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Burriss on Media: Disparagement


MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (BURRISS)  --  Can you sign away your right to criticize a company you do business with?  Apparently some companies think you can, and may try to charge you a lot of money if you say anything bad about them.
    It seems that back in 2008 a Utah couple bought some products from an online retailer.  The merchandise was never delivered, the transaction was cancelled and phone calls to the company went unanswered.  So, the couple wrote a negative review on the complaint portal Ripoff Report.  Now the company has billed the couple $3,500 because the fine print in the on-line terms of use forbid anyone saying anything bad about the company.
    The company has also reported the couple to at least one credit agency, which has had a negative impact on their credit report.
    I checked the company web site, and the restriction on negative comments has been removed.
    Needless to say, the couple is fighting the fine, and a consumer rights group has filed a $75,000 lawsuit against the company for filing a false report to credit agencies.
    But the scary thing is that this is not an unusual case.  In 2011 a Virginia woman posted negative reviews about a contractor who she said had done a poor job.  The contractor filed a $750,000 libel suit against the woman.
    And a few years ago a Microsoft end user license agreement said you couldn’t use a Microsoft product top disparage the software company.
    A central question here is whether or not these cases are based on contract law or constitutional law.  But until the courts decide, the best course is what we’ve always said about on-line communications:  be careful what you say and who you say it to.
    I’m Larry Burriss