Criticism or Gripe Sites
There have been a number of cases both in the courts and under the UDRP and CDRP involving parody sites or sites for critical commentary. Frequently, a domain name is obtained, which consists of the brand owner’s trademark combined with the word “sucks,” but other methods are also used. The availability of .sucks domain names adds to the scope of the problem.
A related problem is referred to as cyber smearing. This term has been used to describe venomous e-mails, postings on online bulletin boards or weblogs and in social media. Frequently, large corporations are the target of such activities. For example, one company discovered that an anonymous Internet user-posted information suggests that the company failed to tell investors about a pending lawsuit and implied upcoming losses of over $300 million.
From a brand owner’s point of view, it may be difficult to determine how to react to a parody or criticism site or cyber smearing. Some humorous parodies may pose little threat to a brand. Legitimate consumer criticism may be protected speech under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. On the other hand, a site disseminating information through the phenomena of viral marketing may do significant damage.
The popularity of social media and mobile devices has had an impact on criticism and complaints. It is more likely that disgruntled consumers will use social media to vent their concerns, typically by postings on the FACEBOOK or TWITTER sites. Brand owners should be in a position to respond to such postings directly in a timely fashion.
In order to determine whether steps should be taken, the following matters will be particularly important: who or what is the target of the parody? What is the intent of the parody? What is the breadth and source of the parody? It is important that the individuals responsible for public relations are aware of the determination so that they are ready to respond to any media coverage.
Once it is decided that it is necessary to take steps, there are a number of possible courses of action. More to come on this topic next month.
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These comments are of a general nature and not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with a lawyer.