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PetsWarehouse vs. Mailing List 643

klaun writes "Salon is running a story about a federal suit against members of an Internet mailing list. Seems a company got a bad review on the list and the owner sued the person that said it and everyone who agreed. But the case grew bigger from there, including a suit against the legal defense fund set up to support members of the list being sued and anyone who linked to the defense fund. The ultimate rub of it all is that it basically worked. Most of the defendants have settled." This is a truly bizarre story.
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PetsWarehouse vs. Mailing List

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  • by josquint ( 193951 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:12PM (#3284985) Homepage
    ... now they have to make money using their legal departments?

    someday they'll hafta make profit the old fashioned way... sell a good/service that ppl want at a decent price...
  • by echucker ( 570962 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:13PM (#3284995) Homepage
    It'll prolly get /.'d, but here it is- As an admin of another (unrelated) aquarium board, I find the trend disturbing, especially after some of the flamewars I've seen bashing suppliers on our and other boards.
    • by hawk ( 1151 ) <hawk@eyry.org> on Thursday April 04, 2002 @06:54PM (#3287532) Journal
      With that post, slashdot is now a defendant!

      Oops! With this post, *I'm* a defendant.

      I've dealt with this kind of behavior before from those who represent themseloves. Yes, it can be expensive to handle along the way.

      But guess what, punk: I *am* a lawyer, and my hourly is $400. If you want to start this, go for it; my kids want to go to college, and I'll have your inventory and 25% of your paycheck for the next 20 years . . .

      hawk, esq., hoping the frivolous papers come his way . . .

  • by www.sorehands.com ( 142825 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:14PM (#3285001) Homepage
    It worked because people didn't stand up and fight.

    New York has an anti-SLAPP [casp.net] statute. I wonder why this was not used to kick out the case.

    Some of these fights have to be taken and some of these SLAPPERs [barbieslapp.com] have to be hit with large enough damages to make others think long and hard before bringing another SLAPP [sorehands.com] action.

  • by w.p.richardson ( 218394 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:14PM (#3285002) Homepage
    Too often, frivolous lawsuits are filed against companies, individuals, or whatever (mailing lists?) with no intention of ever going to court. The idea is to get the defendant to settle (with bad PR, threats, what have you). Personally, I would like to see more of these go to court. I doubt this would have turned out in favor of the plaintiff.

    You have the right to a day in court, but unfortunately, too many nowadays want to just cough up some cash and make the problem go away, rather than fighting. It's really a shame.

    • The problem is that, at least in this case, it costs a lot more to have your day in court than it does to settle. The one guy settled for $5,000 after the defense fund ran through the $15,000 it had raised.

      Most people, given the rock/hard place choice of spending X to settle and spending 5X to prove they're right, will be forced to settle.

  • I read from the printer friendly version [salon.com], no ads and stuff...

    But anyway, this is simply unbelievable. The idea that if someone says something bad about their own experiences can somehow justify suing them for 15 million dollars. And then to sue a defense fund! WTF is going through people's mind?

    Instead of wasting their time with such frivalous legal actions, they should perhaps try to improve their aquatic plants division.

    But I guess trying to serve customers is a harder way to get money than just sueing people.
  • I think Microsoft is going to sue all of us who say there software is poor. But wait! We can sue them back for saying *nix/open source sux. Oh how emotionally distressed I am, I deserve someone elses money because they exhibited their right to free speech. Sorrow!
  • by TheMonkeyDepartment ( 413269 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:15PM (#3285014)
    I hate to stir up more trouble, but it is my opinion that PetsWarehouse are a bunch of child molesting, cocaine distributing, AIDS-infected Satanists who routinely butcher small puppies and kittens in worship of the Dark Lord. Robert Novak is best friends with Gary Condit and he helped pull out Chandra Levy's teeth with a pair of pliers.

    You are welcome to post your agreement below.
  • Does that mean Novak will sue Salon? And then slashdot for linking to Salon?
  • by Ali Jenab ( 565034 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:16PM (#3285024)
    A number of years ago, when I was just getting into the digirati, Oracle filed lawsuits against several members of a DBA discussion group because they were posting less-than-glowing reviews of their database software. Since these victims were highly-paid professionals, not just a bunch of whiny kids (as in the PetsWarehouse case), they had the resources to fight Oracle in court. What happened next was a victory for free speech on the Net and for American justice: every single case Oracle filed against the users was summarily dismissed, and the 4-5 defendants who countersued Oracle received several hundred thousand dollars in punitive damages - more than enough to cover their legal bills and buy themselves something nice.

    The moral of the story here is that giving up on what you believe in gets you nowhere. If you cave in to corporate pressure, you will lose your money, your good name, and your credit rating when you settle out of court. If you stand up for your rights when you know you're correct, justice will prevail and you will know you've made a difference for netizens everywhere. What would you rather be - a victorious hero or an unprincipled loser? Don't answer here - save your response for the judge.


    • The moral of the story is that highly-paid professionals will get their way in courts because they got the money to fuel their fight through the system, while a bunch of aquatic plant enthusiast will get shafted.

      This entire story seems to surreal to be true, even for US. Saw some bits about emails with threats directed at the supplier, and claims that some criticism went from just reviews to open hostility on personal level. Still doesn't justify the lawsuit, but explains why someone would go into a frenzy to even sue the fund.
    • From 2600 magazine's Summer 2001 issue, Emmanuel Goldstein wrote an editorial, about the DeCSS linking case and other legal fights with which 2600 was involved. It seems pretty relevant to the Pets Warehouse case:

      "...the injustice takes on an even more serious tone when it no longer seems to matter whether or not you're found guilty or innocent - whether you win or lose. If you're even brought into the game, you lose regardless of whether or not you win. Sounds crazy? It is. And it's what the American justice system has turned into...

      Every time we find ourselves in a court of law, we seem to have lost by default, something even a victory can't seem to change. Not that we don't relish the idea of standing up to any of the bullies who put us through this hell. But every time we do, it costs us and not just financially. We have to devote tremendous resources into the act of simply defending who we are and what we've been doing for all these years."
    • by Frank T. Lofaro Jr. ( 142215 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @03:47PM (#3286209) Homepage

      If you cave in to corporate pressure, you will lose your money, your good name, and your credit rating when you settle out of court.

      Very few people know just how bad it is for your credit rating to lose or settle a lawsuit against you. It basically destroys it - if you cave in to or lose a lawsuit then nobody will loan you ANYTHING - you probably will have trouble getting an apartment, non-pre-paid cell phone or even a job or insurance.

      If you cave in you might not lose that much money - but you'll lose everything else. People won't trust you - they'll think you must've been at fault to some degree.

      Heck you are better off representing yourself if it truly is frivolous - at least you have a chance at not having your life ruined - if you settle, kiss having a decent life goodbye forever.

      Of course, the DeCSS case proves that even people who are innocent (the judge ignored fair use, the US Constitution, and all the exemptions listed in the DMCA itself) can and sometimes do lose, even when they do have good lawyers. And if you lose, you will be required to pay damages and sometimes even be required to pay for the court and/or the plaintiff's lawyers. This is just like in some countries where when someone is executed, the family is billed for the cost of the bullets that were shot into his/her head.

      • by DunbarTheInept ( 764 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @07:23PM (#3287697) Homepage
        Except of course if you are a corporation. Then you can admit to guilt and wrongdoings all the live long day and never have it affect your credit rating. I'm all for capitalism, but NOT corpration. Corporation is the practice of giving large faceless entities some of the privilieges of a person under the law, but none of the responsibilities a real person under the law has to deal with. You can't send a corporation to jail. You can't make its life miserable. You can't ruin it's livelyhood. The most you can do is fine it, and then never for more than it can actually afford (unlike when a settlement fines an individual). The *people* behind the corporation, who might actually be intimidated by such things, are under no personal threat from the wrongdoings that they carry out through the corporation. The worst that can happen to them is that they lose that job because the corporation goes away. That's *IT* - that's as bad as it gets.

        When a corporation and an individual go to court, they aren't putting the same risk up on the block. And they *can't*, because the corporations aren't really people - get rid of their ledgers and money and they cease to exist as an entity.

        If a corporation's software gathers information off your home computer without asking you, they might face a fine at the most. If an individual views information on a corporation's computer without asking, his whole life's pursuit is over - his entire career, not just his one job he holds at the time, is over and he's never allowed to touch a computer again.

        You can't punish a corporation as severely as you can a person. This is what makes them not be accountable for their actions.

        What's the solution? Stop treating corporations like people who can be found guilty or innocent. If the people in a corporation do something wrong, then go after the PEOPLE. Keep the corporation as a convenient tool for consolodating funds and organising the business, but stop letting it be used as a sheild against personal responsibility. Let the people at the top know that if they engage in illegal activities that *THEY* are the ones who will be responsible for it if they get caught, NOT the imaginary person called "The company". Get them to treat their lives with the same sense of responsibility and personal risk the rest of us have to deal with, and then maybe for once they'd get some semblance of fair play.

  • by MikeyO ( 99577 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:18PM (#3285033) Homepage
    Please note that we are talking about PetSwarehouse.com [petswarehouse.com] which is not affiliated with PetWarehouse.com [petwarehouse.com] which is a respectable business.
  • Not the first time (Score:2, Informative)

    by zentec ( 204030 )

    I've seen this argument from Pets Warehouse on various mailing lists when I kept salt water fish.

    His own actions have caused him more problems than one customer complaint.
  • by pgrote ( 68235 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:20PM (#3285047) Homepage
    Wow. So if someone thinks my business sucks and they tell people about it I can get rich. Kick ass.

    What I found exceptional about this article is that the guy from Pets Warehouse was representing himself. His costs out of pocket were court fees. It doesn't appear that he paid anyone to serve most of the summons'.

    The most striking question I have is why didn't everyone who was sued band together? I see the reference to the defense fund, but no mention of targeting the suit's validity in front of a court. Wouldn't that be the first step?

    Between this and "recollecting" memories of being abused by priests, one could make a nice living.
    • by pgrote ( 68235 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:27PM (#3285111) Homepage
      From the Long Island Business News ...


      "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. "

      Shoot for the stars ...
  • Again? (Score:2, Informative)

    by slipkid ( 442316 )
    This isn't the first time this has happened. Seems that anytime someone posts in the negative regarding a company, the crap almost immediately hits the fan. In fact, not too awfully long ago, we saw this story [slashdot.org] in which 2600 was threatened for trying to register the domain name verizonreallysucks.com.

    I also seem to remember AOL instituting a policy some time ago restricting AOL-hosted websites and chat rooms from having any anti-AOL sentiments published... And what about those who have been unfortunate enough to raise the ire of the Scientologists?

    Sad that having negative feelings about a group or corporation means having to spend one's life savings defending oneself in court.
  • by neo ( 4625 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:25PM (#3285087)
    In case it get's S'dotted.

    Thinking of buying plants from Pet Warehouse? Don't.

    Actually the plants I received were average to maybe a bit below
    average, but they'll pull through in my tank. What is crappy is their
    service! And they're maybe even a bit dishonest.

    Way back in the beginning of April (April 10th to be exact) I was
    seduced by the huge list of plants for sale on their web site. I
    ordered 4 types of plants, all quite common. Though it states on their
    web site that they directly import their plants, I didn't realize that
    they'd import the plants you ordered *after* you placed your order! Or
    at least that's the way it seemed ...

    I received my order today, May 15th. It only took them 4.5 weeks. And
    this is after 6 phone calls. Twice they promised they'd be shipped on
    a certain date, then nada. And dealing with them on the phone is,
    well, let's just say they stick to their pat answers and work very
    hard at getting you off the phone as quickly as possible. 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. And I
    didn't even give them my name or order number! Maybe *all* orders
    finally went out on Monday?

    There was never a "sorry for the delay" or any sign whatsoever that I
    was the valued customer and they were the business providing a product
    that I was paying for.

    Though I found all of this very annoying, it wasn't what annoyed me
    the most. 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. Again, no "sorry for the mixup" or any indication
    that they would fix the problem (with the web site and order
    confirmation system).

    Another hassle - their shipments *require* a signature. I quote their
    email notice telling me the plants had been shipped: "You must be home
    to sign for it. We guarantee live arrival if the order is accepted on
    the first delivery attempt." Yikes. This was the first I knew of this
    policy. So I actually had to take a half day off work in order to be
    there to receive the order! These plants are getting *very* expensive.

    The whole organization has the feel of someone who started yesterday
    out of your neighbors garage. It even sounds that way when you talk to
    them on the phone.

    Maybe I expect too much?

    Though I have a few gripes about Arizona Aquatics as well, they're
    light years ahead of this outfit as far as service.

    As always, your mileage may vary.

    • by Threed ( 886 )
      >-- Don't trust anyone with a user number lower than 10,000.

      You have defamed me for the last time, Dan! I will not stand for this sort of character assasination. I'll see you in court!
  • Bad Sport! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sinserve ( 455889 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:25PM (#3285088)
    This company should learn a thing or two, from the notorious
    programmer/book-author Herbert Schildt.

    This gentleman has been slammed by the members of BOTH the C and C++ standardization
    commitee, Academia, Usenet, and just about anyone old enough to write an Amazon review.

    Herb however, acknowledges the "points" of his critics in his later books, but continues
    doing what he feels like.

    He is almost the "abusive boyfriend" of programming books. You know "I am sorry baby,
    I don't spend as much time with you as I used, I know I have cheated on you, but BITCH,
    get off my back".

    It is best for this company to acknowledge the inferriority of their products, but keep
    making them anyways. People wont notice it, just ask the millions of heart broken girlfriends
    with black eyes.

  • by shimmin ( 469139 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:26PM (#3285094) Journal
    Companies with sufficiently deep pockets have demonstrated the ability to "win" lawsuits by simply prolonging them past the ability of their opponents to financially endure.

    However, the American justice system does allow a sufficiently large number of people to do this straight back. And I'm not talking about class action suits, from which only lawyers benefit, anyway.

    It's called small claims court. Pay the filing fee (typically less than $100), bring a sufficiently plausible gripe that your case won't get dismissed, represent yourself. If you win, you can even get the filing fee reimbursed, and even if not, rest assured that the company has spent more on paying their lawyer to show up than you were asking for in damages.

    Think of it as the legal equivalent of DDoS.

    • by jamesmartinluther ( 267743 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @02:42PM (#3285729) Homepage
      Some business partners and I had a contractual disagreement with a company several years ago (they mistakenly thought that they did not have to pay for some work that we did for them). After several collections attempts, we decided to take the matter to small claims.

      We did not make use of a lawyer, even though we were facing a moderately large company. Amazingly, they failed to appear (perhaps they did not take us seriously) and the judge awarded the full amount to us.

      It works.
  • Countersuits (Score:5, Insightful)

    by coyote-san ( 38515 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:30PM (#3285140)
    I hate to say it, but where are the countersuits here? Hell, where's the DoJ nailing this bastard for violation of civil liberties?

    The courts have ruled time and again that the public welfare requires that discussion of civil and criminal cases trumps ALL other rights. There is absolutely no way any suit for "trademark infringement" against a defense fund because it bore the trademark name of the company suing would last 5 seconds before a judge.

    What's the alternative - "We're collecting money for unnamed people to fight an unnamed company in an unnamed state for reasons we can't discuss (and can't warn you to avoid repeating). Please be generous!"?

    The ONLY reason this even got before the court was buried deep in the article - Novak was representing himself. Probably because no lawyer would touch this case with a 10-foot pole.

    I'm a firm believer in the right of people to represent themselves (and equally hostile to the "YANAL, shut up!" posts we see here). Countries where access to the courts are restricted to a privileged few who must always fear the possibility of having that access revoked tend to be less free than countries where the courts are open to all. But that must come at a price - you use this access to trample the rights of others, either as a pro se asshole or a corporate SLAPPer then you need to pay a hefty price for it.

    • > Hell, where's the DoJ nailing this bastard for violation of civil liberties?

      Can't do that -- all their resources are tied up defending Micorsoft right now.

  • "If Pets Warehouse had sent me e-mail saying: 'We're sorry you're upset. What can we do to make it better?' I would have vented to them, they would have sent me a $20 gift certificate. I would have posted to APD: 'Yeah, we had a bad deal, but let's give them another chance, and it would have been over.' But instead, he [Novak] sued. It is his act of suing us that has caused all the bad feeling. He has brought this upon himself."

    What a Analog-Hole! Did he go to the RIAA school of Business?

    "Alienate your customers at all costs!"

    "When things don't go your way, sue!"

    "If all else fails, involve the government!"

    "The customer is ALWAYS wrong, and is trying to destroy your business!"

  • by MikeyO ( 99577 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:32PM (#3285152) Homepage
    Unfortunately much of this discussion has been deleted from the list archives, but here is the not that started it all:

    Date: Thu, 17 May 2001 17:06:02 -0700
    From ...snip...
    Since others have decided to vent:)

    > Subject: Another Pets Warehouse UNsatisfied customer (long)
    > Well, Dan's not the only one they got. Normally, I hate to vent, but it's
    > neccessary in this case.

    I think I have the record with these nit wits. I've talked to Bob Novak
    several times etc(the owner). This guy named "Ed, yea I'll call you back". A
    number of years back they did have a person that could do the job well,
    Donna. But they drove her off fast. I've been through some 5 or more order
    folks there now. There will not be a 6th. That was the only person that ever
    got a single thing ever worth mentioning done in the plant area regarding
    service. Also the only one that gave decent service, owner included.
    They claim to fill 90% of the orders.

    Well I can tell everyone it's more like 20%. Or less. If it at all.
    I've been extremely fair and patient far beyond anything I've ever seen
    posted here by anyone on the APD or other boards. I order from them every 2
    weeks for about 2 years(6-8 months is one thing with certain plants due to
    the wholsalers etc). I gave up awhile back. Never got but one so so order in
    that entire time. Ed said "I'll call you/email you etc if he gets something
    in etc". Never ever once. Didn't matter if you order 300$ worth of plants or
    25$ worth of plants, every sized order is ignored equally. I understand some
    weeks you might not have any/much order to place a plant order overseas etc.
    So I kept re ordering. This seemed to bug them even more. This part, myself
    knowing the trade and industry to some degree, am very understanding on. I
    mentioned that and they mentioned it to me about this issue. But two years
    of not getting certain plants and orders is just plain BS no matter how you
    look at it/size it up from their end. The high shipping cost are a complete

    But it seems like a LFS that's trying to get into MO with no concept of the
    expectations and needs of this different type of internet business. They are
    failing terribly in this area. And certainly the customer is last, rather
    than first. They act like it's a hassle and that they are going to do it
    when they want to and they are going to over charge and charge extra for the

    For me this is not about the cost of extra shipping etc, I don't care so
    much about the $. It's about being able to simply get the plants. Most folks
    care about the $ much more than I do and are not nearly as
    patient/understanding about this issue. They also should not have to be,
    they are the customer who pays their bills but they act like they are doing
    you a favor. It's one thing if it's a mistake one or two time or even three
    times, but many years and 5 different service employees??
    They get ...snip...'s official:

    Worse service award of any plant MO place.

    And they deserve every bit of it beyond any reasonable doubt.

  • by Seth Finkelstein ( 90154 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:33PM (#3285169) Homepage Journal
    Primary source information about the lawsuit can be found at:
    http://www.aquaria.net/lawsuit.html [aquaria.net]

    And the archive of the infamous mailing list is at:
    http://fins.actwin.com/aquatic-plants/index.php [actwin.com]

    Sig: What Happened To The Censorware Project (censorware.org) [sethf.com]

  • Apparently PetzWhorehouse doesn't want any more customers.

    This kind of bad press only makes them look stupid and desperate. Kinda reminds me of Bernie Shifman [petemoss.com]

    Is it just me, or do these people figure the world owes them just because they are alive?


    • Post in their forums (Score:3, Informative)

      by cemcnulty ( 225472 )
      Go here:
      http://www.petswarehouse.com/cgi-bin/ubb/Ul timateb b.cgi

      and let their forum posters know about their practices, or at least tell them about the Salon article so that they can read it themselves. Post in a forum for whatever pet you have.

  • ... but I don't want to be sued.... after all, I could lose all of my Karma.

  • He should have countersued.

    Made him come to his state and duke it out. Make him spend money on gas and then negotiated it back.

    This Novak cat is going to die a lone, miserable exsistence if he doesn't straighten up. Truly a pehtetic thing to do to another human being.
  • by joebp ( 528430 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:42PM (#3285233) Homepage
    [...] the lawsuit may be frivolous, aimed at stifling criticism, but for Robert Novak, the founder and owner of PetsWarehouse.com, the reputation of a company is at stake.
    My estimation is the damage done to the company by the critical comments could be put at 10, whereas the damage done by bringing a lawsuit against your customers would probably be closer to 200.

    Their intelligence rivals my elbow.

  • Let their customers know about this practice, or at least tell them about the Salon article go to:
    http://www.petswarehouse.com/cgi-bin/ubb/ulti mateb b.cgi
    create an account and post in the forum of whatever pet you have. They have a few thousand members of their forums, and it looks pretty active. Spread the truth.

  • What damanges?? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MongooseCN ( 139203 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:45PM (#3285259) Homepage
    ...alleging libel and defamation and seeking $1 million in damages. He also claimed that he had suffered "$5 million, plus interest" in damages to his "good name and reputation and to his business interests."

    What the heck does that mean? So I guess everyone on the mailing list was about to buy $6 million worth of plants from this store until someone else on the mailing list complained about the store?
  • Awhile back, Slasdot posted a story about "Bernard Shifman (is a moron spammer) [petemoss.com]" who spammed his resume to 1000's of people then got irate as hell when anti spam activits called him on it. Well... Bernie threatened to sue everyone and their grandmother over this.

    This sounds exactly like what Mr. Novak did, except this bigger moron actually went through with the threats. Unbelieveable. I seriously wonder if he thinks after word of his lawsuit gets out (and it obviously has) that he is going to have ANY customers? Espically in a rather small market of aquatic plants.

    Suing your customers whom you've screwed over with shoddy service sure isn't the way I'd go about building a successful business. But then again, the RIAA/MPAA are still in buisness... and they're the kings of alienating customers...

    Go figure


  • I really want to vent at this frivilous lawsuit, but I've got a nagging feeling that he'd come after me next...

    (*SIGH*) If only that were a joke.

  • tragic... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Mysticalfruit ( 533341 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:47PM (#3285273) Homepage Journal
    This is yet another nail in the coffin of free speech. I guess I'm gonna have to write a parser that I feed all my comments through...

    I can see it now...

    Jutkers News Service:
    In a ruling today, the federal supreme court ruled that opinions are now all illegal. The justices were split, with half saying "I'm not prepared to issue a statement at this time that might be construded as something libel" the other justices had this to say reading from a prepared statement. "Citizens who engage in 'opinions' now must be ready to be held accountable for those 'opinions' in a court of law. The willy-nilly saying what you think will only bring you trouble. They should keep their mouths shut and enjoy the free open society they are lucky to have"

    A press conference that was held later, the justices were asked what they thought this meant for free speech. Their response, reading from a prepared statement "Free speech isn't so free anymore... people just opening their mouths is bad business. If any person can just go out and do 'free speech' stuff including opinions and observations, what kind of world would we live in. Companies spend millions on marketing campaigns just so some person can go on a website and say 'I had bad service' thus ruining millions of dollars of advertising. Suddenly that free speech isn't so cheap anymore. What happens when that company goes out of business and all those people lose there jobs! Don't you see, by that person opening their mouth once it ruined a whole company"

    The reporter countered asking "What if the company really had bad service?" Justice millhouse responded slowly, reading through a couple of pages. "It has been our observation that businesses never treat a customer poorly, because it would be bad business. If someone has bad service, they've brought it upon themselves, and they are to blame."

    Pretty much the rest of the press conference went on with the same thing. I'd like to comment more on this but I feel my opinions would land me in a lawsuit, or worse jail.

    God Bless America, the home of the free and brave...
  • Nature's defense (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chris Johnson ( 580 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:48PM (#3285278) Homepage Journal
    There's a defense strategy against this in nature, and it doesn't demand that the victim be tougher in any way than the attacker.

    It's called 'mobbing'.

    Crows hate owls and hawks and cannot possibly ever hope to win a fight with one, no matter how many crows there are. So, rather than hiding, if crows see a hawk, they will fly around it at a safe distance and SCREAM at it. Caw! Caw! More crows will come and join. If the hawk goes for any one crow, goodbye crow, and the rest will scream even worse. Result: good luck finding prey with a lot of crows tirelessly screaming around you, hawk!

    Thus, the hawk is 'mobbed' by crows, and that is the defense I mean.

    I read this story in Salon, from a link on CNet. The first thing I thought of was 'slashdot oughta cover this!', and then when I came to Slashdot, it was the top story. Good job, all the people who no doubt all submitted it at once... because nothing quite rivals Slashdot as a 'mobbing site'. Many, many people read Slashdot- many people who are NOT FOND OF BARRATRY.

    The fact is, as things stand right now, legal attacks of this nature ARE beyond what most people can withstand, whether they are justified or not: it's unsurprising that people are forced to settle because they cannot destroy their lives just to be an example.

    That's why 'mobbing', like crows mobbing hawks, is the best answer: if you have no defense and can't possibly win a fight, it CAN still be possible to make things so unpleasant for an attacker that it gives up. I would love to see this 'petswarehouse' guy bankrupt: judging from the Salon story, I think he is a danger to society, all the more because his behavior may be imitated by others realizing, "Hey, you don't HAVE to be a multinational corporation to wreck ordinary people's lives with baseless lawsuits!".

    I am no more capable of this than the original victims were: but I hope I have expressed the 'mobbing' defense adequately that it may turn out useful. People do this already- the point is, rather than being whiny bitches who can't win, they are sounding the alarm in a disorganized but determined way, about a deadly threat.

  • by verbatim ( 18390 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:50PM (#3285289) Homepage
    "Dan Resler agreed to pay $4,150. [...] 'We believed strongly that we could win,' says Resler, 'but I was not prepared to spend $50,000 to do it. So, I settled.'".

    That is horrible. It's like saying "I didn't do anything wrong but if I try to defend myself I'll ruin my life". It's redicilous to think that you only have a right to a fair trial if you have the money to do so. So I guess it's liberty and justice for those who can afford it. Hah.
  • by MongooseCN ( 139203 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @01:52PM (#3285305) Homepage
    Looks like PetsWarehouse.com [petswarehouse.com] has a message board [petswarehouse.com]. Maybe all us slashdoters should go over there and post our opinions on the topic.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 04, 2002 @04:59PM (#3286802)
      If someone were to go to a phone booth or dorm phone, avoiding the use of their home phone (which would show up on the WATS billing statement, even if line-blocking or *67 were on), and were that person to dial PetsWarehouse at 1-800-991-3299, they would discover that the call is free to the caller, yet Long Distance to Pets Warehouse.

      If one were to call them a bunch of times, it would cost PetsWarehouse more. If many people were to call them many times, it would be kind of a huge phone bill for them. A phone ringing off the hook a whole lot with no business coming in would really be bad for PetsWarehouse's business, too.

      To do this, of course, would be wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong. Perhaps Congress should create a law that prevent the Internet and the phones from being abused in this manner.
  • Scientology (Score:3, Insightful)

    by shlong ( 121504 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @02:05PM (#3285409) Homepage
    This situation has all the fingerprints of Scientology.
    • Dishonest sales and customer service
    • Willingness and desire sue everyone who is against them, and everyone who is associated with those who are against them.
  • On the main page of his site [petswarehouse.com] he has the Gomez certification logo at the bottom. This in fact is misrepresentation since Gomez certifications have all expired according to Gomez.com [gomez.com].
    Here is the quote.
    "We regret to announce that the Gómez Merchant Certification program has ceased operations as of March 31, 2002. In light of this decision, Gómez will not conduct any further merchant certifications. We will also remove all references to Gómez Merchant Certification other than this notice on Gómez.com on April 1, 2002. Merchants currently certified under the Gómez Certification program should remove all references, logos and/or images of the Gómez Merchant Certification program displayed on their sites or affiliate sites by March 31, 2002.
    Man, what an idiot. Can we sue him for that?
  • The fact that all of the defendants "settled" doesn't necessarily mean they capitulated. A settlement just means that a suit is dismissed because the parties have agreed to do so. True, in the typical settlement the party in the wrong has paid $ to obtain the party in the right's agreement to dismiss. However, where a groundless lawsuit is brought, it is by no means uncommon for the defendant to point this out, remind the plaintiff that if there was no legal and/or factual foundation for the suit, he can be held liable for the costs of defending the suit, and in certain circumstances can be sued for "malicious prosecution" and wind up out substantial $$$, including punitive damages. This sometimes results in the plaintiff agreeing to dismiss in exchange for a "waiver of costs" - in other words, "OK, I drop the whole thing if you agree not to come after me."

    Of course, I have no way of knowing whether that did or didn't happen. But I do think it's premature to conclude that all of the mailing list contributors were simply bullied into submission by these cockamamie claims. This was a substantial group of people who knew each other's email addresses, right? It is certainly possible that one of them contacted a lawyer, was a lawyer him/herself, or simply did some research on how to respond effectively when someone files an unfounded lawsuit against you, and then gathered the troops for a unified response. (If not, that's my recommendation for next time.)

  • What about reviews on sites such as Epinions, Amazon, bizrate and the now-defunct Gomez? Even eBay? Those comments are more "public" than some listserv for underwater plant hobbyists, as far as their potential to hurt a business' sales. If this guy effectively "wins," does it mean we could get sued because we said we didn't like a book we read? Will companies that get a bad rap on Epinions because of their creepy business practices just become a shell to collect settlements from the people who get swindled by them?

    I for one would have been cautious about this merchant after hearing about their poor customer service. But Novak's responding by suing instead of cleaning up the attitude that brought on complaints in the first place, well, in the real free-market economy, he'd be out of business. Kinda like Bill Jones, who would never get my vote for anything ever again after spamming people. Take the high road, guys...
  • by cybrthng ( 22291 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @02:26PM (#3285591) Journal
    People have a right to freedom of speech. I have voiced my complaints many times against crappy vendors, crappy banks, crappy stores and crappy products.

    But what would happen if this dude continues to win, setting precendences for companies like Microsoft to sue slashdot for example on how slashdot user continue to bash windows/microsoft products.

    I use DSLreports constantly to express my opinions of products from routers to broadband service and i KNOW it can get nasty on there. What would happen of COmcast sued dslreports and everyone on there? What if lucent got sick of hearling complaints about companies products or services and did the same?

    Heck EPINIONS.COM does a fantastic job keeping the consumer aware of products and scams, we should go rate this company on epinions.com as a horrible company to do business with.

    My list of companies to stay away from is.

    1. Cross country bank
    2. Verizon
    3. Southwestern Bell
    4. Apex collections.
    5. Blockbuster (music/video/whatever.. they all steal)

    Consumers have a right to now, and freedom of speech even includes the ability to bitch about something.

    Aren't we still human anymore?
  • by mbrubeck ( 73587 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @02:33PM (#3285654) Homepage
    Given that their bullying tactics have made the news in Salon and Slashdot, and been plastered all over various aquarium-related special interest sites, PetsWarehouse needs to ask whether they are decreasing or increasing negative publicity by continuing to press charges. Even if they get some cash by intimidating defendants into settling, they've also earned a permanent reputation as an abusive company that responds to criticism with ridiculous legal threats. And they did it all to prevent damage to their reputation?

    When will companies learn that you can't just squash criticism on the internet? When you try, you just create more and more publicity and sympathy for your critics.

  • One thing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @02:34PM (#3285663)
    How many times have we heard about a person or company being sued by a corporation and settling because they run out of cash? Now there are still the employment costs and stuff but I would at least think there should be public defenders available for liable cases to help take off some of the financial strain. Court cases shouldn't be determined by last man standing.
  • by yorgasor ( 109984 ) <ron AT tritechs DOT net> on Thursday April 04, 2002 @03:24PM (#3286048) Homepage
    If you've read the experiences people posted about doing business with him, you have to wonder if he's really worried about losing business. One guy tried for a couple of years, ordering regularly and only got one order placed. It makes you wonder if he's really trying to make a profit off his business. From the sounds of it, he's driving people to complain about his business so he can spend more time with his self proclaimed hobby: filing lawsuits.

    The aquatic plant growing community is fairly small and relatively easy to keep tabs on the entire community. All he has to do is give enough bad customer service and monitor all the message boards waiting for someone to complain. Then he can move in and start making some real money by filing lawsuits (notice that he doesn't use a lawyer, so he's not losing any money doing so).

    He tries to post messages to defend his honor, but for some reason they were getting blocked. Note here that he is a regular poster to these message boards and is well aware of how to use them. But this time he decides to include MIME attachments to his posts, which I would assume he knows very well would bounce. Now he can claim that they're trying to censor him!! That's worth at least another couple of million dollars!

    From the sounds of things this guy hides behind a pathetic business just to drum up people he can sue and make some real money from. Sounds like one of the lowest life forms out there. It's sad that he's making so many lives miserable, and that he seems to enjoy it. Heck, he's made a career out of it. He's probably riding high now, but it will all come back to haunt him in the end. He who lives by the lawsuit will die by the lawsuit. One way or another, he'll get the reward he so richly deserves.

  • by 1gor ( 314505 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @05:55PM (#3287141)
    This story reminds me of Soviet times in Russia, say, in the 70s. For those who doesn't know - there where no Stallinist terror in the 70s in Russia, you could tell jokes about communists and nobody would ship you to Gulag for this. In fact, there was a constitution with all the right words in it, a parliament, courts, subsidized appartments and plenty of newspapers. And there were no laws forbidding critisising the Party and the state. But when you were becoming a real threat to the system, like organising movements - you would lose your job, appartment, social benefits - all perfectly legally. For most of us then economic intimidation was enough to keep quiet in public.

    Chinese communists are smarter than Russians. They allow private enterprise and pursuit of happiness, as long as everybody shuts up and don't question political interests of the elite. Eeeeeh.... And you shouldn't threaten economical interests of Politbureau family members either.

    USA seems to have developed (with all good intentions) a deadly mechanism to shut people up and potentially destroy them for speaking and acting freely. Legal system can be and is used as a weapon of intimidation. The fact that mechanism of protecting less wealthy citizens against legalistic intimidation by more wealthy citizens (corporates) is explicitly lacking is interesting. What would you say of a state that wouldn't protect you against physical intimidation by a local warlord? Why doesn't it protect you against legal intimidation by the guy with deeper pockets?

    Now, this is sad, because America used to be a democratic ideal for us (imperfect, but better than others). It is visibly getting more Chinese by the day. First we see how an interest group or monopoly can intimidate potential competitors by slapping multimillion lawsuits left and right. Then we could expect US state trademarking the word "Freedom" and...
  • by chipotle_pickle ( 541351 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @08:36PM (#3288046)
    The perswarehouse site still notes its Gomez certification. However, as of March 31, of this year, Gomez has figured out that it does not know how to or can't afford to certify merchants. As of April 1, Petswarehouse is using the Gomez trademark without permission. LOL. See Gomez note here http://gomez.com/certification/single_firm.asp?fir m_id=1507&industry_id=35
  • by jbridges ( 70118 ) on Thursday April 04, 2002 @09:24PM (#3288227)
    Web talk lands some in hot water [msnbc.com]

    My favorite is the Long Island Business news article about how filing lawsuits is this guy's "hobby".

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI