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Author Topic: Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?  (Read 10082 times)

Offline Uhura!

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Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?
« on: July 02, 2012, 10:28:37 AM »
We only have ~ 780 members so we're not a "Big Board" but my site is growing and we are engaged in several activities: We do contests & giveaways, Guest Articles, we offer Paid Advertising, and we even run free classes about how to use Twitter for marketing from time to time.

For the most part, running my site has been a very good experience; however, there are times when I have dealt with "interesting" personalities who inevitably threaten to sue the site.

Do forum owners get threatened with law suits a lot?

Do you know of any lawsuits against forum owners?

Do I need to retain a lawyer? What is the best way to do this with a limited budget?
:) Our Parenting Spot is an online parenting community for fathers, mothers, grandparents, teachers, and family service professionals. 8) We also provide low cost advertising options for authors, family service providers, and businesses with family friendly products and services. ;D Visit us @ www.OurParentingSpot.net!

Offline ApplianceJunk

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Re: Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?
« Reply #1 on: July 02, 2012, 12:28:14 PM »
I have never been threatened with a law suite.

I personally would never respond to any type of threat. Doing so would just feed the troll. ;)
I have no idea what happens when one gets sued, but I would guess you would get something official in the mail or served papers.

At that point I would go talk to a lawyer, until then I would just blow it off. :)

Offline ApplianceJunk

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Re: Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?
« Reply #2 on: July 02, 2012, 11:57:25 PM »
So someone has threatened you with a law suite then?


Offline Uhura!

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Re: Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?
« Reply #3 on: July 03, 2012, 08:46:51 AM »
In the 5 years I have had my forum, I have been threatened with a law suit three times. Each time was after we banned someone.

The forum is growing and I plan to LLC it, so I am trying to take logical steps.

Here's a recent example (though it doesn't seem to be a direct threat, the person appear to be escalating their behavior & they stated that they are a lawyer and made a few claims about legal liability):

Two people got into a disagreement on another Internet website. One of them, claiming to be a lawyer, posted the other's full name along with private exchanges they had on the other website on my website. The area of my site she posted this to was semi private (access by request / approval only.)

I promptly removed the post and then banned the person. The banned person contacted my site via email to argue that the post should have remained because it was a "warning" to our members that the other person is an "Internet Predator." (It appeared to be a simple disagreement. Nothing sexual, nothing threatening violence, etc.) She claimed that if the other person did anything negative to another member of my site, my site could be held legally liable. The banned person claimed that if the other person contacted her again, my site could be held legally liable (although in the private exchanges the other person stated clearly that they would no longer neither read nor respond to any messages from the banned person.) I responded that the post was removed because it contained personally identifiable information (another member's full name) along with private exchanges without that person's permission - which is a violation of the Registration Agreement and Community Guidelines. The banned person then made PDF copies of some the private exchanges they had with the other person at the other site and sent them via email to my site as "evidence" of the other person's "predatory intentions / behavior with a repeated statement of the claims above.

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Offline busterone

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Re: Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?
« Reply #4 on: July 03, 2012, 09:10:26 AM »
I have experienced something similar, around 3 years ago. One member was posting and also PMing other members claiming that one particular member was a predator. The one accusing lived in the US, the one accused was in the UK. It was obvious that it was just a trolling grudge to me, so I tried editing and deleting posts. He persisted, so I banned him. He returned several times using a proxy and new credentials, threatening a suit. I laughed him off.  He eventually gave up and has not been back in about 2 1/2 years. He did cause a stir and some people actually believed his lies and left the forum, but overall, it was just a bunch of hot air.

I wish you well Uhuha, I really don't think your troublemaker has a leg to stand on either. 

Offline JohnS

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Re: Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?
« Reply #5 on: July 03, 2012, 11:41:57 AM »
Most of these people who threaten are just spouting off and usually do not have a legal leg to stand on. What the legal situation is will depend on where you are and for example it could be very different in the USA to Europe. Personally I do not believe it necessary to retain a lawyer just in case and the time for a lawyer would be when presented with a court summons, though this is just my personal opinion and not a recommendation. I realise the US is a bit more litigious than  Europe and you should at least read and be aware of the laws that apply to you, I am thinking of copyright, data protection, privacy, trading standards, consumer rights and advertising laws in particular, every country has them.

I am not a lawyer but I believe having the necessary clauses in your sign up agreement will get rid of most liability. in my non legal opinion the standard SMF sign up agreement is quite goodfor most purposes but does need a couple of things added:

1. Membership of the forum conveys no rights to the subscriber and it may be withdrawn at any time without notice.
2. The decision to edit or delete any posting, or ban or remove any subscriber, is at the sole discretion of the adminstrator or the moderator, this may be done without notice to the poster/subscriber and no discussion on this decision will be entered into.
3. Any attempt by a banned subscriber to rejoin the forum by using different credentials and/or the use of proxy servers will be treated as malicious activity and appropriate action will be taken.

If you take subscriptions you may wish to add something about refunds, for example either no refunds or refunds and liability limited to the unexpired value of any subscription paid.

Good luck.

Offline Kindred

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Re: Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?
« Reply #6 on: July 03, 2012, 12:42:20 PM »
thing is... it might be nice to spell those things out, but they are not needed...

forums are privately owned... which means that the owner can limit, restrict or otherwise run things in any manner that he or she sees fit. "freedom of speech" and other laws which affect public organizations have no binding effect on privately owned forums.
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Offline JohnS

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Re: Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?
« Reply #7 on: July 03, 2012, 02:51:34 PM »
Laws differ in different countries though the overriding principle appears to be that that provider of a Forum is not the publisher of any post but a facilitator so has no liability for any post up to the point someone complains. After that complaint is received the Forum owner becomes the publisher and therefore liable unless they remove the article. Seems to me the safest thing to do is to remove anything you consider unsuitable and definitely anything where a complaint is received, though I appreciate monitoring large forums can be very time consuming.
It gets much more complex if you are charging for a Forum rather than providing it free of charge, if you are charging you are best to consider yourself as a company with all the liabilities and responsibilities that incurs.Certainly in UK as soon as you charge you become a sole trader and subject to trading laws that you would not be subject to as a private individual.
I know some people will disagree with this and I can only repeat what I have read from various sources. In general the courts in UK so far have sided with the Forum/Site owner and disallowed any claims, but have not always allowed them to reclaim thier costs. If someone does sue, you have to find the funds to defend the case, even if you are sure you are in the right you still have to fund the defence until a decision is made and that decision may not award you costs even where you are found blameless.
It is all still a bit of a minefield and in general the laws on this are still emerging and are untested.
It would not put me off running a free forum, but I am not sure I would want to run a forum that charges without having a watertight registration and use agreement.

Offline ApplianceJunk

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Re: Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?
« Reply #8 on: July 04, 2012, 06:05:45 PM »
Can't we all just get along. ;)

Offline MovedGoalPosts

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Re: Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?
« Reply #9 on: July 10, 2012, 06:02:55 AM »
The internet is unfortunately full of people who wish to make trouble and believe it is their absolute right to say and do what they wish, often in the name of free speech.  After all that is what a forum is there to facilitate?

In the UK, our environment for litigation is not dissimilar to the USA.  Incessant TV ads for injury compensation solicitors only promote this culture. At the first sign of being wronged, for even the most trivial of matters, many will wheel out the threat of litigation.  In most cases that will be hot air once the "victim", looks again at things in the cold light of day.

One thing that will often cause conflict is not that content is removed, but often that content will not be removed even if a person is removed from a site.  I've had one door slammer, who I had thought I could treat as a friend (he'd even been to my house as part of a gaming community weekend, so he knew where I lived), threatening all sorts of Data Protection Act and related stuff, as well as inevitable litigation.  He was banned after making personal threats to others, which then became threats against me too.  What really irked is that I wouldn't delete his postings, over 1000 of them, as well as the account information.  Deleting the posts would have made nonsense of much of the forum.  Deleting the account information, which I believe I can retain under the UK's DPA, would prevent me seeing if he was trying to return under a new identity.  So many door slammers seem to want a way back in.  The email and even SMS correspondence, or threats against me, went on for a few weeks before it finally went quiet.

I've dealt with the post removal scenario by adding an extra clause in the registration agreement to confirm that the poster is the author and responsible for the accuracy of their content, but that they grant a perpetual right to the site to publish their content, which will not be removed even if they cease site membership, but only if it breaches site rules.  Perhaps though from one of the posts above, I shouldn't be using the word "publish"?

The internet is full of armchair lawyers.  As an admin sooner or later you'll come across one.  You need to be ready for them with strong site policies.  Hiring your own lawyer just in case seems a bit over the top.

Offline ApplianceJunk

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Re: Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?
« Reply #10 on: July 11, 2012, 08:53:02 PM »
Quote
The email and even SMS correspondence, or threats against me, went on for a few weeks before it finally went quiet.

Quiet may not be good. What if he is waiting in the shadows of the darkness, just waiting to strike out in retaliation.  :o ???

Offline MovedGoalPosts

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Re: Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?
« Reply #11 on: July 12, 2012, 04:53:35 AM »
Quote
The email and even SMS correspondence, or threats against me, went on for a few weeks before it finally went quiet.

Quiet may not be good. What if he is waiting in the shadows of the darkness, just waiting to strike out in retaliation.  :o ???
Now you have me worried.  Do I need a bodyguard?  Fortunately it's a long while ago now, so I might be safe.  There is also the matter of a few hundred miles between where he lived and myself so he's going to have to be very determined.

Offline Uhura!

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Re: Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?
« Reply #12 on: July 14, 2012, 10:31:54 AM »
The internet is full of armchair lawyers.  As an admin sooner or later you'll come across one.  You need to be ready for them with strong site policies.  Hiring your own lawyer just in case seems a bit over the top.

In this last case, the person who went crazy was a patent & trademark lawyer.

I am LLCing or INCing my site this month. I am also hiring a firm to do a website audit.

I think we're at the point where we have to - see for yourself - http://www.OurMomSpot.net
:) Our Parenting Spot is an online parenting community for fathers, mothers, grandparents, teachers, and family service professionals. 8) We also provide low cost advertising options for authors, family service providers, and businesses with family friendly products and services. ;D Visit us @ www.OurParentingSpot.net!

Offline busterone

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Re: Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?
« Reply #13 on: July 14, 2012, 01:54:21 PM »
I wish you the absolute best Uhura!. I know you have put a lot of time, effort and much of yourself into your site. I wish you much success! :)

Offline Uhura!

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Re: Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?
« Reply #14 on: July 21, 2012, 12:13:12 PM »
Thanks everyone.

I am LLCing my site & I am getting a lawyer to help with the Operating Agreement for the LLC package (which I will put together myself - my state makes it very easy to submit an LLC package, but the Operating Agreement is an important part of that package. It's the part where your legal protections lie, so have a lawyer prep it is wise. I also purchased an LLCing Guide for $14...)

I am also getting the lawyer to do a scrub of my Registration Agreement & Privacy Policy (Terms of Use). This will cost a little bit of money but it's worth it and it has to be done.

So the LLC will protect my family's assets while the Terms of Use will protect the LLC.

I hope this post is helpful to someone. :)
« Last Edit: July 21, 2012, 12:33:42 PM by Uhura! »
:) Our Parenting Spot is an online parenting community for fathers, mothers, grandparents, teachers, and family service professionals. 8) We also provide low cost advertising options for authors, family service providers, and businesses with family friendly products and services. ;D Visit us @ www.OurParentingSpot.net!

Offline MovedGoalPosts

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Re: Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?
« Reply #15 on: July 21, 2012, 06:24:57 PM »
In which case get the lawyer to also advise you on the implications of every member that is currently registered, and used your site especially posting ownerships, together with the fact you've probably got a database that includes email addresses that can be linked to IPs and other privacy stuff.

Offline melcomtom

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Re: Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?
« Reply #16 on: January 22, 2013, 05:09:42 AM »
You could consult one or similar council occasionally, of course.




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« Last Edit: January 25, 2013, 01:58:06 PM by melcomtom »

Offline ApplianceJunk

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Re: Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?
« Reply #17 on: January 24, 2013, 04:12:33 PM »
You could consult one or similar council occasionally, of course.

spammer?

Offline JohnS

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Re: Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?
« Reply #18 on: December 13, 2017, 05:14:34 AM »
I know this is an old thread, but as it has just been 're-awakened' I thought I would mention GDPR and the fact from next year at least in Europe everything changes, it even applies to forums run overseas that have members in Europe. If you do not know about GDPR then it is possibly time you looked it up.

Offline Steve

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Re: Do Forum Owners Need a Lawyer?
« Reply #19 on: December 13, 2017, 10:59:26 AM »
Please do not revive threads this old. There are already discussions about GDPR elsewhere on the forum. Locking.
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