Internet Law

Are lawsuits using fake defendants to get material removed from websites?

  • Print

About 25 lawsuit filed across the country have some suspicious similarities.

All use “similar snippets of legalese,” though the plaintiffs claim to be representing themselves, the Volokh Conspiracy reports. And all of the defendants quickly agreed to injunctions that are likely to spur websites such as Yelp and to take down allegedly defamatory material or prompt Google to deindex webpages so they can’t be located on the search engine.

Yet in 15 of the lawsuits that listed addresses for the defendants, a private investigator was unable to find “a single one of the ostensible defendants at the ostensible address,” according to the authors of the blog post, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh and Public Citizen attorney Paul Alan Levy.

The blog post offers some examples. In one case, Georgia resident Matthew Chan posted a negative review of a dentist on Yelp and a few other websites. Several months later, Chan received an email from Yelp informing him the website will remove his comment because of a court order against him.

Chan says he’s never been sued, and the court order is against a Mathew Chan (with just one “t” in Mathew) in Baltimore rather than Georgia. And the dentist who benefited from the court order says he never authorized a lawsuit, though he did hire a “reputation management company.”

In four similar cases in which the plaintiffs are represented by lawyers, the lawyers report dealing with a reputation management company that touts its “lawsuit removal service.” The service, with a starting price of $6,000, carries a guarantee of taking down unwanted webpages from search results, as long as specific criteria are met.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.