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Censorship Your Rights Online

Google sued as PetsWarehouse Lawsuit Continues. 988

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the strange-gets-stranger dept.
Ikari Gendou writes "In April, Slashdot reported that Robert Novak, owner of Internet pet store Pets Warehouse filed a $15,000,000US lawsuit against several individuals who made comments about his company's poor service on an Internet mailing list. Also named in it and in the suit that followed were the owner of the mailing list, the owners of several informational sites about the lawsuit, the owners of other forums where the lawsuit was discussed, the attorney for the defense, and several sites that merely ran banner ads promoting the defense fund set up for the lawsuit. Some defendents settled out of fear, and were forced to pay cash, transfer their personal domain names to Novak, or even run banner ads for Petswarehouse on their websites. Now, the attorney for the defense has announced that in round three of the lawsuit, Google has been sued, as well as several other sites that have carried news about the lawsuit, such as search engine Judge-For-Yourself.com and pet stores DoctorDog.com and FerretStore.com. Robert Novak is representing himself in this lawsuit, and thus it is effectively costing him nothing to persue this campaign of harassment. He's already gotten several thousand dollars from settlements and cost the defendents considerably more than that in legal fees. More details should be posted soon here, including court documents that tell why Google was added to the suit."
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Google sued as PetsWarehouse Lawsuit Continues.

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  • by qurob (543434) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @10:45AM (#4380780) Homepage

    I'm all googled-out right now.

    There was a guy who posting anti-VW comments on a automotive enthusiast message board...and the judge threw it out because it was merely opinion and not fact.

    Link?
  • by phorm (591458) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @10:46AM (#4380793) Journal
    If not, maybe next week they will be

    Nothing is more idiotic than a legal system that allows one person to abridge the security and personal freedom of another, but exercising their own right to continually sue or press frivolous charges against individuals/organizations that cross their path.

    We NEED a law to deal with idiotic lawsuits. That is to say, one that carries penalties for those use lawsuits as a continual source of revenue. I think I read earlier that there are some laws regarding individuals that are sue happy, why not make it federal (and get the Canadian government to apply one as well, although Canada seems less lawsuit-crazy than the US).

    Lawyers: Who do you want to sue today? - phorm
  • Re:Minor point (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ethereal (13958) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @10:51AM (#4380851) Journal

    I'm surprised that so many people are settling if he's representing himself. Usually that's a pretty good sign that, with just a little legal help yourself, you could take him on and, if the case is as open-and-shut as /. says, successfully defend yourself. It's one thing when the plaintiff has high-powered legal help; it's a lot less intimidating if the plaintiff is some guy with a grudge in his basement.

    Eventually somebody will put up a real legal fight against this guy, he'll make some dumb legal mistake, and he'll lose big. It's too bad that the little guys had to get thwacked before that could happen. They really should have banded together in defense - they could have hired a real lawyer and put him in his place pretty swiftly if they'd worked together. It sounds like he picked them off of the herd one-by-one, gradually building up steam, and now thinks that he's ready to take on the big boys.

  • by eyefish (324893) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @10:54AM (#4380878)
    On the surface, this seems to me like a stupid lawsuit that cannot hold in court, since it is clearly trying to violate the consitutional right of free speech (i.e.: "you cannot say I suck, I'll sue you").

    However, *maybe* (and I repeat, just maybe), if beyond any reasonable doubt the guy can prove that the people who made the first comments made them with the premeditated malicious intention of bringing down his business, then that's another matter. However that still does not give him the right to sue everyone else (if that holds in court, Microsoft could be suing the slashdot parent company on the basis that they're hosting anti-microsoft discussions by some users).

    In the end, my guess is that the case can not hold in the supreme court, if it ever gets there. if he wins a few cases it's probably because he's got tons of money to spend on lawyers or just some very good lawyers, or everyone else's lawyers suck.
  • Re:Minor point (Score:2, Interesting)

    by uberdave (526529) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @10:58AM (#4380923) Homepage
    You're assuming that he has little training in the law. For all we know he may have been a lawyer in a previous life.
  • Mistakes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by j_kenpo (571930) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @11:00AM (#4380942)
    Well the first mistakes were the people who settled. If the guy is representing himself, one good lawyer could easily outwit him in court (or maybe Im giving lawyers too much credit..). The guy is a public business, he is not immune from slander. What hes doing is the exact thing that pisses me off the most about things like the RIAA and BestBuys/Fry store policies, ect. Its companies telling us what we can and cannot do, no longer is the customer always right. Instead, we the consumers, are seen as stupid people who have to be put in our place by some snot nosed store clerk or some half assed executive hiding behind "company policy". BS... its on paper, paper does not bind us physically. This is exactly what this guy is trying to pull. he is trying to take away a consumers right to free speech. They shouldnt settle, they should just tell him to kiss their ass, and until the day that he can physically force them to not advertise the fact that a vendor did not come through with a promised transaction, he can take his lawsuit papers and shove them up his a$$. Second, they should have filed a complaint the Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureua, thus having a registered and documented complaint against the company, then his lawsuit would have no grounds. Of course... maybe I should keep quite, he might try and sue me... oh no....
  • or we could just.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gimpboy (34912) <john...m...harrold@@@gmail...com> on Thursday October 03, 2002 @11:01AM (#4380943) Homepage
    create a mirror on slashdot:

    I would like to voice my opinion about a company that I have had
    experience with, PetSwarehouse. Based on true experience, I feel that
    they suck. According to their Better Business Bureau rating of
    unsatisfactory (the bureau's lowest), I see that I am not alone in
    this opinion--a conclusion arrived to by factual data.
    Furthermore, I understand that free speech is right of all Americans,
    protected by the constitution.

    "Libel is injury to reputation.
    There is only one and unconditional defense to a civil action for
    libel: that the facts stated are PROVABLY TRUE." --AP Stylebook and
    Libel Manual.

    Reputations are earned from true experiences, not fabricated online,
    Mr. Novak. Everyone has the right to share and express their true
    experiences and the feelings and opinions drawn from these factual
    events.

    contribute to the defense fund: http://www.petsforum.com/psw/Fund.htm

  • by clonebarkins (470547) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @11:02AM (#4380951)

    So the question is, can Pet Warehouse sue Pets Warehouse for tradename infringement and for being a total ass?

  • by FyRE666 (263011) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @11:09AM (#4381008) Homepage
    Well his site's slowing down a bit now. All it should take would be most of us to keep hitting reload and his bandwidth charges should help suck up some of his "victory" money ;-)

    Let's hope that no spammers pick up on his email address or mailing details:

    Robert Novak - bob@petswarehouse.com
    Pets Warehouse
    1550 Sunrise Hwy
    Copiague, ny 11726
    US
    Phone - 631-789-5400
    Fax - 631.789.9340


    Honestly though, how can a piece of sh*t like this guy keep taking up court time with these suits? Espscially with news sites that are merely reporting the proceedings of cases? It's ridiculous - I'm sure the RIAA are already sending him job application forms so he help them in their quest to crack down on freedom and the causes of freedom!
  • by lunaticmaster (518254) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @11:23AM (#4381125)
    There is another company Petwarehouse, who is now joined with Drs Foster and Smith. I've ordered from them, nice service, but I cannot comment on the other one. I remember reading about Petswarehouse a year ago when I was 'tricked' into going to his website countless times. around that time I saw the comments against petswarehouse and then shortly afterwards heard about the suits. If people cannot comment on a companies service without fear of being sued, Then how are people going to know when a service or product, whether hardware, software, pet, or other, is actually bad? Lmao, Microsoft could sue millions of people based on that thinking. Who knows? maybe they are planning on using your microphone to record every time you 'colorfully' complain about your windows and use it against you in a court of law.
  • by eXtro (258933) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @11:24AM (#4381143) Homepage
    Yes, there's free speech, but there's also a right to sue people. It's the courts mandate to determine if the lawsuit is proper. If not it can be thrown out. If it isn't thrown out than its the judges mandate to determine if Novak's claims are just.


    Novak, in my opinion, is abusing due process but unfortunately I don't see how to prevent this without gutting the legal system.


    Suppose a group goes out of their way to spread lies about a retailer or an individual. In this case they may be exercising free speech, but they're also engaging in slander. The corporation or individual needs the ability to go to court over this to sue for damages. There's no easy way to screen beforehand whether a persons claim of slander is true or not.


    Now if I were a judge I'd proceed as follows. First, some of the defendants didn't actually make any claims against Novak or his company. They reported or linked to claims made by third parties. I would then either dismiss the lawsuit against those parties or if you can't selectively dismiss parties I would throw the case out of the court and tell Novak to refile with legitimate claims. If the case came to an actual trial I'd examine the claims made by the defendants. Were they based in fact or were they distorted or false? I'd weigh this as a percentage of their culpability. If they were purely factual then they're 0% culpable. Maybe if they were mostly factual but also engaged in mud slinging I'd assign 5% culpability. Next, I'd look at Novak's claims. Were there any actual monetary damages? If so, I'd start with a base settlement based on this amount and the culpability. If the defendants were truthful and there were an actual 15 million in damages Novak would still get nothing.


    Unfortunately, I'm not a lawyer or judge and don't know if any of this is close to a procedure which is even legal.

  • by Deagol (323173) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @11:39AM (#4381260) Homepage
    I remember about 10 years ago, I was watching some daily rag show (Entertainment Tonight, or maybe Hard Copy). Anyway, there was some story about some bimbo-former-housewife-turned-amature-litigator. She made her living my suing freakin' everybody around her and getting them to settle. She sued a family because the kids (a few doors down) were playing basketball in the driveway too loud, and it distressed her. I remember the poor father (paraphrased), "I hate the idea of settling, but we just can't afford a lawyer..."

    If some wench with a few hours' paralegal experience can cause problems, why can't the average Joe use the same technique in defense?

    In spite of the saying "a man representing himself has a fool for a client", I assume a person with nothing to loose should be able to defend himself.

    Take me, for example. I make a modest salary, have a home, wife/kids, car etc. I'd be hard pressed to come up with more than a grand or two to retain a lawyer if I were ever sued. For a civil suit like this, what could I really loose? I can't fathom a judge forcing a family out on the street, or taking their only means of transport. Can a judgement that would make a family destitute really be made against them? (Cite/link example, if there are, please.)

    Obviously, IANAL. I'm just curious. Is the only option for us middle class folk to either settle for what we can afford or start a defense fund? I can't accept that -- it says that society sucks far more than I currently believe.

    Would some lawyer (or someone who's gone the pro se route) speak up. An online resource (one really geard towards pro se defense) would be awesome.

  • by Soko (17987) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @11:47AM (#4381354) Homepage
    In the same vein, I'm tempted to do something like this...

    Dear PetsWarehouseSupplier Inc.:

    Hello. I would like to tell you that one of your dealers, namely PetsWarehouse.com, is costing you business.

    Mr. Novak, the proprieter of said business, is in my humble opinion more about litigation against paying customers than about providing a proper venue for distributing your fine products to the public. Customers who complained publicly to others when they received poor customer service from his web based business, are being sued for $15,000,000.

    Unfortunately for you, your product is prominetely displayed on the homepage of PetsWarehouse.com. As such, I conclude that you are sympathetic to Mr. Novaks lawsuits, which in my opinion are frivilous and only intended to stifle free speech and the exchange of opinions. I refuse to support any business which holds this view, so I will, in the future, refrain from purchasing any product from you, your subsidiaries or any other company affiliated with your products.

    Thank you for your time,

    Signed

    A Former Potential Customer.

    About the same as you suggest, just approaching the problem from the other end.

    Soko
  • by i0lanthe (198512) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @12:25PM (#4381726) Homepage Journal
    will he be suing the BBB next?

    ding! give that user a banana!

    Long Island Business News [libn.com] reports:
    Novak, meanwhile, said he has further legal targets. One is the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York. The BBB gives Pets Warehouse an "unsatisfactory rating," the organization's lowest. Novak said some of the complaints were from another business that licensed the Pets Warehouse name and that he didn't get adequate opportunity to respond.
  • Re:Minor point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Latent IT (121513) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @12:26PM (#4381739)
    Pardon me for replying to you, but I want this to be near the top, where everyone, especially ROBERT NOVAK, head meatball in charge.

    Want to really make him hurt? Just point out that his store really is horrible. Service? Sucks. Price? Sucks! There are much better stores that have better stock, lower prices, and excellent customer service. Two such examples are:

    That Pet Place [thatpetplace.com]

    Drs. Foster & Smith [drsfostersmith.com]

    (Note: I am not affiliated in ANY way with either of those stores mentioned. They had nothing to do with being written here. I put them here. They're not the droids you're looking for. I AM. All of the above is my very own personal opinion, and I stand by it.)

    So come get me, big boy! Sue my frigging ass off for enjoying my first ammendment rights. I even live in New York. And I'm bored. It costs me just as much nothing to be sued by you as it does for you to sue me. Let's just frigging GO. =)
  • by Genjurosan (601032) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @12:28PM (#4381759)
    Is it possible to file a class action suite against the plaintiff in this case when he does lose for wasting my tax dollars and choking my legal system with this crap? If so, sign me up.
  • by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Thursday October 03, 2002 @12:35PM (#4381832) Homepage
    And whatever you do, do not accidently type in:

    until false; do lynx -source http://oh, I don't know/ > /dev/null ; sleep $(( RANDOM / 1024 + 1 )); done

    and then accidently hit enter in a Bash shell...

    You do realize that this is probably classed as terrorism right? But no matter, I'm doing it, because people just hitting shift-reload get bored, whereas scripts can just be forked into the background. Right now, I should think Novak is a little pissed. If a few thousand people just ran that script when they got up in the morning, it would really start to cause him grief. Being vigilantism it's absolutely not legal or even morally correct - but it is quite good fun ;)

  • by blunte (183182) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @12:44PM (#4381913)
    I love this part from the complaint (PDF here [petsforum.com]):

    "11. PW is a New York based national seller of pet products and live aquaria under the trademark PETS WAREHOUSE(r). PW has spent years ... PW enjoys a strong reputation in the trade and its PETS WAREHOUSE(r) products enjoy tremendous consumer recognition and goodwill."

    What a lame-ass misrepresentation. The company itself apparently hasn't garnered as much positive consumer recognition and goodwill. After re-reading this, I saw the catch: "... products enjoy ...".

    The products, which as I understand are not manufactured by PW, but rather are sold/distributed by PW, are the objects enjoying this regognition.

    What's at least somewhat comforting about this whole thing is that on his deathbed, you just know that Robert Novak isn't going to be thinking, "ahh, I got some money from some frivolous lawsuits."

    Rest in peace...

  • the slashdot army... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by orius_khan (416293) <orius_khan@hotmBOYSENail.com minus berry> on Thursday October 03, 2002 @12:49PM (#4381956) Journal

    Which troops would he rally? Do you think that a platoon of geeks bearing down on Novak's mansion would change things?

    No, but a quarter million geeks pounding away at his website address every 12 hours (when the story gets inadvertantly re-posted) can keep his bandwidth maxed out without letting any "customers" through.

    Plus, slashdot viewers are not what most people would consider "shy" in the online world, so if given a rousing "Sons of Scotland" speech from Mr. Taco, it's probable that you'd soon have millions of messageboard posts and emails to friends and quick-n-dirty websites thrown up on stupid/clever pun-ful domain names. We could bleed Novak dry just on the cost of all the paper he'd need to file suit against all these individuals, and their hosting companies, and the search engines who list them, and the PC manufacturers who sold them the computers they commited the 'harassment' from, and their lawyers, and ... their pets, for not frequenting his establishment...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 03, 2002 @12:57PM (#4382025)
    Hundreds of /. readers buying $2 accessories from his website only to complain about the service on public forums. Bury him in his own legalistic avarice.
  • by pjrc (134994) <paul@pjrc.com> on Thursday October 03, 2002 @01:14PM (#4382172) Homepage Journal
    In such a litigious society, where lawyers chase after every dollar they can...

    That's rather unfair, as Robert Novak is neither a lawyer or a reasonable sample of the society at large.

    Quoting from this Long Island Business News article [libn.com]:

    The old saw says that an attorney who represents himself has a fool for a lawyer. Whoever made that up didn't envisage Novak, who is serving as his own lawyer. Novak doesn't have a law degree, but he is an old hand at legal wranglings. Talk to him and he cites case law, chapter and verse.

    "It's my hobby," he said.

    Novak was able to consolidate the case in federal court. "It's only five miles for me," he said. "All these people have to come here at their own expense."

    If all the info on the net is true (virtually all is posted by defendants), we can only hope the defendants ask the court to fine him, or some of them file an anti-slapp suit against him.

    But that won't happen without donations to the defense fund, or someone with deep pockets and an interest in free speech on the internet (google??) gets involved and makes an example of Robert Novak.

  • Re:That's a shame (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fjord (99230) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @01:29PM (#4382321) Homepage Journal
    I wonder if there really are bots crawling here. Only one way to find out:

    slashbottest@quickp.ath.cx [mailto]
  • by tlambert (566799) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @01:51PM (#4382498)
    Is it really "winning", when Google removes all links to your web site?

    I guess you could always live with print advertising... that really works well on the Internet, doesn't it?

    Clue: URLs in a print advertisements aren't "clickable"...

    -- Terry
  • by Wntrmute (18056) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @02:19PM (#4382702)
    I have recently learned of a company with a rather similar name to yours [petwarehouse.com], Petswarehouse.com. [petswarehouse.com]

    This other company has enganged in numerous frivolous lawsuits against ordinary Internet consumers for speaking their mind. Information here [petsforum.com].

    Due to the similarity of your company's name to his, I wanted to inform you that their could be a risk of potential customers confusing your site with his. All the bad publicity his site has recieved could potentially hurt your business, as potential customers get confused, and think your company is the one performing these consumer-unfriendly, immoral acts.

    You may want to bring it to the attention of your lawyers that there is a company with a confusingly similar name, that has generated a large amount of bad publicity that could potentially hurt your business. I'm sure your lawyers can advise you of an appropriate course of action.

    Thank you for your time, A concerned citizen.
  • Important links. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gendou (234091) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @03:34PM (#4383292) Homepage
    Main news/defense fund, full dockets [petsforum.com]

    Other defense fund page [thedefensefund.org]

    Defense Fund merchandise [cafepress.com]

    Discussion forum for the lawsuit [compuserve.com]

    PetsWarehouseSucks.com [petswarehousesucks.com] (Novak bought up the .net and .org versions of this domain, by the way)

    Aquatic Plants digest [actwin.com]

    Google search with many relevant results [google.com]

    Rec.Aquaria.Freshwater.Plants [google.com]

    Between all those pages, you should be able to find plenty of links to archives of the messages in question, full court documents, links to news coverage of the story, etc. etc. etc. If you have any interest in aquatic plants or planted aquariums, check the link to the Aquatic Plants mailing list, where all this began. You'll find all the original posts, plus some early discussion of the lawsuit. Also, you can find plenty of stuff in the archive of rec.aquaria.freshwater.plants, including the rantings and ravings of Mr. Novak himself, as well as posts from a few people who support him and happen to have EXACTLY the same spelling and grammer that he does...

    There's all kinds of fun things to discover about this case. For example, the NY Better Business Bureau gave PetsWarehouse its worst possible rating for its business practices. Mr. Novak claims that the BBB is *actually* talking about the retail store, not the website, and as a result, he's threatened to actually SUE the Better Business Bureau.

    Mr. Novak is on very shaky legal ground. He's been reprimanded by judges (since he's filed three seperate lawsuits and several ammendments, there are a lot of judges involved) for not having a clue what he's doing. He told a magazine that he considers suing people to be "his hobby", and a profitable one, because he lives right down the street from the courthouse and most people can't afford to travel to his venue to fight the lawsuits. When Slashdot first covered the lawsuit in April, someone posted a comment sayign that they new Mr. Novak, and he told the poster that he has a lawyer in the family who gives him advice on filing baseless lawsuits for extra income.

    Also, one of Mr. Novak's big claims in this lawsuit is "trademark infringement" (since we ALL know that saying "I don't like XYZ" is a violation of XYZ's trademark, right??), however, there's some question of whether he owns the trademark at all. He used Pets Warehouse as a "common law" trademark (IANAL, but I think that means he never actually filed the trademark, he just started using it and that entitles him to some legal protection), however, when he filed bankruptcy in the 90's, he didn't list any intellectual property that he wanted to keep on his bankruptcy application, thus it's entirely likely that he lost any trademark he might have had on the name during the bankruptcy.

    He also refuses to actually serve papers against any of the defendents who live in California, because California has a strong SLAPP law that would bite him in the ass he if tried to actually bring any California residents into the lawsuit.

    I'm not the only one who thinks all this is very, very crazy.
  • Re:Minor point (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Latent IT (121513) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @03:37PM (#4383329)
    It's a shame I left out the words "can see this" from the first line, even though I got all the HREF's right, and even closed my /B's and /I's... I'd sound like less of a tard if that part was readable... ;p

    Of course, I'm never going to get sued if he knows I want him to sue me. Hmmmm....

    Lawsuits scare me to death. I cave in at the slightest legal threat, or even peer pressure. I have a room in the back of my house where I store loose shopping bags full of cash, and I would never speak to a good lawyer. I even paid a spammer for a penis enlarger.

    Oh hell, that's too easy to figure out. He might... crack my code. Perhaps I could then sue under the DMCA!

    Maybe I don't understand this whole thing fully. I read The Defense Fund [thedefensefund.com] and it seems like Dan Resler, the poor bastard that accidentally started this whole thing, actually ended up paying $4,150 to Novak. Of course, he was sued for $15,000,000, so percentage-wise he got off pretty well, but $4,150 isn't really pocket change either. And if you read Dan's origional post, it really just seems like he got some bad plants, overcharged for shipping, and customer service told him to go take a flying leap. You can read his origional post here [actwin.com]. I'll even quote the relevant bits:

    My 6th call was last week, and when they realized I was calling about a plant order they proclaimed "They will be shipped on Monday". Click.

    On my order confirmation I was quoted a shipping price of $7.50. Nice ... it was one of the selling points for me. Then the order arrived complete with an invoice stating that shipping was $18.50! When I called them today to straighten this out, they informed me that the original quote was wrong and that I was stuck with the $18.50.

    Quoted without permission, of course. Christ, maybe Dan will sue me now. I argue fair use in advance. (Dan, don't! Slashdot is on your side!)

    I mean, how in the world can you sue anyone over that? You want a bad analogy? I like Coke. (I actually kinda like Pepsi... so... frig.) Okay, I like Diet Coke. I *hate* diet Pepsi. I don't know why. I can say this:

    Diet Pepsi tastes bad. I opened a can, tasted it, and said, "Yeeeech!"

    Thank God for the Constitution. Thank God for the freedom of speech. Despite all the bad press, America is a pretty darn nice place to live.
  • by pclminion (145572) on Thursday October 03, 2002 @07:11PM (#4384435)
    The site's been down since about 10 AM my time, give or take.

    Do you think this is due to the /. effect, or is it because of the UUNET/WorldCom debacle?

    At any rate, I wonder how much money it just cost him to have his site unreachable for basically an entire business day...

"The hands that help are better far than the lips that pray." -- Robert G. Ingersoll

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