Ad Agency Sues Blogger for Defamation

Boundaries are still being established in the blogging gold rush, and unfortunately, some boundaries are going to have to be established in court.

Advertising Age - Ad Agency Sues Blogger for Defamation

An ad agency that specialized in travel advertising is suing a Maine-based blogger for defamation after he began to post regularly about the work the agency was doing for its client, the state of Maine.

Warren Kremer Paino Advertising, New York, filed suit April 14 against Lance Dutson for copyright infringement, defamation and trade libel and injurious falsehood.

Mr. Dutson, a freelance Web designer who also does Internet advertising, says he became critical of the Maine Office of Tourism in October 2005 when he learned the office had bid for broad search terms that bumped into the interests of his clients. He also argued the Internet-advertising strategy was misguided because he said the office bid on general geographic terms such as the names of cities in Maine. Therefore, potential tourists must already be interested in the state to be led to the state's tourism Web site, he said.
According to Mr. Dutson's blog, the tourism office had tried to respond to his concerns. But in February, Mr. Dutson learned of WKPA's involvement and expanded his criticism to the agency, including a reference to it as “some big company in New York with no ties to the state, pissing away tax money.

copy of lawsuit here

AdAge continues:

On Feb. 28, Mr. Dutson did notice in his blog's stats that someone found his site through a Google search for “Paino Advertising.” “This can't be good for the company's reputation,” Mr. Dutson wrote at that time.

A month later, the war had escalated. According to Mr. Dutson's blog, he received a letter from WKPA's lawyers requesting that he remove the defamatory material and replace it with an apology. He was also soon threatened with a lawsuit.

Still, before the suit, Mr. McCartin said the blogger had been invited to a meeting by the tourism office specifically to answer his questions. But Mr. Dutson only stayed five minutes, Mr. McCartin said.

Then mid-April, the lawsuit was filed, and on the 27th Mr. Dutson described in his blog how the sheriff served him the suit in front of his children and neighbors. Mr. Dutson has not yet responded to the suit. He has until May 12 to do so. The amount of the damages is yet to be determined.

“At this point, after seeing this reaction, my hope is that the platform for an open and progressive debate about how Maine acts as a steward toward its most important industry would come to the surface,” Mr. Dutson said.

“The last thing you want to do is sue [bloggers],” [Steve] Rubel said. The publicity will be so negative that you probably would save face by negotiating as far as you can, he said. Publicity is bound to be bad for the agency because it is suing an individual who likely doesn't have the same defensive resources.

Steve Rubel has some advice for companies who are being blogged about:

So what is the best way to handle a blogger that you think might be negatively affecting your brand image? Mr. Rubel laid out a game plan.

The first step is to contact the blogger and discuss the issue in a nonthreatening way. See if an agreement can be reached.

Second, you might have to accept what you cannot change. It's the bloggers' rights to communicate their opinions as long as the information was obtained through legal channels.

Try to find a third party to broker a discussion between you and the blogger.

Blog back, but only if you already have a blog.

The second point is really the crux of it: times are changing, and the blogging world is not as compliant as other media. Blogging with a mean-spirited keyboard is often a pathway to more controversy, and more page hits.

As far as from the point of view of a blogger: we attempt to keep business-related whines and slams out of this space. Can't always resist poking at obvious targets, but then we also strive to keep an even tone. Also, we're low profile enough that the only people who have threatened to sue us were not corporations with big legal departments.

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on May 3, 2006 9:43 AM.

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