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with Aliza Sherman

If you own a business - home-based or otherwise - this is the blog where you'll find practical tips and smart ideas about entrepreneurship. I've started and run 4 different businesses so "been there, done that." I'll also invite successful entrepreneurs to share their best advice with you.

To learn more about Aliza, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! and her website, www.mediaegg.com.

What To Do When Competitors Turn Ugly

Categories: Legal Stuff

3 comments

I was thinking back to the days when I owned an Internet company and encountered some women who decided they didn’t like me (we had never met). They set out to badmouth me to whoever would listen - including the press - as well as publishing false statements about me online. It was a very painful experience for me, especially since my entire business revolved around teaching and helping women and girls get online. I was floored that other women felt the need to put me down - as an author, as a businesswoman and even as a person - as a way of “competing.”

First, let’s define the difference between libel and slander.

Libel is defined as “a false and malicious statement published in writing or through broadcast media for the purpose of defaming a living person.”

Slander is an untruthful oral (spoken) statement about a person that harms their reputation or standing in the community.

Since slander is a “civil wrong,” the injured person - you - can bring a lawsuit against the person who made the false statement. If the statement is made through broadcast media such as on the radio or on television, it would then be considered libel versus slander because the statement has the potential to reach a very wide audience.

If you are a public figure, you may have to prove actual malice on your competitor’s part, that is, that they knowingly or recklessly published or stated something false.

So what should you do if your competitors get ugly? Here are some options:

1. Ignore it. Sometimes the best course of action is to ignore someone else’s false and hurtful statements about you and your business rather than draw more attention to them. You can deal with fallout from their statements on an individual basis if people come to you for an explanation. But even without you fanning their flames, the fire can still get out of control.

2. Take the high road. If you are asked for your opinion, do not say anything disparaging about anyone. My tactic was even to go so far as “killing” my detractors with kindness. I’d say really nice things about them in public and to the media, then let people decide for themselves who was more professional and more credible.

3. Broadcast a response. If a little sugar doesn’t dispel the bitterness, find some relevant and high-exposure challenges to broadcast, post or publish a response - not directly to their accusations or statements - but giving a clear picture of your point of view and the facts. Be careful not to look defensive or offensive, just matter of fact and again, professional.

4. Send a Cease & Desist. If things are really getting ugly and it is hurting business, it may be time for a lawyer to step in. The first course of legal action is to have your lawyer compose and mail a cease and desist letter specifying exactly what falsehoods you are asking them to cease perpetuating. Make sure you’ve kept very careful records of their statements. And keep in mind that a cease & desist letter could be like gasoline on a fire, and they could publish it online or distribute it to others.

5. Take legal action. If we’re talking about major losses or damage to your company or reputation, you may want to invest in bringing a suit against your competitor. You must have a lot of evidence and show their clear intent to do you harm. This is definitely a last resort.
If the statement your competitor makes is their opinion and not a statement of verifiable fact, then the statement they made may not be defamatory.

In law, truth is an absolute defense, however, truth can be difficult and costly to prove.

(definitions paraphrased from Nolo.com)



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3 comments so far...

  • Your article really hits home. Except for the fact that I am not battling other competitors, just other moms. I recently stared an online kids news source for young readers. Its main aim is to get young kids to read news that are relevant and fun for them. With a zero budget for marketing I have been reaching our to other moms from my kids schools and just women I considered “friends”. While some have been supportive - I am amazed to see how many people have turned a cold shoulder toward me - they don’t even acknowledge my presence or claim they have just been
    “too busy” to even click on my link ( its been over eight weeks since I launched. Can’t figure out what to make of it - but am a little disappointed as I really need other mom’s to support it to get it going!

    meera dolasia  |  December 6th, 2007 at 8:23 pm

  • I have been through similar experiences when you’re shocked to find that some friends, whom you’ve supported with their ideas for years, all of a sudden turn a cold shoulder towards your new thing. Best thing to do no matter how difficult is not to dwell on it or else you will drive yourself crazy. Stick with the supportive people only. Turn around or away all negativity to positives, whether it means you don’t speak to that person anymore or just keep it “cordial.” You will be much better off focusing that energy on your business. Good luck and send me the URL of your web site. I’m curious to see your site.

    AnnaB  |  December 19th, 2007 at 3:15 pm

  • hi Anna

    Thanks for the supporting e-mail. Sorry I didn’t see this till today - the site is called http://www.dogonews.com - let me know if you get a chance to look at it ( e-mail me at the adress on the website) would love to know what you think

    meera dolasia  |  January 30th, 2008 at 8:00 pm

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