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Gripe Site Creator To Recover $30K In Legal Fees


by Wendy Davis

Earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Cleland in Michigan tossed a cybersquatting and trademark infringement lawsuit against the owner of the gripe sites and

The sites themselves were devoted to complaining about Career Agents Network’s alleged business practices. “If you are considering investing in this ‘opportunity’, be aware that it is highly improbable that you will earn enough to cover your investment. If you proceed with this company you have been warned by those that know and have lost $20,000-$150,000 by trusting them and their ‘plan,'” read the copy on the sites, created by Lawrence White after he had a falling out with the company.

In dismissing the case, Cleland ruled that White had a free speech right to use the company’s name, noting that he hadn’t created them for commercial gain.

Now Cleland has gone further and ordered Career Agents Network to pay White $30,000 in attorney’s fees for having brought the case. While that’s slightly less than the $36,000 White requested, the ruling still sends a powerful message to other companies considering bogus lawsuits against gripe sites.

In his written decision, quietly issued late last month, Cleland criticized the lawsuit as “oppressive” because it “threatened to stop a consumer from criticizing plaintiff’s product on a legal basis that approached groundlessness.”

Cleland added: “The suit thus attempted to extract a price for the exercise of defendant’s First Amendment rights.”

And that’s not all. Cleland clearly hopes that his decision will sway others who complain online to stand up for themselves. “It is somewhat surprising that White declined to settle … Other consumers in similar situations might chose to allow themselves to be silenced,” Cleland wrote. “Granting attorney fees,” he added, “will therefore encourage consumers to exercise and defend their First Amendment right to criticize matters with which they disagree or are dissatisfied.”


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