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A Legal FAQ for Online Retailers and Marketers

by Daniel R. Warner  |  
January 22, 2016

Online retailing is a booming business—as are concomitant scams.

As a law firm that works with online marketing affiliates and product producers, we often field questions about the legalities of e-tailing and online marketing. So let's review a few frequently asked questions (FAQs).

Is it against the law to buy and sell fake reviews?

Fake reviews contravene guidelines laid out in the Federal Trade Commission's .Com Disclosures (AKA, the Online Marketing Holy Book). In past cases, judges have characterized fake reviews as "false and misleading," and the FTC has successfully sued buyers of fake reviews for violations of the Federal Trade Commission Act. The likelihood of people being thrown in jail over fake reviews, however, is very unlikely.

I suspect that competitors are leaving bad reviews on my products and pages. Can I sue them?

More and more, people are using negative fake reviews as an arrow in their marketing quivers. Is it legal? That depends...

100% fake and false: If a business buys fake reviews, specifically requests negativity, and then posts them on a competitor's webpage, there's a significant chance those reviews would be deemed defamatory by a judge. Using fake reviews in this manner would also be an act of "false and misleading" advertising. Accordingly, perpetrators risk two types of lawsuits if caught: one from the defamed business, and the other from the FTC.

50% fake and false: A person thinks, "I Know! I'll buy the product/hire the service. Then, no matter what, I'll write a bad review. Since I bought the product or service, it's not illegal!" Now we're trudging into some murky legal territory, so pull up those wellies.

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Daniel R. Warner is a partner at Kelly / Warner Law, where he leads the litigation division, concentrating on business, defamation, and bankruptcy law. He also writes for the firm's blog.

Twitter: @DanielWarnerLaw

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