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Isn't it a crime if someone repeatedly rates a product with very low spam ratings for many years?

I was told that this is Unfair competition and covered by civil rights but still cannot believe it.

Is there another way to stop a person from doing this without investing many thousands in an expensive lawsuit?

  • "rates a product with very low spam ratings" -- what does that even mean?? Rates something with very low unsolicited advertising ratings??? – Scott Apr 30 '16 at 20:55
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    Is the person giving the ratings a competitor, or just an unhappy customer? – Mohair Apr 30 '16 at 21:57
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It depends on their purpose in doing so, and on what state they are in, for example. It is far more likely to be addressed through civil law claims (like defamation) than it is to implicate criminal law.

You can always try reporting it to the police, your state's attorney general, or the FTC, and there is always the off-chance one of them will do something about it. (Perhaps as a message to other businesses who think about doing it.) You may also be able to find some support from your local chamber of commerce or other businesses who either (a) have dealt with this in the past or (b) will magnify your voice to get a law change in place to help you.

It will often run afoul of consumer protection statutes if done by a competitor, although states vary in how good their laws are on that. It is probably deceptive (about origin of speech or about product being attacked) commercial speech so it does not have much of anything in the way of First Amendment protection. You could also argue federal truth in advertising law and consumer confusion under the Lanham Act, but taking that to trial gets very expensive unless the FTC gets involved.

You could hire a lawyer and pay them a few hundred bucks to write a demand letter, which may solve the problem without spending many thousands. Filing a complaint in court is a step up from that and may result in a quick settlement once they realize what it would cost to fight you. You could report it to a review service, especially if you have evidence. (Maybe have someone do a textual analysis and show they're all being written by the same person, if that's the case. Some review services might accept that). You could transform it into a point of pride and leverage the Streisand effect--there are a variety of marketing responses.

How effective all of this is also obviously depends on what kind of proof you have about who is doing it. If customers are just giving you bad ratings, trying to sue or attack them in any way will usually backfire horribly. Frequently the best response is to ignore all of the legal options and just respond professionally in a positive and usually non-engaging way. (e.g. I am sorry you had a bad experience. We strive to ensure customer satisfaction and if you are ever unhappy about a service we provide, please let us know immediately so that we can address your concern and do a better job for you and for others, etc...)

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In order to get anywhere with a defamation suit, the defendant would need to have asserted as fact something false (as well as damaging). A rating is an expression of opinion, so pursuing a defamation claim for low ratings would be pointless. The First Amendment in fact gives you the right to publicly announce that you hate Acme Anvils, and even if I make such a declaration 100 times, that doesn't constitute "unfair competition" -- unfair competition pertains to the actions of business competitors, not the guy on the street who has a grudge against Acme. There is no civil right to only be praised.

A review, however, can be defamatory (it is possible that the majority of online 1-star reviews are defamatory). The trick there is to find an actually false assertion, for example "the room smelled terrible: someone died and they left the body there for a week" is probably actually false, but "the room smelled terrible: it smelled like someone died and they left the body there for a week" doesn't actually assert as fact that someone died and they left the body there for a week.

There may be TOS language that prohibits a person from serial down-voting on a rating site, in which case a person who down-votes a product 100 times is in violation of those terms. If you suspect a single individual with a grudge, the simplest thing to do is see if such behavior is a violation, in which case the service-provider may delete the questionable content.

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