California intellectual property: When opinions go overboard

People who share Internet opinions write some intelligent, funny, ignorant and downright inflammatory things. Internet trolls – not to be confused with unrelated patent trolls – provoke online arguments, sometimes just to enjoy the ensuing chaos.

It’s perfectly legal to post online opinions, whether or not Los Angeles readers like them. When you try to pass off a false claim as fact, you wander into intellectual property territory. You may hurt the reputation and profits of an Internet company by posting a complaint about an inferior product you bought, but as long as the facts are true, you’re not guilty of defamation.

Let’s say you purchased 10 bad pairs of shoes from the same website. You become so angry that opinion morphs into a barrage of false statements about the website. Now, you’re courting legal trouble.

A former student of one of DeVry University’s schools, the Ross University School of Medicine, is being sued. The defendant attended Ross for two years, before dropping out over a grievance filed by another student. At the time, he agreed to withdraw if the complaint was withdrawn.

The experience apparently stuck with the ex-student. He started an email campaign against Ross and its parent company. According to the lawsuit, the unhappy dropout included nationwide hospital administrators among the recipients of messages accusing Ross of fraud and corruption.

Libelous accusations reportedly appeared on websites with domain names that were strikingly similar to Ross University’s. Statements and links on the sites called for a congressional investigation into the school’s practices and urged DeVry investors to liquidate stock.

DeVry filed suit against the e x-student for breaching a contract, violation and dilution of its trademark and cybersquatting. Defamation was not among the allegations.

Many online users and businesses don’t know where opinion ends and Internet defamation begins. An intellectual property attorney can clarify the issue, so you avoid serious legal consequences.

Source: courthousenews.com, “Caribbean Med School Sues Former Student” Cheryl Armstrong, Oct. 18, 2013

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