LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The following information is not a subsitute for real legal advice. For that you have to see your attorney. And I am in no way representing myself to be an attorney.
Please also note that this posting has nothing to do with Matrix and deals exclusively with my bad experience with another company which cannot handle criticism. For my thoughts on Matrix, see my posting, "Matrix is Awesome for Freedom of Speech".
If you are looking at this post and thinking it is too long to read, you could be making a big mistake, because every comment you ever post in the Internet about a company or product, or individual is covered by the issues I discuss here. As I learned, not knowing this could be a big mistake. :)
GETTING SUED FOR LIBEL AND SLANDER WHILE GIVING AN OPINION ON A PRODUCT
While giving my opinion on a product in the Internet, I have recently been sued for libel and slander and I have learned so much about libel and slander law that I would like to share my valuable learned experiences with you. I see it is virtually impossible to function in this world by adhering to it. As I read through these (and other forums), I see that what qualifies as libel and slander abounds in the computer gaming world.
This experience has really shown me that there are two kinds of speech...1) every day speech, the way we really talk...e.g. "That guy is nuts.", and 2) The way you speak if you know about libel and slander and want to cover your ass...e.g. "In my pure opinion, that guy is nuts and the word "nuts" is meant strictly as hyperbole."
When speaking about a product or non-public figure, if called before the Court, you need to (should) have proof your statements are true. Do not make any statements of opinion if you want to be really safe and avoid legal bills and fines in the $20,000-$40,000 range. Present only facts and let the reader draw their own conclusions (For instance: Say, "The game crashed 4 times---NOT, "The game is full of bugs"). Repeating statements of others you believe to be true is not a defense. You may have to, or will probably have to prove them yourself. With little exception (i.e. unless you have a lobby which has worked to protect your industry), spreading information created by others is also no defense...a person or corporation can sue anyone in the chain of distribution they like to stop the spread of the information. So be careful what you say or repeat. Anywhere. Especially in forums. Unless you have gone to extremes to protect your Internet privacy, everything you do can be traced to you with your IP address (emails, postings, everything).
If you can, always have a pre-paid legal insurance rider on your home insurance or rental insurance which covers defense of freedom of speech issues, so you can tell anyone interested in suing you that you WILL have a lawyer in court as this alone may take the wind out of their sails. The court system in the United States has a reputation internationally for being so expensive that it can be used to shut people up merely by making court costs impossible to keep up with. Decisions rendered by judges are very sensitive to whether your argumentation is being presented by someone of their own making (i.e. from the Bar Association) or if you are making the major mistake of representing yourself and trying to learn everything there is to learn about defamation law in the mere 30 days you will have to begin prepare your case.
OF LAWYERS AND JUDGES
Remember, judges have their reputations on the line with LAW FIRMS they have relationships with...not with individuals representing themselves. And with more and more questions about corruption in US courts surfacing in suppressed writings around the world, this all becomes increasingly dicey. I am in contact with authors/Drs of Journalism who are in asylum in Europe who claim their work magically disappears from the Internet and have had death threats delivered to them by US federal judges. Believe me, you only get asylum (a new passport, and a life free of fear of death/torture) with proof your allegations are likely true. Hear about the Pennsylvania judges who were getting bag money from people running correctional facilities for locking kids up who did not have any legal representation? Purchasing a lawyer helps guarantee you won't get totally screwed if only because the judge is literally under peer pressure to do things "fairly."
Yes, it's not much different than a protection racket which has been legalized.
It is not enough to "have the right" to say something. You need to "have the right to say it" AND have the thousands of dollars (or tens of thousands) lying around ready to buy a team of your lawyers ready to sell your version of the law to the judge as your opposition works hard to claim your intention is to destroy the reputation of the company/product/individual, etc. and takes every word of yours out of context and presents it in a light designed to make you look as bad as possible. This is done in their quest for the Holy Grail of Libel and Slander litigation: the permanent injunction...meaning that even though there is NO authority for it according to the US Supreme Court, your little state judge can write an order stating if you EVER speak about these people/products/companies again, you go to jail. Note that at $400/hour, the minimum fee just to RETAIN a lawyer is running near $2500 these days. This will get you through a few hearings perhaps if you have developed a large amount of information for him/her to go through.
Yes. Freedom of Speech is for rich people. Unless you live in the European Union, where it is a human rights violation to not get a lawyer if you can't afford one. Perhaps not coincidentally, all but two of these 27 EU nations ranked higher than the USA's miserable 48th place on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index in 2007. On that list, the USA--home of the "free"--was edged out by Nicaragua, which came in at 47th. I am an American, and now I guess I know where liberty reigns. It isn't here anymore. To speak out against their politicians (yes, my problem was with a politician and his product and area of expertise), poor and middle class Americans must now seek asylum in Europe. Oh well, Thomas Jefferson saw it coming.
OF JURISDICTIONS AND ENFORCEMENT
Additionally, if you are speaking about a company or person domiciled in a state or nation different than yours and they decide to sue you in a court in THEIR jurisdiction, you will probably NEED a lawyer in their city, because travelling there for the many, many hearings (which can be cancelled at the last moment) to represent yourself will be cost prohibitive for the vast majority of human beings. If you don't have a lawyer in their courts, you get to play the highly entertaining, "Enforcing of Judgements" game.
If you are a resident of Austria, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and to a lesser degree Germany, Great Britain, or France, you will be better protected against foreign judgements than others will be, as the first five nations listed won't enforce most OR ANY judgements against their residents from other nations (unless rendered within the EU). Germany and Britain will generally only enforce if you have decided to actually appear before the foreign, non-EU Court and try to fight it. If there is a default judgement entered against you, more often than not, these two countries have not enforced the judgement AS IS. France is a special case, and they likely won't force the enforcement of a judgement against any resident which is ALSO a citizen and you will probably have the right to another trial in your country. If you live in Italy, and to a lesser degree Spain, you are stuck with the foreign judgement if you have had proper notice and you cannot demonstrate the hearing was inherently unfair (VERY difficult to show, but if you couldn't afford a lawyer and are lucky enough to be living in the EU, you may be able to claim that it was a human rights violation and get a new trial in your home country).
Enforcing a non-US judgement within the USA isn't easy as pie either, but you will have to talk to your lawyer about this.
Additionally, when you receive notice of the lawsuit, you will generally get 24 hours to stop ALL communication about the company/product/individual. This will make it so that unless you have already gotten your information to as many people as possible, you run the risk of being silenced forever without even getting the word out that you are being sued. It is a handy way for a company to dispose of you and wipe their hands clean.
All of my research has shown (including interviews with extradition experts) that generally, international extradition is not an option if you decide to speak out in violation of an injunction against further speech issued in another country. So if you get a US injunction, continuing to speak out will only prevent you from ever visiting the US again.
By the way, when the "injunction" against me is strictly interpreted, I am an American who can never again speak about the politician who sued me--"by implication or otherwise"--or my government, the health care system for which he is responsible for, the Court System, my experiences in it, or even problems facing humanity in general, without the risk of having the police show up and throwing me in prison for it. Same goes for the 70 people who were ready to kick off an emailing campaign to complain about him to the state legislature.
US Citizens, also please note that your government is one of the handful of nations which has refused to sign the original wording of the International Covenant on Political and Social Rights. This treaty guarantees the citizens of its signatory nations the right to express their contempt for their governments--with violations causing civil damages which can be recovered by the affected individuals. Other nations which have not ratified the original text include China, Myanmar Republic, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Cuba. On top of that, recently US Court decisions have been rendered which emasculate Title 42, Section 1983 of the US Civil Code which allows US citizens to sue for damages in federal court when their constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech--or other Civil Liberties--have been taken away. Now, State judges can do as they please unless you are monied enough to push a case through two appeals to the Supreme Court in your state. Title 42, Section 1983 was a key tool of the Civil Rights movement to campaign for the right to vote for African Americans living in the Southern States. Do you see where this is going?
Will I go to prison for posting this? We shall see. :) I have always wanted to go to prison for voicing my political opinion in the United States. If I can bring a laptop and a copy of War in the Pacific, I should be okay.
Sometimes, the way things are, I am not even sure what the men at Lexington, Bunker Hill, and Saratoga died for. And I am not sure I am ready to let the current American government piss on their graves. Yes, my friends, it has come to the point where we have to purchase the rights others died to bequeath to us.
Having said all of this, I think it would be silly for software companies to develop a reputation for suing their customers and it would do more harm than good. And Matrix itself is a shining example of freedom of speech. However, I have also read about one man who said one software company was a "spammer", was sued, and subsequently went through $70,000 in legal fees and lost. So be careful what you say and how you say it. Remember, to be safest, state the facts (I was emailed 10 times in a day) and let the reader draw their own conclusion (ah! they must be spammers!).
So. Before you post on software again, stop and think. You have a right to know this information, and I think a company/person/product have a right not to be "libelled and slandered." :)
< Message edited by barbarossa2 -- 3/11/2009 12:21:18 PM >