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Avoiding Lawsuits – Easy as 1, 2, 3

‘Cause We’re So Cool
Among the huge number of attendees and speakers at BlogWorld in Las Vegas were some of the brightest online minds on the planet. Not surprisingly, these folks’ main focus was harnessing the Internet to do their bidding. While the established ventures had their cadre of lawyers, thwarting legal dangers at every corner, most smaller companies had no idea if what they were doing was simply an online version of digging their own legal grave. Emboldened by the impunity with which sites like YouTube seem to operate, many figured that even if they were breaking the law, some magical YouTube fairy was going to sprinkle magic invincibility dust over their business. You know, because their approach was so cool.

How Much Fairy Dust Do You Have?
Most of the smaller companies seemed to be betting their entire future on the existence of this magic fairy dust. The fairy dust approach, however, may not be as strange as it might appear on first blush. Confronted with the crippling legal fees necessary to bring their websites into legal compliance, smaller companies often opt to funnel money toward growth, rather than prophylactics (think back to your youth). Eventually all large online companies get their legal ducks in row. It is just a question of whether you have enough fairy dust to last you until you can afford competent legal counsel.

Winging It
While obtaining legal counsel from the outset is clearly the best option, if you are initially set on “winging it,” there are some steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of a lawsuit destroying your online presence. Actually, even after you have an Internet attorney looking out for you, these steps still may help to lower your legal bills, keep you out of court and allow you to focus on doing what your company does best.

1) Play Nice
Although controversy breeds online interest, defaming a competitor, unfairly comparing your products to that of a competitor or using third party trademarks or copywrited material is a recipe for disaster. When in doubt, take the high road. In my experience, nothing gets companies involved in online lawsuits more often than provoking a litigious competitor. If they sued someone else, it is very likely they will sue you.

2) Don’t Ignore Red Flags
New clients often come to me after receiving a second cease and desist letter, or even after they have been sued. At this point options are limited. Although reducing legal costs might be a priority, contact a cyber-friendly attorney at the first sign of trouble. Even if your own employee mentions that what you are doing might be a problem, a half hour discussion with your attorney could save you tens of thousands of dollars in litigation fees down the road. If you receive a cease and desist letter from an attorney, it is unlikely that ignoring the letter is going to be a money maker.

3) Think Before You Act
Avoid the tendency to act on emotions, rather than business acumen. Your Internet attorney can often work wonders, but a knee-jerk missive rarely works to your advantage. As Mark Cuban said at BlogWorld “Go ahead. Write it. It feels good to write it. Just don’t show it to anyone.” This is great advice. A single hastily written angry letter can mean the difference of tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in the online litigation game. Once the other side gets your angry letter, you lose the ability to tear it up and pretend you never wrote it. Personally, I envision typing my letters on an eight foot by ten foot screen. I know that if I screw it up, that is how I will be looking at it while I spend days on the witness stand explaining it to a jury what I REALLY meant. I have not found anything that encourages more tempered rewrites.

There are still no guarantees that the foregoing will keep you out of court. These tips, however, just might keep your company out of harm’s way long enough for you to afford an attorney of your very own.

Brett Trout

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