by Paul Alan Levy
Postings on this blog have often pointed out the adverse consequences that follow when a company or politician tries to use litigation, or the threat of litigation, to suppress critical online speech -- particularly consumer criticism of goods and services. Welcome support for this perspective comes from a recent article entitled Gripe Sites: Sue or Stew in Internet Law and Strategy by corporate-side practictioner, William Pecau of Steptoe & Johnson. (Internet Law and Strategy is a subscription only publication, but has graciously consented to the posting of this article for free public access). Pecau observes that although Internet griping can do real harm to a business, and although "[t]he immediate reaction of most businesses that have been the target of a gripe site naturally is to seek legal means to have the site taken down, [in fact] shutting down a gripe site generally is not easy, often cannot be done, and often is counterproductive." Pecau walks his readers through the advantages as well as the disadvantages of bringing suit and sending a threatening letter.
I must say that in the majority of the Internet free speech cases we have done here at Public Citizen during the past ten years, the plaintiffs would have been better served had they read this two-page piece before they paid a lawyer to sue or threaten on their behalf. Few of these have achieved any relief, and almost every one of them has suffered more publicity about their alleged misdeeds. We would have made a lot less good, protective law for consumers, of course, but our clients would have had fewer sleepless nights.