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Another Attempt At Using the Courts To Suppress an Online Review 180

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-true-i-read-it-on-the-internet dept.
gandhi_2 writes with this excerpt from the SF Chronicle: "A San Francisco chiropractor has sued a local artist over negative reviews published on Yelp, the popular Web site that rates businesses. Christopher Norberg, 26, of San Francisco posted the first review in November 2007 after visiting Steven Biegel at the Advanced Chiropractic Center on Valencia Street. In the six-paragraph write-up, Norberg criticized Biegel's billing practices and said the chiropractor was being dishonest with insurance companies. ...The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a local nonprofit that supports free speech online, is considering helping with Norberg's defense. Matt Zimmerman, an attorney with the group, said Biegel will get far more negative publicity from filing the lawsuit than from a bad review on Yelp. He said the foundation is seeing more and more cases of people trying to use the courts because they're unhappy with postings on the Internet."
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Another Attempt At Using the Courts To Suppress an Online Review

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  • by trolltalk.com (1108067) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @10:21AM (#26398011) Homepage Journal
    I'd trust a veterinarian to treat me before I'd trust one of those fraud artists.
    • by WhatAmIDoingHere (742870) <sexwithanimals@gmail.com> on Saturday January 10, 2009 @11:28AM (#26398399) Homepage
      For non-back related things, I'll admit they're frauds. But for someone with back problems, the treatment feels pretty good. I don't know if it's doing anything long term or if it's just a massage paid for by my insurance, but it helps with the pain.
      • by gbulmash (688770) * <semi_famous&yahoo,com> on Saturday January 10, 2009 @11:54AM (#26398615) Homepage Journal
        Quacks or not, the issue isn't with criticism of the chiro's services, but with his billing rates and practices.

        But quackery is relevant here, because the doctor should have used a PR person to help him rebut the detractor's claims and used the threat of libel to make Yelp append the rebuttal directly to the criticism so they had to be viewed together. It would have been less costly all around. Better to defuse your detractor as a crackpot/quack than to sue him and give him legitimacy.

        Is the doctor within his rights? If the claims made by Norberg actually are false, then he is. Was this the best way to handle things? Nope.
      • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @03:06PM (#26400347)
        I'm not a doctor, but if you have chronic back pain you might want to see a Physiatrist [aapmr.org] instead:

        Physiatrists, or rehabilitation physicians, are medical doctors who are nerve, muscle, and bone experts who treat injuries or illnesses that affect how you move. Rehabilitation physicians have completed training in the medical specialty physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R).

        They are medical doctors, so your insurance should cover them, and have chiropractor training so they can do more than either alone. The other difference seems to be the approach.

        Case in point. My wife injured her neck many years ago. A chiropractor recommended treatment and a "maintenance" plan to keep things "aligned". She declined both. The physiatrist asked for X-rays and medical history a week in advance of the appointment, then examined her for an hour, testing and explaining what was wrong, and then fixed her with one manipulation and an injection. No repeat visits required, unless "you injure yourself again". My wife went back once two years later after she slipped rock climbing.

        If you're in the Virginia Beach, VA area I recommend Dr. Lisa Barr.

        Disclaimer: Your mileage may vary.

        • But I bet your Physiatrist charged more to your insurance company. :P

          An X-ray, injection, pre-visit medical history, and a 1 hour visit. The way doctors bill around here, that's got to be at least $1000. It may have been cheaper to just get 10-15 chiropractic visits. ;)

          It's economics. Many people seeking alternative healthcare don't have insurance. They go that route because it's the cheaper solution.

          • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @08:50PM (#26403565)

            But I bet your Physiatrist charged more to your insurance company.

            Sure, she's a *real* doctor :-)
            The insurance did pay it all, minus the co-pay.

            An X-ray ... It may have been cheaper to just get 10-15 (who knows?) chiropractic visits.

            Many chiropractors do X-rays too, so that's proabably a wash. As for the number of visits, I'd rather have 1 visit and get things fixed than 10-15 for "maintenance". My time is valuable too, but I see your point.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by zippthorne (748122)

        For back-related things, too. There's no real science behind it, it's just "push hard here for noise." I'd imagine that it's about as beneficial for your back as cracking your knuckles is for your hands. As in: at best, it doesn't do any harm.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by zxnos (813588)

        i know a guy who used to suffer back pain. he was tall and drove a tiny car. he had to sit funny so his head wouldnt rub the ceiling liner. he was always going to the chiropractor.

        then he bought a larger car in which he could sit normally.

        no more chiropractor. anecdotal. posture.

    • So much for the open minded people here.

      FWIW I've had my back, ankles and knees helped by a good chiropractor. (sports injurys) There are many different schools of chiropractic care.
      Pick the right one.
      You wouldn't go to a neurosurgeon for a broken arm would you?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by VenomPhallus (904463)

        Chiropractic is just as bonkers as homeopathy and other CAMs. Yet somehow they've acquired this veneer of it being more scientific.

        It isn't. What they generally keep quiet about is that at the core of their practice is the belief that all problems can be cured by re-aligning bones. Not just problems clearly relating to those bones, but all problems - asthma, for example. They keep quiet about this because it shows that actually their system is based on nonsense.

        The British Chiropractic Association recently

        • by GizmoToy (450886) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @03:08PM (#26400365) Homepage

          This is basically spot-on. My mother worked for a variety of chiropractors in the area as a receptionist, because she had experience with them. She also suffers from pretty severe asthma. Each one wanted her to come off her meds and rely on adjustments to help with the asthma. They "prohibited" their workers from getting flu shots (which are important for asthma sufferers), insisting they be replaced by adjustments. They routinely recommend parents avoid vaccinating their children in any way.

          Eventually she got fed up and took a job at a different type of medical facility. The take-away for me was that the majority of chiropractors appear to have little knowledge of medicine, and should not be trusted for anything beyond glorified massages.

      • by Adambomb (118938) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @01:48PM (#26399663) Journal

        I wouldn't go to a chiropractor either.

        Keep in mind that the procedures and guidelines that began chiropractics is correlational not causal observation. It is done in the sense of "well, people like it and it seems to help".

        And in that context, yes chiropractics seems to help many people. The issue is that chiropractics is not Medicine. Chiropractors are not required to be medical doctors (although many medical doctors have become chiropractors as well). It also remains a fairly untested field in terms of long term effects and side effects of spinal alignments.

        All these paramedical service professionals are blurring the lines for society it seems. The line dividing chiropractors from physiotherapists from doctors seem to be disappearing in peoples minds. Chiropractics basically boils down to a "it feels good, so we do it" area where the number of negative resulting cases is low enough for few to particularly see a need to stop it. If it helps you, great.

        Do not equate it as rigorously tested science or medicine though.

        • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @03:30PM (#26400583) Journal

          Do not equate it as rigorously tested science or medicine though.

          Actually, chiropractics has been tested for a number of complaints. The medical consensus is that it "may be a useful approach in alleviating pain for a very limited set of disorders associated with the back or spine". It is known to be utterly useless for a great many others, such as arthritis, high blood pressure, or ear infections.

          Nevertheless, chiropractors routinely claim to be able to treat such conditions. For example, 75% of those approached in one survey claimed to be able to treat arthritis and/or high blood pressure. In another survey, 80% of chiropractors claimed to be able to treat ear infections in children.
          http://www.csicop.org/si/2008-01/thyer.html [csicop.org]

          This is quite disturbing, as it suggests that only 20-25% of chiropractors were aware of the limits of their therapies. The vast majority were willing to misapply chiropractics in potentially harmful ways.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by NoobixCube (1133473)

            My chiropractor doesn't claim to stave off cancer, or treat arthritis. He must be in that 20-25%, I guess. I used to suffer terrible headaches, and I was much physically weaker than I should have been. After a few treatments from him, the headaches were gone (haven't seen him for about four years, now), and I seemed to be much stronger. I didn't put on any extra muscle or anything, I just had a much easier time lifting and carrying stuff than I did before. Even my doctor, who was a little annoyed when

      • by Pinky's Brain (1158667) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @01:52PM (#26399691)

        We are open minded ... if someone could come up with non anecdotal evidence and show the use of clinical trials and other scientific methods in those schools of chiropractic care you are talking about we could simply accept it as plain medicine. Alternative medicine is quackery which sometimes gets things right by accident.

        Abandoning the scientific method is abandoning progress ... chiropractic care will never progress, it will remain in the realm of quackery.

      • No kidding, the original poster and the people that modded it as +5 insightful are just showing their ignorance. Go pop your pills.

      • by hkmwbz (531650)
        In your comment, "open minded" == "naive".

        You seem to want people to accept anything anyone claims. If they don't, they aren't "open minded". I'd say the opposite: You are the closed-minded moron for insulting people who demand a minimum of evidence for a claim.

      • by jcr (53032)

        You wouldn't go to a neurosurgeon for a broken arm would you?

        Neurosurgeons go through internships and residency, which will almost certainly include a rotation in orthopedics at some point. So, if the choice of who should treat a broken are an MD and a quack, I'll take the MD every time.

        -jcr

      • "You wouldn't go to a neurosurgeon for a broken arm would you?"

        If it was a choice between a chiropractor and a real doctor, you're damn right I'd pick the real doctor.

        So, what's next - a car analogy?

        Also "So much for the open minded people here."

        Your insistence that your anecdotal "evidence" trumps science shows your lack of an open mind. Kind of like religion. Why not join the scientologists? They'd also be happy to relieve you of your burden of excess $$$ in exchange for helping you believe in

    • by beadfulthings (975812) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @01:14PM (#26399325) Journal

      You have to choose your chiropractor carefully. For sports-type injuries, aching backs and knees, and stiff necks, their treatments can be very effective. (And I seem to remember a credible clinical study to that effect from a few years ago.) The ones to stay away from are the ones who advise you that aligning your back can prevent cancer or who want to give your children adjustments in lieu of their childhood immunizations.

    • by compro01 (777531)

      Chiropractors that are insisting they are solutions to non-musculoskeletal problems fall into my frauds column, but they're quite helpful in their appropriate field.

    • I was under constant pain for years. Doctors prescribed pills.

      Two visits to a chiropractor for a whopping $80 total I was pain free. Completely. The problem was not alleviated, it was solved.
    • You're only saying that because your spine needs to be aligned.

    • Sounds like you've been burned.

      Chiropractic is just like any profession - people practise it with with varying skill levels and varying additional knowledge.

      Some certified IT guys are total morons, and the same goes for Medical Doctors and Chiropractors.

      Find a good one or don't bother with them at all.

      • "Sounds like you've been burned."

        Nope, just been following these scammers since before they were approved for insurance coverage. For example, they said that you couldn't see the type of "subluxations" they were "trating" on an x-ray. Insurance companies said "We won't pay without an x-ray!" All of a sudden "See this x-ray - it shows a "subluxation" - even when it doesn't show anything abnormal.

        The only person I wasn't able to dissuade from seeing one of the con artists paid for it with years of neck

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 10, 2009 @10:35AM (#26398069)

    This happens all the time.

    I personally got a call about a blog post I wrote about a shady SEO company. For those of you who don't know much about search engine optimization, it is very easy to see if some website is horrible from that perspective. The said company's own website wasn't even properly indexed, the *very* basic things such as having proper titles on each page were missing, etc... Well, I posted a short, intended to be humorous entry about it in my blog.

    A few days later I got a call from them. They told me to remove the entry, told me they had been talking to their lawyers (and I instantly recognized the company's name as it is rather large, international law firm), named a few labels for crimes, including but not limited to defamation... I tried to ask if they could cite what specific thing I said in my blog about their site was not correct but they avoided answering to that.

    Well, to be honest I got a bit scared. Thankfully, I just then happened to be on the year's largest computer festival in my country and there was a stand from EFF one floor below me. I visited there, conversed a while, got somewhat less scared and added an edit to my blog that I have been contacted by said firm in this manner but didn't remove anything. Got some nice amounts of link juice from the blogosphere but the company never returned to the subject.

    As unrelated note, I soon found out how the company had even found out about my (rather small reader base, even if largely read in the local SEO scene) blog. When I googled with the company's name, my blog entry was second result even though there had been no optimizing at all for it...

    • "Dear Mr. _____. We're going to sue you defamation of character, slander, libel, criminal intent to defame, dunking sugar cookies in milk, blah blah blah, yada yada yada, and it will cost you a 100,000 dollars when you lose."

      "Go ahead. I don't give a rat's ass what you think."

    • by PhreakOfTime (588141) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @11:09AM (#26398291) Homepage

      Its amazing how often this kind of thing happens, and I think the only reasonable response to this kind of behavior is to PUBLISH it.

      I did some contract work for a company once, and during the course of the work, found out that there were quite a few court cases against them in my local county. I decided to stop any further business dealings with them.

      After not being paid for services rendered, I posted a link to our local county courthouse showing all the court cases they were currently involved in.

      About 9 months later, I got a letter in the mail from an attorney, claiming all sorts of things like you described; libel, copyright, and CRIMINAL violations. The letter however was addressed to someone else in the phonebook of my small town who had the same last name as myself. I only received it after it had been sent back to the post office numerous times for an incorrect address. It should be pointed out here, that at no point was I trying to hide my identity or make it confusing as to exactly who was posting this court information. At this point it became obvious the level of professionalism I was dealing with that wouldnt even do the most basic fact checking on their accusations. The wording of this letter seemingly bordered on blackmail. To make a long story short, I posted the threatening letter for everyone to read, and havent heard another peep since.

      The company who did this was the small real estate company, Caton Commercial [willcounty...tcourt.com]. You can also read the Cease and Desist Letter [demystify.info] they sent.

      It honestly amazes me that a business would send such a spurious letter to someone who is already publishing the questionable ethical practices of said company. And yes, now when you search their company name, Caton Commercial [google.com] in a search engine, the second result is the courthouse website listing their cases, and the third is a copy of that letter. I cant imagine that was the intended result they were after, when they first had the idea to intimidate someone for publishing already public court information.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        It's the same with the chiropractor not having a clue. How is this libel?"

        "Norberg, who has a day job designing furniture, had no complaints about his medical care - only how much he was billed for it. In his original review, he wrote, "I don't think good business means charging people whatever you feel like hoping they'll pay without a fuss."

        It's certainly no worse than what we see lawyers try to pull every day, padding their billing hours.

        God greeted the lawyer at the pearly gates.

        God: "Come on in

  • Long history (Score:5, Insightful)

    by binkless (131541) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @10:38AM (#26398085)

    Chiropractors have had many detractors over the years and have a long history of using political manipulation and legal intimidation in response. They pursue a variety of goals including suppression of criticism of their questionable practices and mandating insurance coverage for chiropractic "care." They have generally been successful. That they try to suppress online criticism is a predictable continuation of longstanding behavior

    • Re:Long history (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SirLurksAlot (1169039) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @10:49AM (#26398155)

      I'm not going to argue with you one way or the other regarding chiropractors and their methods as I don't have any experience or knowledge of them specifically. I will say however that I think you're missing the point. The issue at hand, alleged libel in a public forum, can be applied to just about any business. It just happens to be a chiropractor in this case.

      • Re:Long history (Score:5, Insightful)

        by DancesWithBlowTorch (809750) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @10:59AM (#26398213)
        In other words: If someone actually commits libel against you in an internet forum, you are screwed:

        If you sue them, you create a lot of headlines (the streisand effect), causing much more damage to your reputation. If you win the case, nobody will care (the media is not interested in some random dude being wrong in a forum). If you lose, it's even worse.

        So what else can you do, really? Must be something that doesn't cause negative publicity. You might try adding a positive review to the forum under a pseudonym. But if anyone finds out about this, you have caused even more harm to your reputation.

        The takeaway message seems to be: Don't trust anyone on the internet, for there is no penalty for lying on there.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by abigsmurf (919188)

          If you sue them, you create a lot of headlines (the streisand effect), causing much more damage to your reputation. If you win the case, nobody will care (the media is not interested in some random dude being wrong in a forum). If you lose, it's even worse.

          This is the point of damages. Slashdot seems to love hyping up the Streisand effect but the more prominent and recognised it becomes, the more courts will take it into account awarding damages for these kinds of libel cases. For small businesses where the lost profits are unlikely to stretch past the $100,000 mark, they've a much higher chance of offsetting losses incurred through a court award, especially if it becomes known their good name has been restored.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by russotto (537200)

            Slashdot seems to love hyping up the Streisand effect but the more prominent and recognised it becomes, the more courts will take it into account awarding damages for these kinds of libel cases.

            The courts are likely going to be leery of awarding damages to a defendant who inflicted those damages upon himself. It's not the defendant who causes the extra damage associated with the publicity attached to a libel case, so he's not responsible for it.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by abigsmurf (919188)
              It isn't self inflicted, it's a direct result of pursuing the case as should be expected. By that logic, you would never be able to get back legal expenses either.
        • by fredmosby (545378)

          You could try to contact the person and figure out why they are upset. People don't usually post bad rewiews for no reason at all. Resorting to threats and lawsuits as a first step doesn't make a whole lot of sense considering that most people can be reasoned with (until you threaten them).

          • No offence, but you must be new to the internet.

            I don't know anything about this particular case, and this discussion is not about this particular person. But you will easily find a lot of unreasonable people on the internet. Because the more unreasonable they are, the louder they tend to voice their anger.
          • Re:Long history (Score:4, Informative)

            by SirLurksAlot (1169039) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @02:05PM (#26399817)

            Litigation wasn't the chiropractor's first step. He contacted the poster a couple of weeks later to persuade him to change or remove the post, and tried to resolve the matter for a year before deciding to sue. I know it is unfashionable on /. to read the article but everything I just stated is there :-P

          • People don't usually post bad rewiews for no reason at all.

            I agree.

            PS: mod parent down, he's a total shitcock!

        • Re:Long history (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Eil (82413) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @03:53PM (#26400779) Homepage Journal

          So what else can you do, really? Must be something that doesn't cause negative publicity. You might try adding a positive review to the forum under a pseudonym. But if anyone finds out about this, you have caused even more harm to your reputation.

          You rebuke the accusations with evidence.

          I work for a mid-size web hosting company and due to the sheer volume of customers that we have, sometimes we get a couple of unhappy ones that end up making a public forum or blog post badmouthing the company. Our marketing team keeps an eye out for these and tries to work with the disgruntled customer to get the situation resolved and (ideally) make them a happy customer again. If you can't make them happy, then at least you've still come out ahead for trying.

          In one case, we had a network outage in the middle of the night that caused about a third of our datacenter to lose outside connectivity for a little over three hours. This prompted one guy to post a video on the web of him ranting and raving for about 15 minutes about how bad our company was. He posted links to it on all the web hosting forums and a couple of his blogs so we found out about it pretty quickly. We were able to publicly debunk literally every claim he made. He said that his server was down all day when in reality he was logged into it just two hours before the outage. He said that his server had to be rebooted daily. Our records show that it was rebooted twice since he owned it. He said that the support staff was rude to him. Our notes show that he almost always demanded to speak to a supervisor whenever he called in. It went on and on. In his own blog, we offered to fix whatever he thought was wrong and give him a year of free hosting (worth several thousand dollars) if he would take the video down. He refused. By the time we threw in the towel, 90% of the comments on his own blog were of other people calling him an idiot and we gained several new customers that day who said they were impressed by our professionalism in that post.

          The point here is that except in very rare circumstances, it's possible to rebuke false statements publicly and effectively if they are actually false. I see the threat of libel and defamation suits being used primarily to silence valid criticism and opinion than to "clear the name" of a supposedly aggrieved party. More often than not, the party filing the suit does have something to hide and just want to abuse the court system to harass and intimidate their critics into silence. And unfortunately, it works because libel, slander, and defamation laws trump the First Amendment.

      • Re:Long history (Score:5, Insightful)

        by aurispector (530273) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @11:00AM (#26398217)

        Yup. Accusing someone of illegal activity (in this case insurance fraud) is serious business. If the guy is an asshole he deserves a poor reputation but that doesn't include being called a criminal. This isn't a free speech issue at all. Regardless of your opinion of chiropractors, free speech does not mean you can call someone a criminal unless you can prove it.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by binkless (131541)

          It's unfortunate that the article didn't like to the "offending" post, so it's hard to say exactly what's alleged. That a chiropractor would respond harshly to criticism of practices around billing and insurance is hardly surprising though. Generally they're in a difficult spot - many chiropractors claim to cover a wide range of conditions but are only authorized to bill a narrow range of services. They need to retain patients, but can't unless they can bill all their services to insurance. As a result t

        • Re:Long history (Score:5, Insightful)

          by russotto (537200) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @12:28PM (#26398925) Journal

          This isn't a free speech issue at all.

          For any free speech issue on the Internet, there's someone to claim that it isn't one for some lame excuse or another.

          free speech does not mean you can call someone a criminal unless you can prove it.

          So if someone commits a wrong against me, and I can't muster up enough objective evidence to prove it, I must remain silent about it upon penalty of law? Some free speech.

          Here are the statements that are claimed to be libelous:

          a) "A friend told be to stop going, cause of Dr. Biegel billed his insurance company funny awhile before."

          One should be prevented by law from posting such a vague assertion online?

          b) "So I saw the guy for 2 visits, expected a bill for about 125 bucks... So ends up, Biegel billed me for over $500. I called to pay, and he couldn't give me a straight answer as to why the jump in price, we got into an argument..."

          Assuming Dr. Biegel did in fact bill the defendant over $500, there's no false statement of fact here. Nor anything that would be defamatory per se even if it were false. "He couldn't give me a straight answer" is a matter of perception.

          c) "He called me back to cover his ass, and had reasons as to why he could bill for the extra amount, then tells me he would still write it off because he wanted to keep his word from the previous conversation. One reason he gave me, was that he runs a business and would stick it to insurance companies (even though that drives my premiums up, and makes me wonder who else he sticks it to).

          This is an example of an unprovable statement -- an unrecorded phone conversation. Should the defendant be forbidden by law from repeating Dr. Biegel's (alleged) words because he can't prove that Dr. Biegel said them?

          d) "The next day I received a voicemail from the receptionist, she told me that she talked to my insurance company and found out that my case settled, and even though it was for an amount less than expected, they felt I owed them $125

          It's not clear why Dr. Biegel even thinks this statement is libelous.

          e) [I was a bit put off by the fact that] "he wasn't keeping his word anymore".

          A bit vague to be the basis of a libel claim.

          f) [I don't think good business means charging people whatever you feel hoping they'll pay without a fuss.] "Especially considering that I found a much better, honest, chiropractor."

          The first part isn't libelous at all, it's a matter of opinion and the practice it implies the plaintiff engages in isn't illegal. The second part implies the plaintiff _isn't_ honest, which is clearly the defendant's opinion based on the other things that happened.

          If this review is held to be libelous, then just about any write-up about a similar dispute can be held to be libelous. Proof isn't always going to be available, and to require that the complaining part have such proof before even making a complaint is definitely a "chilling effect".

          • For any free speech issue on the Internet, there's someone to claim that it isn't one for some lame excuse or another.

            Ok, I'll bite - are we talking about me or you?

            So if someone commits a wrong against me, and I can't muster up enough objective evidence to prove it, I must remain silent about it upon penalty of law? Some free speech.

            Stop trying to pretend that free speech means the right to say anything about anybody anytime and anywhere. Apply your statement to the doctor in question and see where it goes. There's two sides to the story. The whole legal concept of defamation of character exists because defamation can cause real damage, especially to a professional who's practice relies on his reputation. Except in this case the damage isn't penalty of law but loss of income because hi

            • Stop trying to pretend that free speech means the right to say anything about anybody anytime and anywhere.

              Non sequitur, that was not what the part of his message you quoted was doing.

            • Re:Long history (Score:5, Insightful)

              by xigxag (167441) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @01:46PM (#26399639)

              In this case the lion's share of the "bad publicity" arises because he is bringing this case to court. Otherwise would any of us have even heard of this chiropractor?

              In any case, the GP is not asserting that free speech is unfettered. What he seems to be saying is that suppressing freedom of speech should only be done in narrow circumstances. Bad publicity of itself is certainly not a cause to suppress free speech. If it were, then you could never read a bad book or movie review either, papers would be forbidden from publishing the names of alleged criminals, and so on.

              And as a matter of law, the burden of proof is on the other side to begin with. It's not for the defendant to dig up proof that he was telling the truth. It's for the plaintiff to prove the defendant was making false statements.

              • It's for the plaintiff to prove the defendant was making false statements.

                You would say that, you're a paedophile. It's now up to you to sue me for libel and prove that you aren't.

            • by russotto (537200)

              Stop trying to pretend that free speech means the right to say anything about anybody anytime and anywhere.

              Yep, exactly the sort of statement that comes up in any case where an attempt is being made at suppressing free speech. The upshot of this statement is that free speech is simply a talking point, not something that applies in actual practical cases.

              There's two sides to the story.

              There's two sides to the original dispute. The libel claim is an attempt to suppress one of them, and penalize that side

              • Did you think "free speech" meant one could only speak when it was free of consequences?

                Quite the opposite. The internet seems to have given rise to the idea that all speech is consequence-free. Mind you I think the doctor in question is shooting himself in the foot with this lawsuit. If the doctor was clearly being accused of engaging in illegal practices, why should such claims be protected as free speech when they could materially damage his practice provided they were not in fact true?

                How about this? Some asshole doctor rubs someone the wrong way, but does nothing illegal or wrong in any

                • by russotto (537200)

                  How about this? Some asshole doctor rubs someone the wrong way, but does nothing illegal or wrong in any way. The abused person in question then launches a sock puppet campaign such that any online reference to the doctor includs large numbers of carefully parsed negative comments that could in no way be construed as libel, slander or defamation, but do in fact cause him harm by driving away potential patients. There is intent to harm the doctor on the part of the poster. Protected? Consequence-free?

                  Both pr

      • Correct.

        The other business that is suing a blogger is a Dunkin Donuts in Maryland. The blogger said the restaurant was filthy and should probably be shut down by the State inspectors, so the owner sued the blogger.

        And on ebay I know a number of salespeople who have tried to sue their buyers for leaving negative feedback. The thing these people don't understand is that the Constitutional Law guarantees free speech and free press. A business cannot lock up your mouth or stop your typing - it's a violation

        • Re:Long history (Score:4, Informative)

          by SirLurksAlot (1169039) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @11:22AM (#26398351)

          The thing these people don't understand is that the Constitutional Law guarantees free speech and free press. A business cannot lock up your mouth or stop your typing - it's a violation of individual rights & liberty.

          There is a difference though. Your right to free speech ends when you knowingly make false statements about me in a way that damages my reputation or the reputation of my business. It is one thing to leave negative feedback, but it is another to accuse someone of breaking the law without any proof in a public forum, which is exactly what happened here.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by binkless (131541)

            Here's a link [sftc.org] to the filings in the case. When I look at the language that's the subject of the complaint, it looks like the kind of rant that goes on in many business disputes without usually going to court - read and judge for yourself. To me, it seems clear that the plaintiff is very touchy about third party payment issues as many chiropractors are and wants to intimidate his former patient into silence. Also, if you look at the history, it's clear that the defendant ignored multiple notifications a

            • Nice link, thanks. Some of the lines on the pages are a little blurred, especially in the section which lists the defendant's online statements, (so much for public records :-P), but informative nonetheless. Too bad this wasn't linked in the summary.

              To me, it seems clear that the plaintiff is very touchy about third party payment issues as many chiropractors are and wants to intimidate his former patient into silence.

              (IANAL yada yada yada....)

              I don't know about intimidation, but reading both the plainti

        • Re:Long history (Score:5, Interesting)

          by gbulmash (688770) * <semi_famous&yahoo,com> on Saturday January 10, 2009 @11:35AM (#26398453) Homepage Journal
          There's a difference between SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) and suing someone who has posted claims about you or your business that are patently false. And there's a point at which "opinion" becomes libel. The first thing that doctor's lawyer will ask:

          Lawyer: So it was your "opinion" that my client's billing practices were criminal?
          Defendant: Yes.
          Lawyer: And which particular statute do you believe he was violating?
          Defendant: Statute?
          Lawyer: Well, if you were going to state an opinion that would be so harmful to someone's reputation, you'd have based it on some sort of research that led you to conclude that his behavior was actually criminal, right? You wouldn't just "pull it out of your ass" so to speak?
          Defendant: Well...
          Lawyer: Let me rephrase that. Let's say you put some faux fur in an artwork. If one of your clients falsely claimed that artwork contained the fur of baby harp seals that you had clubbed yourself, and that caused other clients to cancel future projects, would you write that off to mere "opinion"?
          Defendant: No.
          Lawyer: Why not?
          Defendant: Because it's a lie.
          Lawyer: Why can't it just be his opinion that it's harp seal fur from baby seals whose heads you brutally bashed in?
          Defendant: Because it's not!
          Lawyer: No further questions, your honor.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            Lawyer: Let me rephrase that. Let's say you put some faux fur in an artwork. If one of your clients falsely claimed that artwork contained the fur of baby harp seals...

            OBJECTION! Asks for speculation about a situation that never happened.

            Judge: Sustained.

            (You can't just go off into nonsense tangets in a court of law. You need to stick to the facts of the case.)

      • by Vellmont (569020)


        I will say however that I think you're missing the point. The issue at hand, alleged libel in a public forum, can be applied to just about any business.

        There's lots of issues at hand here. Why do you insist we narrow the focus to just one? I'd say the culture of chiropractors is entirely relevant and part of the story. It's part of the larger context of the story, and is very interesting. Many chiropractors likely feel "repressed", as they're not generally accepted as legitimate practitioners of medicin

        • There's lots of issues at hand here. Why do you insist we narrow the focus to just one? I'd say the culture of chiropractors is entirely relevant and part of the story.

          Except it's not. The defendant didn't say anything regarding the service he received, he posted that he thought the chiropractor was overcharging him, ripping off the insurance companies off, made promises that he didn't keep, and generally conducted his business in a less than trustworthy manner. I would say that you're trying to expand th

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Fear the Clam (230933)

      Chiropractors have had many detractors over the years and have a long history of using political manipulation

      But that crack from the manipulation is so goooood.

    • by jcr (53032)

      Chiropractors have had many detractors over the years and have a long history of using political manipulation and legal intimidation in response.

      I wondered just how much influence scientology had over them. I guess they took hubbard's lessons to heart.

      -jcr

  • Review or Libel? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by abigsmurf (919188) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @10:57AM (#26398199)
    There's a big danger in simplifying the issues here. It doesn't seem here that he's suing because it's a bad review, he's suing because he's essentially accusing him of fraud.

    If he has proof to back that up, fair enough but to accuse someone of illegal practices like that when you've no proof is libel. It doesn't matter if it's done on a community site or not.

    If I was running a business and a disgruntled customer posted a lie about me ("all of his PCs are built in his basement by chained up mexicans!") I would want to have some legal recourse. These kinds of lies can destroy a business, especially those on a site people are likely to visit for information on a business.

    • by bigdavex (155746)

      If he has proof to back that up, fair enough but to accuse someone of illegal practices like that when you've no proof is libel. It doesn't matter if it's done on a community site or not.

      IANAL, but are you sure about that? Wouldn't the burden of proof generally be on the plaintiff?

      • by abigsmurf (919188)
        He already has proof; the review and the fact he has hasn't been convicted of the things he's accused of. It would be up to the defendant to show that the review is either factual or there was enough evidence for him to leap to that conclusion fairly.
      • by jcnnghm (538570)

        Wouldn't the burden of proof generally be on the plaintiff?

        Not unless the plaintiff is a public figure, in which case the plaintiff would have to prove "actual malice".

        In this case, the plaintiff doesn't even need to prove damages because this is defamation "per se", which means the allegations are presumed to cause damage because of their nature. The four categories or "per se" defamation are (i) accusing someone of a crime; (ii) alleging that someone has a foul or loathsome disease; (iii) adversely reflecting on a personâ(TM)s fitness to conduct her busines

    • by Gorobei (127755)

      If only it were that easy. We have thousands of years of common law and practice that tried to balance personal opinions and utterances against defamation campaigns. Then the internet happened: speech that would have been ignored or settled with a duel suddenly rises to the level of publication (in the eyes of the law.)

      We are in somewhat uncharted territory here, but perhaps it is good: reputation is important, and having people resolve disputes and moral issues in public is better than doing it in priv

    • If he has proof to back that up, fair enough but to accuse someone of illegal practices like that when you've no proof is libel.

      No, in the US it's legally safer to accuse someone of illegal practices if you don't do any research. For instance, Rush Limbaugh has been sued for libel several times, but since legal discovery showed that he routinely didn't do any double-checking before he accused people of crimes -- the worse he's had to do was make a retraction and he's never lost a penny for any damage he cau

    • by Renraku (518261)

      You know, this kind of thing used to be on a case by case basis. If someone wrote something in their diary, it pretty much didn't matter. If they wrote it and then published it and started selling it, then it did matter. I think cases like these need to be handled on a case by case basis as well. Does it seem reasonable that all of the above could have happened? Yes it is reasonable that it could have happened. Is legal action being taken against the chiropractor's office? No.

      There should be no burde

    • ("all of his PCs are built in his basement by chained up mexicans!")

      Actually, you'd probably loose a case claiming libel for this statement. Hyperbole is a recognized defense in the US. If the statement is so excessive that it's not reasonable to believe on it's face, then it's not considered libel.

      Note that different countries have different rules - notably truth is not an absolute defense in England.

  • by PunditGuy (1073446) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @10:57AM (#26398203)
    From TFA, it sounds like he accused the chiropractor of insurance fraud. If he can prove it, no problem. If he can't, then the chiropractor was well within his rights to sue.

    Depending on the facts, it may be a bit premature for /. to headline this as an act of suppression.
  • sure is (Score:2, Interesting)

    by delong (125205)

    Yep, this is defamation. Sucks to be him. The EFF won't get anywhere, you don't have a free speech right to defame a private party. This isn't a situation where a trademark is being used for commentary, or copyrighted material is being cited for criticism and commentary, etc. This guy criticized a private party, in writing (libel), about his professional life and insinuated he was involved in crimes of dishonesty.

    I hope the verdict is big.

  • Opinions != Libel (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rastl (955935) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @11:00AM (#26398227) Journal

    It's all in the phrasing. If the review said "Dr. X is billing insurance companies for procedures not performed." then it may be libel since it is being stated as a fact. If the review said "I don't think Dr. X is billing insurance companies correctly." then it is stated as an opinion and therefore less likely to be libel.

    Just because the internet affords the illusion of privacy and anonymity doesn't mean that you're completely shielded from consequences to your actions. If you're posting accusations about someone and stating them as facts then you better step up and provide some proof.

    A bad review isn't worth trying for the logs to see who posted it. There's no justification for trying to remove someone's opinion. But when they start making accusations of illegal activity then the line has been crossed.

  • by ZorinLynx (31751) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @11:06AM (#26398273) Homepage

    When will companies realize that threatening lawsuits and such will only bring more attention to the very text they don't want people to see?

    I wouldn't even have known about this if they hadn't threatened to sue, placing the article in the spotlight.

    Jeez. Streisand effect anyone? Why do companies never learn?

    • So what is the answer then? The chiropractor's business has been damaged by these (alleged) statements. Should he just turn the other cheek and hope that the damage doesn't continue? If he doesn't respond to the accusations it could be interpreted by potential clients that the accusations are true. Should he post a response to the review in the same forum or on his own website? Generally speaking it is not a good idea to get into a flamewar with someone who doesn't have anything to lose, especially if

      • by jcr (53032)

        The chiropractor's business has been damaged by these (alleged) statements.

        Well then, we've got a benefit to the public already.

        -jcr

  • Unless Norberg can prove his charges, this is libel, and he should be sued.
  • by SoundGuyNoise (864550) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @12:04PM (#26398721) Homepage
    I got a bit of kick out of a line in the article. While /. readers nationwide and internationally are more than familiar with the EFF, the article refers to it as a "local non-profit," since that is in fact where they are HQ'd.
  • Can i say you ARE a fraud? Not without proof, but i have a right, due to my experience with your services, to tell people i FEEL you are a fraud and you did xyz to me.

    Unless we lost our right to free speech that is.

    • by cdrguru (88047)

      You can say fraud, you can say thief, you can say "war criminal" and "ex-nazi baby killer stormtrooper". This is the Internet, friend. You can say anything you want and there is damn little anyone can do about it. And, it is eternal. Meaning it can't be removed from every place there is a copy of it and lots of search engines to help people find it whereever it is hiding.

      And you can't remove it from everywhere.

      Having no validation, no truthfullness and no way to know anything about the usually semi-anon

  • The problem is that once such a review is posted on the Internet, it is pretty much eternal. There is no way to retract it and any further commentary is dependent on the original web site where it is posted. Which may or may not be picked up further on down the line by "aggregators" and "syndicators" of the content.

    This pretty much means there is no limit to the damage that can be done. Suing doesn't really work, because even if you win, the review is still there for all to see. You might get it taken d

  • Here's an earlier article [cnet.com] about the case, by Elinor Mills at CNET.

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