Vision wages legal battle over negative posting on Ripoff Report

The Utah summer-sales company files lawsuit saying it has been defamed, but the site says it’s not responsible for what users post on it
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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

OREM, Utah—Vision Security, a summer-sales home security/home automation company here, is suing Ripoff Report, charging that the website is refusing to remove false and defamatory statements about Vision even after the author of the posting has since stated they aren’t true. Also, Vision contends, Ripoff Report won’t refute the comments unless Vision pays the site a fee.

The lawsuit was filed earlier this month in federal court in Utah against XCentric Ventures, the Arizona-based content provider that runs Ripoff Report. That site bills itself as being “by consumers, for consumers,” and its slogan is: “Don't let them get away with it. Let the truth be known!”

Vision says the negative statements—which it says were posted by a sales rep working for a competitor—have tarnished its reputation with customers and other sales representatives. It wants the posting removed and is seeking damages in excess of $280,000.

However, an attorney for XCentric Ventures, Maria Speth, told Security Systems News that the lawsuit should be dismissed because, under federal law, websites are not legally responsible for the content of statements third parties post on their sites.

Speth admits that Ripoff Report has a policy of never removing posts from the site because it considers them a “permanent record.” However, she said, Vision has other options if it believes the posts are incorrect, including posting a free rebuttal on the site and suing the person who posted them.

Authors of postings also can update them on the site, Speth said. In fact, the author of the negative posting about Vision has done that, declaring his original posting to be “untrue and unfair.”

Vision CEO Rob Harris and the company’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment by SSN’s deadline.

But in the lawsuit, filed Oct. 10 in U.S. District Court in Utah, Vision contends that Ripoff Report’s statement on the site that it is “by consumers, for consumers,” is “deceptive and misleading.” That’s because Vision says the  “false and misleading” posting about the company, put on the site several years ago, was not made not by a Vision customer. Instead, a sales representative from an unnamed competitor of Vision made the post in order to mislead consumers and other salespeople about Vision and benefit the competitor, according to the lawsuit.

Speth denied that Ripoff Report’s tagline about being by and for consumers is deceptive. She noted that “really, every human being is a consumer” and said the tagline doesn’t guarantee that a post is made by a customer of any particular company.

In the Ripoff Report posting, the sales rep, Andrew Rees, called Vision CEO Harris “a liar and a thief” and said the company lied to employees and provided inferior services, according to the lawsuit.

However, Rees has since recanted and said his statements were either untrue or based on speculation, the lawsuit says.

In fact, the Ripoff Report website shows that Rees in March 2010 actually posted an update to his original complaint and apologized to Harris and Vision for making what he called “untrue and unfair accusations.” He said in that update, “I believe Vision makes every effort to treat their employees fair and conduct their business in an honest manner.”

It’s unclear in the posting what relationship Rees had with Vision. Although Vision says he worked for a competitor, in his apology update, Rees implies that he was an employee of Vision, saying, “Vision Security and I are going separate ways.” Attempts by SSN to reach Rees for comment were not successful.

Vision complains in the lawsuit that even though Rees has said his original statements were inaccurate, Ripoff Report won’t remove his original post.

Speth said the website clearly informs anyone posting that posts are never removed. “Ripoff Report’s philosophy is that it’s a permanent record,” she said. “It can be updated but it’s not going to be taken down.”

She acknowledged that “a lot of people say, ‘Well, that isn’t right. If it’s proven to be false, it should be taken down.’”

However, Speth continued, “Ripoff Report’s philosophy is that we never really know if something is false. If the author comes back and says it’s false, there are two possibilities. One is that it really was false to begin with, but the other is that the author has been somehow convinced or bullied into saying it’s false because they’re afraid to be sued. So Ripoff Report says, ‘You know what? We’re not going to take it down. That’s not our place to decide what’s false and what’s not false.’”

She said that to help companies address concerns about negative reports, Ripoff Report has a corporate advocacy program, which helps companies resolve complaints with consumers. Also, she said, it has an arbitration program in which a company has an opportunity to prove to an independent arbitrator that a report about it is false, Speth said. Those programs cost money, she said. For example, she said, the cost of the arbitration program is $2,000.

“They can do it themselves for free [post a rebuttal on the site], but if they want our help, they’ve got to pay for it,” Speth said. “There’s the difference.”

In the lawsuit, Vision contends, “Requiring a fee from Vision in order to refute the claim made by Rees, rather than simply removing the false, misleading and defamatory post, is extortion.”

As of late October, there were a total of 18 posts about Vision on Ripoff Report. Most reports were negative but some were positive.

Vision is suing XCentric Ventures under a federal law called the Lanham Act, which can be used when false or misleading statements allegedly have hurt a business. However, Speth contends, “There are a lot of cases that say you can’t bring a Lanham Act claim against somebody who’s not your competitor,” and Ripoff Report is not a competitor of Vision.

Also, she said, the federal law that protects websites from being legally liable for what third parties post on their sites, called the Communications Decency Act (CDA), may also protect them from lawsuits based on the Lanham Act. “There are some cases that say that Lanham claims that are specifically based upon the publications of third parties are also barred by the CDA,” Speth said.

Earlier this month, The ADT Corp. announced that it had settled its lawsuit over deceptive sales practices against Vision and Florida-based Security Networks, of which Vision is an affiliate, requiring those companies to pay $2.2 million in damages. 

And in August, the Ohio attorney general filed a lawsuit against Vision for alleged unfair and deceptive sales practices.

Vision in April announced that the company had a new $35 million credit facility.