Federal Judge Allows Attorney’s Copyright Claim Against Ripoff Report to Survive

On March 24, 2014, U.S. District Judge Denise Casper allowed a recent copyright claim against Xcentric, that was filed by Boston attorney Richard Goren, to survive. The claim alleged that Xcentric operates in an “unfair and deceptive manner” by offering to delete or redact negative postings for a fee. Xcentric operates Ripoff Report, which allows users to post free, un-moderated and uncorroborated complaints on a specific company or individual.

Goren’s case had an unusual journey to the federal court. First, he had to prevail against the Communications Decency Act, which gives website operators immunity from defamation claims for third-party posts. Goren persuaded a trial court in Massachusetts to assign him the copyright to the negative postings against him on Ripoff Report. As a result, Judge Casper found that there was a live dispute on who owns the posts’ copyrights as Xcentric asserts that they hold a U.S. copyright registration, which precedes the state court order giving rights to Goren.

In addition, Judge Casper also found a dispute arising from “whether the Ripoff Report site’s terms and conditions and language next to a check box that users must check before posting was enough to alert a user of Xcentric’s rights to user postings.” Does this case pave a new way for attorneys to own negative reviews posted by former clients? If so, what kind of ethical implications could this case create under Florida’s advertising rules?

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