Tomorrow we officially launch our Legal Threats Database, a catalog of the growing number of lawsuits, cease-and-desist letters, and other legal challenges faced by those engaging in online speech. As many of our readers are no doubt aware, the individual threat entries have been available for some time, but starting tomorrow users will be able to view the entire database and search the entries using a number of fields, including location, legal claim, publication medium, and content type.
The database already contains a fascinating array of lawsuits, as well as more informal threats like cease-and-desist letters and emails. Its several-hundred entries are growing daily. One of the most exciting aspects of the database is the ability it gives our users to input new threat entries, whether based on their own experiences or their knowledge of legal threats faced by friends or colleagues. One of our users, blogger Tabatha Marshall of Washington State, created a new threat entry this weekend. We followed up with her, obtained additional information, and edited the entry for publication. In this post, I'll excerpt for you the "Description" portion of the resulting database entry, Internet Solutions v. Marshall:
On November 1, 2007, Internet Solutions, a company that runs a number of employment recruiting and Internet advertising businesses, including VeriResume, sued blogger Tabatha Marshall in federal court in Florida.
Marshall runs a blog and website at http://www.tabathamarshall.com, on which she writes about suspicious online job solicitations and so-called "phishing" practices. Part of her site consists of the "PhishBucket," a "directory of companies/individuals suspected of targeting job seekers with deceptive offers." Included in the PhishBucket is an entry for "VeriResume (Internet Solutions)," which bears the statement "Pending Investigation Phisher" at the top-right of the page. The entry also contains physical and web addresses for the company, links to posts about it (internal and external), and names of affiliated companies. The PhishBucket also includes entries for other companies operated by Internet Solutions, including Ask America, Scout 2007, Too Spoiled, and USA Voice.
Marshall's site also contains articles relating her research and views about certain companies and their online job solicitations. Among these is a post entitled "Something's VeriRotten with VeriResume." In this post, Marshall excerpts a sample email from VeriResume soliciting job applications, criticizes the company's position on resume fraud, and links to other sites (like the Better Business Bureau) with information about VeriResume and Internet Solutions. She invites readers to "[c]heck out the research and YOU decide if you want to give them your info."
Several users submitted comments to the post that were critical of VeriResume. One user, who claimed to be a company employee, alleged that the company engages in a "bait-and-switch" routine after applicants submit their information, according to documents attached to the complaint. In an update to the post, Marshall summarized this and other comments as follows:
Starting on October 30, 2007, a representative of VeriResume (or Internet Solutions -- the record is not clear on this point) contacted Marshall via email, claiming that information about VeriResume and other companies posted on Marshall's website was incorrect and asking her to remove it. According to Marshall, the company representative also contacted her landlord, claiming that Marshall was operating a business in her house, a claim that Marshall disputes. On October 31, 2007, one day before filing suit, counsel representing VeriResume and ten other Internet Solutions-affiliated companies sent a cease-and-desist letter to Marshall via email. (For more information on the emails and letter, please see the CMLP database entry, VeriResume v. Marshall (Email)). [Note: For research and searchability purposes, we create separate database entries for lawsuit threats and letter or email threats, even when these threats are part of the same controversy.]
Internet Solutions's complaint includes claims for defamation, false light invasion of privacy, and injurious falsehood (trade libel). It alleges that Marshall has "author[ed], post[ed], and publish[ed]" statements claiming that Internet Solutions engages in "phishing," "scams," and other criminal and fraudulent conduct. It requests compensatory and punitive damages, and an injunction requiring Marshall to remove the allegedly defamatory posts and prohibiting her from making future defamatory statements about the company.
Marshall was served with the complaint on November 3, and she has 20 days to respond. Marshall maintains that she merely posts her opinions, publicly available information, and third-party comments and asks her readers to draw their own conclusions. She is seeking legal assistance in this matter.
It strikes me that Marshall has a possible defense regarding the "phishing" categorization because she pretty assiduously avoids drawing (or appearing to draw) any definite conclusions about the companies that she investigates. Her PhishBucket is for companies and individuals "suspected" of deceptive practices, and the individual entries say "Pending Investigation Phisher," not "Phisher."
Likewise, the original VeriResume post contains few assertions of fact about the company and explicitly invites readers to draw their own conclusions. But the statements posted by users and later summarized by Marshall are another story, and they present one of the trickier aspects of the case. If Marshall had not restated the content found in the user comments, then CDA 230 clearly would have insulated her from liability for these statements. But Marshall's summary of the comments may fall outside the statute's protective reach. One hopes for her sake that the user-generated content was true.