Dozier Internet Law harms client’s reputation

Bennett, J. (2007). Attacks from the blogosphere: What Cuppy’s learned the hard way. Franchise Times. September 2007. Available online: http://www.franchisetimes.com/content/story.php?article=00490.

Their copyrighted cease-and-desist letter (excerpts, full text, original pdf) in the DirectBuy case may not be a first for Dozier Internet Law. (For this article I am relying on an excellent article by Julie Bennett that appeared in the September 2007 edition of Franchise Times.)

The story begins with Doug Hibbing, a head honcho at Cuppy’s Coffee and More. Someone has been posting negative things about his company, so…

Hibbing’s next move turned his short problem into a grande one. “We felt we were being libeled and slandered on the Internet,” Hibbing said, “and we wanted to know what our legal rights were. We did a Web search and found John Dozier, (managing partner of Internet Law, P.C., in Glen Allen, Virginia).”

Julie’s pun isn’t only funny, it’s also good foreshadowing. Before Dozier Internet Law became involved, Cuppy’s Coffee was “short.” But because of what John Dozier’s company would do, it became “grande.” Here’s more:

What happened next is something of a mystery. According to Kelly, “almost overnight,” negative posts about Cuppy’s started disappearing from other franchise Web sites. “When the anti-Cuppy’s authors asked me to delete their comments from my site, I said, ‘No. Our policy is not to take down postings, but you can retract them.’ So in the next few days I received several e-mails, including one from the picket lady, saying ‘We were wrong. The people who run Cuppy’s are great guys,’” Kelly said. Even Ben Scoble sent in a new posting, saying he’d been mistaken about Cuppy’s.

Very strange. Cuppy’s Coffee hires Dozier, and negative comments about the company myseriously disappear. Was Dozier Internet Law using copyrighted cease-and-desists even then? I don’t know.

What comes next is worse:

No one asked that anti-Cuppy’s postings be removed from Blue Mau Mau, said Don Sniegowski, who started the franchise blogsite Blue Mau Mau in Salt Lake City in November, 2005. But at about the same time, “someone inserted a malicious piece of software into our program, which took down our entire Web site for a 12-hour period and kept it going on and off for a few days,” he said. Sniegowski told Franchise Times this summer that he still doesn’t know who planted the software.

So at this point, you have negative comments mysteriously disappearing and a virus entering the system. Even if Dozier Internet Law has nothing to do with the virus, the bizarre silencing of critics raises suspions. And then:

His ponderings were picked up by other blogs, which, of course, brought even more attention to Cuppy’s.

“Instead of squelching the story, the disappearing complaints sparked it,” Kelly said. “We heard from people all over the world, who commented on whether the ability of a company to quash negative rumors was a threat to free speech. The Cuppy’s saga turned into a lesson on how franchisors should not deal with the Blogosphere.”

The problem for Cuppy’s Coffee grew so big after Dozier Internet Law “helped” that L.B.D. (Life Before Dozier) was problem-free by comparison!

John Dozier’s comment near the end of the article is either hilarious (if John was behind it) or sad (if this is Donald Morris‘s second “accident”):

Dozier said his law firm does manage to get defamatory postings removed from the Web frequently, “but it takes a tremendous amount of finesse, strategy and tactics.” Dozier would not reveal what tactics he used to make the anti-Cuppy’s postings disappear. “We did what we had to do to get the job done,” he said.

The Bennett article is quite good — read it yourself. Scott Allen over at entrepreneurs.about.com also has a good take.

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