In a time where a dissatisfied client can publicise their experience to the world at large in a few clicks, the demand for legal advice in this area is on the rise. What can you do to protect yourself and your business where a disparaging or bogus review has been posted?

What do you need to do to successfully challenge a review?

In some instances, it can be relatively straightforward to have defamatory content removed, without the need for court intervention. Google (or whichever forum the review is on) is sometimes willing to remove the review.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and having the content removed and/or obtaining compensation can be a lengthy and expensive process. Identifying the author of the review can be an ordeal in itself, with fake names, aliases and IP addresses helping to disguise the person responsible. It is also worth bearing in mind that in certain cases there may be more than one author (which can be the case where multiple parties coordinate an attack on a business or individual).

The most likely course of action will be to bring a claim against the author of the review (once they have been identified, if this is not obvious from the outset). The proceedings must be commenced within 1 year of the date of first publication.

To successfully bring a claim against the defendant, all elements of defamation must be present:

  1. The claimant must prove that the defendant published the statement to a third party;
  2. The statement must refer to the claimant; and
  3. The statement must meet the common law definition of defamation or have caused, or is likely to cause, serious harm to the claimant’s reputation.

Possible defences to a claim 

Possible defences to the claim include where the statement was based on truth or honest opinion, that the statement is a matter of public interest, or, where the claim is not brought within the required statutory limitation period.

Should pursuing a claim against the writer of the review prove challenging, it may be possible to instead make a claim against Google/the relevant forum. In some instances, the forum itself may fall within the scope of the legislation, as an author, editor, or publisher. Often, the forum will be reluctant to get involved with these kinds of disputes, with the risk of interfering with an individual’s right to freedom of expression. However, proceedings of this kind are rare and are likely to be jurisdiction specific.

If it is necessary to commence court proceedings, a court may order Google (or the relevant forum) to remove the defamatory review; and order the defendant to pay the claimant compensation in the form of damages. In some instances, the court can even force the defendant to publish a summary of the judgment awarded.

What should you do first? 

Should you need to bring or defend a claim for defamation, our experienced Dispute Resolution team will be able to assist you in assessing the merits of your case. We recommend that you keep any dispute well documented (with timelines if possible), along with evidence of any losses incurred as a result of the defamatory review.

It should be borne in mind that not every claim will meet the criteria for a defamation claim, and there is always a possibility that the defendant may have a sound defence (i.e. that the review was based on truth or honest belief). A defamation claim must be initiated within the relevant statutory period, so we advise not to delay in obtaining legal advice.

Contact rhw’s Dispute Resolution Team today. 01483 302000  guildford@rhw.co.uk