with you on the point of threats of legal action being used, particularly by large companies, to keep the failings of their products and services out of the public domain. I’m sure it will often be the case that these threats are successful in their objective purely on the basis of the high cost of defending a legal action and large companies, fully aware of this fact, will make threats safe in the knowledge that Mr Small cannot dare to risk such a venture.

Of course the problem is that Mr Small Vs Global Conglomerate will all too frequently mean Mr Small runs out of the necessary funds to bring in a defence before the case even gets to court. Expert advice on whether or not to stand your ground may come at a high cost itself.

Might I suggest you contact the Citizens Advice Bureau, as an individual, who have legal beagles who just might be able to help you consider your personal position.

Otherwise, I would advise to err on the side of caution. Legal matters can be protracted, costly and ruinous. It may well mean that Mr Small, whether in the right or not, gets trampled by Global Conglomerate, but the sad fact is, that’s what money can buy. Falsification, deception, immunity….. Money is not the root of all evil, it is those who use money for evil purpose who are evil.


Just an afterthought...... Try to find a legal forum and post the question there: Why not?
 

Offline CliffordK

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The purpose of this website is not for product reviews.  Leave that to consumer reports (uhh... oh...  did I occidentally slip in a product reference  :o).  Certainly TNS removes product plugs that come out of the blue.  Although, links (both positive and negative) are often allowed from disinterested 3rd party posters.

If TNS has liability, then the question would be how much would be the liability to TNS?  $5,000, or Millions?  To get millions of dollars, the company would have to prove significant damages attributed to TNS, as well as malicious intent, and significant inaccuracies of the review (which you didn't write).  Perhaps also demonstrate that you were aware of the inaccuracies and failed to act on them.  For a small amount, you can represent yourself in court, and it would be far more expensive for the company to take you to court than the value of the settlement. 

If it is a company such as magnet therapy, or HHO (oops, did I do it again? :P), then I would write back to the company saying that you are temporarily hiding the thread for 30 days while you are anxiously awaiting the company to provide scientific results of a double-blinded study published in a major scientific journal proving the efficacy of their product.  If they fail to prove the efficacy of their product to your satisfaction, you'll remove the restrictions on the thread.
 

Offline AllenG

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When Simon Singh was sued by the BCA they did not sue The Guardian, just Singh.  It would stand to reason that The Guardian was immune to liability (being they have deeper pockets than Singh and more likely to settle).

I can't find anything stating if the UK has an equivalent to our (US) amendment of the CDA act.
 

Offline chris

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Thank you, everyone.

The thread in question is this one:

http://www.thenakedscientists.com/forum/index.php?topic=1282.50
 

Offline RD

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... The thread in question is this one:

http://www.thenakedscientists.com/forum/index.php?topic=1282.50


The "ParaZapper™ " recommended by "moore4u" in that thread gets a mention on this anti-quack website ...

http://www.casewatch.org/fdawarning/prod/2006/paradevices.shtml  [FDA warning letter]

The zappers are still on sale today but the manufacturers have tried to sidestep the FDA regulations by including this condition ...
Quote
By purchasing any Zapper or accessory from this site you are agreeing that these products are sold as "not intended for use on humans or animals".

Some of the zapper designs remind me of the apparatus used by infamously litigious Scientology in their "stress test" ...



Re: Scientology "stress test"  E-meter ...
Quote
a 1971 ruling by the United States District Court, District of Columbia, that declared: "the E-meter has no proven usefulness in the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of any disease, nor is it medically or scientifically capable of improving any bodily function."
http://skepdic.com/emeter.html


There seems to be a link beteen the ParaZapper (and associated herbal products) and scientology ...
Quote
[Dr Hulda Regehr] Clark's books, herbal products, and "Zapper" devices said to be built to her specifications have been marketed through many Web sites, one of which was the Self Health Resource Center, administered by Clark's son Geoff. ... Her ideas are also advocated by the Dr. Clark Research Association, an entity founded in 1998 by David P. Amrein, a Scientologist who describes himself as a freelance consultant in finance and taxes.
http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/Cancer/clark.html
« Last Edit: 17/07/2012 10:24:22 by RD »
 

Offline Don_1

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I think that as this product is sold as a supplement, it puts it in a rather gray area.

You can forget my idea of going to the CAB. This would be too complex for even the most benevolent law expert to treat as a freebie.

The threat of action against Bloomberg appears to be one of unjustified personal attack rather than one concerned with the product itself, so I don't think this has any bearing on the matter.

The post does not appear to discredit the product; in fact the member seems to agree that the product has some value. What seems to be the bone of contention is the manufacture’s reluctance to publish, what it alleges to be, proof of the supplements health value and the price charged.

As far as pricing is concerned, any company can charge any price for any product. Take one part rock salt and one part sea salt, at a cost of say £1.00 per kg each, combine them and then sell for £20 per kg. So long as the product package shows the ingredients as 50% rock salt and 50% sea salt, there is nothing wrong in this. Justifying the price might prove difficult and might bring condemnation from critics. I doubt any court would uphold any action taken by the manufacturer against its critics in such a case.

But on the health value of these ingredients individually and in a combined form, there seems to be a difference of opinion. Because this is a supplement, not a drug, there are no clinical trials to evaluate the product, thus it would be for either party to produce an independent assessment of the product to prove their case. This could prove expensive.

The bottom line here is that this is a manufacturer attempting to protect its product and its reputation. The fact that they have threatened to bring action in the past against an individual in the employ of a large and well funded company, demonstrates their determination.

Unless you are convinced of the alleged misrepresentation of the product and/or impropriety of the manufacturer and have the necessary funding and time to defend a court action, I would err on the side of caution, as I said before.

Not an ideal situation, I’ll grant you, but money has a very loud voice and would not like to see you or TNS embroiled in a long and ruinous law suit. Quite frankly, it is a damning indictment of this company that it cannot accept criticism of it’s product, or carry out an open defence for all to see.
 

Offline CliffordK

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11 pages of rambling discussion?  With posters favorable and unfavorable to many of the products being discussed.

TNS hosts a "discussion" page, which that topic seems to represent.  You certainly would not wish to remove the critical comments while only leaving the praises.  At the same time, you don't remove praises for products that you disagree with, other than obvious SPAM.

While TNS does not tolerate self-serving SPAM (as appeared in the topic a few times), you could invite the person who is critical of the thread to join TNS and to post some clarifications as they feel is appropriate. 

You do join the topic as "Chris" which could open TNS up to liability, if it could be proven that you specifically targeted the company in question.  However, most of your comments tend to revolve around medical supplements being hogwash without scientific study and proof.

In the USA, you would certainly be able to point to First Amendment Rights offering you a significant amount of protection.

Many "threats" never actually lead to court cases.  And many of those that do get to court are eventually settled out of court.  I suppose it all boils down to what you are willing to risk, and what you are willing to fight for.
 

Offline yor_on

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Let it stand as it is :)
Which it seems you have done so far.

Freedom of speech and asking for validation of claims, supporting ones criticism on valid science, that's how I read 'loweduane' in that thread. And the negative publicity for the company arguing their case to censor private opinions in a loosely seen 'scientific thread', will be positive publicity for TNS, at least as I expect. Integrity is priceless.
 

Offline yor_on

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And, by the way, I'm already severely disgusted with the way Americans want to patent, as well as regulate, even mere thoughts, and opinions. It's becoming absurd to me and it got to end. It's no different from schoolyard bullying..
==

Have a look at this sound advice Chris.. http://www.nikkipilkington.com/internet-marketing-articles/internet-marketing-article-brand-trashing-what-to-do-if-your-reputation-takes-a-beating-online/
« Last Edit: 17/10/2012 16:08:20 by yor_on »
 

Offline Zapper Dave

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I am a strong believer in the right to free speech and have never asked that any opinion that opposes mine be removed. I will draw the line with personal attacks and may respond in kind when someone opens that option up by making such claims. I prefer for discussions not to be that way. However, when something that does not agree with others appears on these forums, it seems that Orwellian tactics are used. The removal of a blog just because the information is not agreeable to some is a serious tort on free speech.

As for the evidence presented, while it is weak because the studies were not perfectly done, this does not mean that it should be excluded. If no one is aware of the study, how can they proceed further and produce a better study?

A case in point. If you review the FDA complaints in regards to ParaZapper, you will see that they do not claim that it does not work. What they claim, in the case of ParaZapper, the evidence of its effectiveness makes it a Class 3 device, capable of supporting life.

What I will concede about the zapper, is that while it does work for many, it does not always work. There is a need for studies and research to determine what the difference is and how the failures can be overcome. When a product has a 98 percent customer satisfaction ( this was verified by the FDA in their case work ), then something has to be working.

My belief is that regardless of whether a specific product is involved or not, free speech and open discussion of the evidence that exists will eventually lead to a real solution.

David
 

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