Chilling Effect: How A Behemoth Company Can Silence A Blogger

The content of this article is a long overdue explanation to my readers about sudden disappearance of posts addressing one particular company, namely ePerks. If you are not familiar with the issue, you probably will be much better off to skip this post, because it is going to be a very long post. If you however interested in Chilling Effects, you might as well stick around. I believe I have a classic example how can a behemoth company silence a blogger.

If you are a regular reader, you may remember several posts on my blog addressing dealings of ePerks. These post have generated over 200+ comments. Majority of those comments were quiet negative to say the least. On February 13, I have received a Cease and Desist (see below) notice from ePerks attorney. The letter contains nothing but untruthful accusations. To write 200+ comments on my own posts would require my presence in 200+ locations across the United States in a span of very short time frame. The accusation that I am financially involved with ePerks competitor(s) is complete lie, because ePerks was the only company that I was financially involved with. In fact they paid me to write a review about their website. The only thing that did not go according to their plan, was the fact that many of my readers are real estate agents. This also taught me a difficult lesson about “paid or sponsored reviews” model of blogging. Needless to say I discourage you to ever write a paid review.

It was not easy decision to take the articles down. It felt like I was betraying all those who commented on my posts. But I simply wanted the issue to go away, because I was also tired of moderating my posts from false testimonies of ePerks fans, who would leave four or more “positive” reviews during just one single visit to my website.

So why am I publishing this post? It appears that many visitors and regular readers are still looking for those posts and I think they deserve an explanation:

Hi! My name is ***** and I am a real estate agent from *******. I have had an absolute horrible time with eperks…disputing unauthorized charges (canceled in Jan but still getting charged) among numerous other complaints! Filed with the BBB also. A link to your blog pops up when I search eperks scam, but I can never actually get to the blog? I was hoping you could help me out…would really like to read it.
Thanks!

I also hope that some of the leading real estate blogs and websites will notice this issue and will stand up for the freedom of speech on the Internet. I also have reasons to be concerned about my and my family’s safety.

So without further ado, here is the letter I received from Ronald J. Cook:

WILLOUGHBY, STUART & BENIN
A Professional Law Corporation
50 West San Fernando, Suite 400
San Jose. CA 85113
Phone 408 289 1972

February 13, 2008

Volodymyr (Vlad) Zablotskyy
Street
City, State Zip

Re: My Client: Eperks.com
Our File: 1805.10806C

Dear Mr. Zablotskyy:

I represent Barbus Ventures Corporation, the parent company for ePERKS.com. You are hereby instructed to terminate your ongoing efforts to unfairly disparage and slander ePERKS.com through the dissemination of false and/or manufactured information. Any resistence to our demands will be met with swift and decisive action.

As you well know, we are referring to your blogs that reference the name ePERKS, including such title as “ePerks- A Scam Or A Gem”; “How Much Does it Take to Take Advantage of a Realtor?”; “ePERKS- Putting The ePerks Saga to Rest”; and “ePerks- Three Critical Mistakes a New Startup Should Avoid”, amongst others. Your blogs create the false impression you are inviting comments from legitimate ePERKS customers, when the truth is your only goal is to cast ePERKS in a negative light for personal gain. In that regard, your blogs deceptively fail to inform the reader that you are motivated by an undisclosed proprietary interest in an ePERKS competitor.

Having researched the content of your blogs, we have come to conclusive proof that a substantial number of your postings are bogus, in that they frequently describe experiences that never happened and people who do not exist. Moreover, you are fully aware of these fals stories, yet posted them anyway. Your complicity of their creation is very serious matter.

Our research also shows that negative remarks are not only invited, but are posted without a challenge. Conversely, favorable remarks are met with hostility and belittlement, including demands that the posting party either prove they are participating agents, or do not work for ePERKS.

We have determined that our damages as a direct result of your activities are in multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars. Such substantial money and brand name damages can no longer be tolerated.

You are hereby instructed to promptly do the following: (1) shutter and prevent access to all blogs with any ePERKS reference or content; (2)remove any record of their existence; (3) terminate any links pointing to any blogs that reference ePERKS; and (4) cease and desist from any and all current and future digital, print, Internet or verbal reference to ePERKS.com or Barbus Venture Corporation. This includes closing down your January 28, 2008 bog that continues to direct readers to your previous remarks and postings. We demand that you complete these actions immediately, and in no event later than five days of this letter. Your failure to comply will result in prompt legal action, including, but not limited to, a claim of money damages and appropriate restraining orders.

We will be closely monitoring your activities. Barbus Ventures Corporation continues to reserve any and all rights under the law, including the right to pursue any and legal remedies against you, your employer, your clients, and/or your web host. Should you have any questions or comments about the contents of this letter, please contact the undersigned.

Respectfully,
WILLOUGHBY, STUART & BENING
Ronald J. Cook

I also would like to say thank you to at least two bloggers for offering their support and help. Although if it only meant to take links to my blog down: Paying bloggers to say nice things and Eperks commercial.

122 Responses to “Chilling Effect: How A Behemoth Company Can Silence A Blogger”

  1. Jay,

    I am standing up for myself now. ;)

    • Todd Jackson says:

      Funny that their own lawyer couldn't even spell Brabus (Barbus, lol) correctly! A real attorney would know the difference. Shows where this company is heading!!! Good luck Vlad.

  2. Vlad says:

    P.S. the posts including all the comments will be republished soon.

  3. Vlad says:

    I think they went after me because my blog ranked #1 on Google for “ePerks scam” with my article “ePerks A Scam or A Gem”….

    Thanks for the tip about contacting my states Attorney General. I appreciate it.

  4. “The letter contains nothing but untruthful accusations.”

    Then why remove the posts? I understand that it can be very scary to get threatening letters from attorneys. But have you consulted an attorney yourself?

    You are asking that “leading real estate blogs and websites will notice this issue and will stand up for the freedom of speech on the Internet.”

    And I suspect they will. But you didn’t stand up yourself…

    Talk to Joe at sellsius. (http://blog.sellsiusrealestate.com/) He may have some ideas or connections.

  5. ….Vlad Zablotskyy, author of the “Go Beyond MLS” blog has received a Cease and Desist letter from ePerks — a company that signs up agents (and others) to offer discounts to consumers…..

  6. Vlad says:

    Wayne,

    If you are following this, I have deleted one of your comment by accident…. while installing new spam protection plugin… I did however link to your post…

    Sorry about that.

  7. ….Vlad Zablotskyy, author of the “Go Beyond MLS” blog has received a Cease and Desist letter from ePerks — a company that signs up agents (and others) to offer discounts to consumers…..

  8. ……..Well, it seems we’re not so far removed from the days of the schoolyard bully. Today, Vlad Zablotskyy, author the blog at Go Beyond MLS……..

  9. Vlad says:

    Wayne,

    If you are following this, I have deleted one of your comment by accident…. while installing new spam protection plugin… I did however link to your post…

    Sorry about that.

  10. […] Chilling Effect: How A Behemoth Company Can Silence A Blogger These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. […]

  11. Vlad says:

    Just an update I am allowing the access to “ePerks- a Scam or a Gem” once again. The comments there are closed for obvious reasons. However you can decide if I acted fairly when I questioned self promotion by certain individuals who I suspect are/were connected to to the company.

    Also not every one had left their websites while commenting and it is fine by me. Look what happened! I do however think you need a wild imagination to accuse me for writing all the comments. I hope Mr. Cook knows what IP address stands for. I literally would need to be in several locations across US in span of 15 minutes.

  12. Vlad says:

    Just an update I am allowing the access to “ePerks- a Scam or a Gem” once again. The comments there are closed for obvious reasons. However you can decide if I acted fairly when I questioned self promotion by certain individuals who I suspect are/were connected to to the company.

    Also not every one had left their websites while commenting and it is fine by me. Look what happened! I do however think you need a wild imagination to accuse me for writing all the comments. I hope Mr. Cook knows what IP address stands for. I literally would need to be in several locations across US in span of 15 minutes.

  13. Vlad says:

    http://www.seoemperor.com/2008/03/17/when-paid-

    The above is a trackback that was accidentally caught by my older spam protection plugin.

  14. Vlad says:

    http://www.seoemperor.com/2008/03/17/when-paid-blogging-goes-wrong/

    The above is a trackback that was accidentally caught by my older spam protection plugin.

  15. Oops, my apologies to all for linking incorrectly to the Miami law suit blog post. My HTML is VERY rusty! The link, albeit badly done, will still take you to the right place!

    Wayne

  16. Thanks Vlad, you da man!

  17. Oops, my apologies to all for linking incorrectly to the Miami law suit blog post. My HTML is VERY rusty! The link, albeit badly done, will still take you to the right place!

    Wayne

  18. […] really care about your so called “constructive criticism”. So when I received Cease and Desist letter, I definitely felt the chills going down my […]

  19. Vlad says:

    No problem Wayne.

    Thanks for the support.

  20. Vlad says:

    Greg,

    Thank you so much. I would not mind if you can write up a post about this.

    And yes, I am going to fight it. They were leaving defamatory comments on forums in regards to my posts. They even started a blog specifically aimed at discredit me:

    eperks.wordpress.com

    There was an entire paragraph dedicated to me but today that paragraph was taken down.

  21. Are you fighting this? We’ve had these dipshit letters in the past, but all we do is laugh at the jackass lawyers. You have a first amendment right to say what you want. As a public persona, ePerks would have to prove that your statements are not only false but were intended to cause them harm. They cannot meet that test and they know it.

    If you want BloodhoundBlog’s help, say so.

    • Vlad says:

      Greg,

      Thank you so much. I would not mind if you can write up a post about this.

      And yes, I am going to fight it. They were leaving defamatory comments on forums in regards to my posts. They even started a blog specifically aimed at discredit me:

      eperks.wordpress.com

      There was an entire paragraph dedicated to me but today that paragraph was taken down.

  22. Good on ya!

    When you see childish behavior, take screen shots. They’re probably within their first amendment rights as well, but nothing pops the pus out of their pimples like public scorn.

    Meanwhile, I’ll see if I can make some noise.

    Thanks to Marlow Harris for pointing this out.

    • Vlad says:

      Yes Marlow is great!

      Some one posted a link to my blog on one of the Marlow posts. So after I received this C&D letter I was simply scared so I asked her to remove the link.

      I saw she posted on her blog today. I guess that is how you found my post.

      Yes, what they had on their blog was silly and I wouldn’t even bother. What happened was I really started to jerk their lawyer around by demanding to take down the paragraph that mentioned my name and my blog. He initially replied that ePerks have nothing to do with that blog. But today after posting this post I saw the paragraph mystically disappear.

      Screen shots are good but one can photoshop them. I think I will just wait for the next update over at archive.org. They will not be able to modify anything there.

  23. Greg Swann is not a lawyer. He does not even believe in occupational licensing. Seek counsel from a licensed attorney, not a real estate blogger. Greg Swann will not pay your legal fees when you are sued and have to hire an attorney. The guy is as likely to get you in hotter water the way he shoots off his mouth. Just my opinion.

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