This Guy May Get Sued Over an Amazon Review

And he could lose his case, if legal history shows us anything.

National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
May 7, 2014, 10:32 a.m.

UP­DATE: The com­pany that threatened to sue the neg­at­ive re­view­er just lost its Amazon ac­count.

The next time you write an on­line re­view, be care­ful. You might get sued.

That’s what could hap­pen to a Flor­ida man who left a neg­at­ive re­view about an In­ter­net router he pur­chased. Ac­cord­ing to his Tues­day post on Red­dit, where he’s ask­ing for leg­al ad­vice, he re­ceived a let­ter from a law firm in Phil­adelphia threat­en­ing to sue him for an “il­leg­al cam­paign to dam­age, dis­cred­it, de­fame, and li­bel” the com­pany that makes the router.

“Your state­ments are false, de­fam­at­ory, li­belous, and slan­der­ous, con­sti­tute trade li­bel and place Me­di­abridge and its products in a false light,” the verb­ose let­ter from the law firm reads in part.

In his re­view, which has since been ed­ited, the man made sev­er­al al­leg­a­tions, in­clud­ing that many of the pos­it­ive re­views about the product on Amazon might be fake and that the router it­self was “identic­al” to a router from a dif­fer­ent com­pany.

If the man doesn’t take down his re­view with­in three days, cease all In­ter­net con­ver­sa­tion about the product, and agrees to nev­er buy the com­pany’s products again, the law firm will sue him, ac­cord­ing to the let­ter. But by go­ing to Red­dit and not keep­ing quiet, the man might have already sealed his fate.

Com­pan­ies, it turns out, have every right to sue people who write re­views on web­sites that they may feel are li­belous or de­fam­at­ory.

While there is a level of leg­al pro­tec­tion that third-party web­sites (in this case, Amazon) have from be­ing sued, which come from Sec­tion 230 of the Com­mu­nic­a­tions De­cency Act — the same sec­tion that pro­tects web­sites that show re­venge porn — the au­thors of those re­views are not pro­tec­ted. 

Neither the let­ter nor the user can be con­firmed. Still, this isn’t the first time that someone has taken leg­al heat for on­line re­views.

In 2012, a Vir­gin­ia court sided with a con­tract­or who re­ceived a neg­at­ive re­view from a wo­man on Yelp, claim­ing de­fam­a­tion. The wo­man who wrote the re­view said the ser­vice was poor and ac­cused the con­tract­or of steal­ing her jew­elry. She was sued for $750,000.

In 2011, a book au­thor sued a man, though un­suc­cess­fully, who wrote neg­at­ive re­views about his book on Amazon. And in 2006, a wo­man in Flor­ida won $11.3 mil­lion in a law­suit res­ult­ing from de­fam­at­ory re­marks on an In­ter­net mes­sage board.

So while Amazon states in its terms of use that sellers “may not ask buy­ers to re­move neg­at­ive re­views,” these com­pan­ies do have leg­al pro­tec­tions to go after com­ments they may deem li­belous.

While the In­ter­net al­lows users a cer­tain amount of an­onym­ity be­hind re­views on Amazon or Yelp — where a neg­at­ive or pos­it­ive re­view can de­term­ine a com­pany’s suc­cess — there is still a danger that com­pan­ies will take leg­al ac­tion against these re­views. For this Flor­ida man, his gripes with this com­pany will only grow.