ePerks & iHype – Legal Kneejerk – Sues Blogger

 

I had intended to do a followup this week with more scathing evidence of ePerks shilling all over the blogosphere, but ePerks have pre-empted that by taking some rather unusual and desperate action…

Remember I am not a lawyer, and this is a stong opinion piece.

I am trying extremely hard to create an assertion of fact dressed up as an opinion

ePerks Are Suing Vlad

I found out on Saturday from Vlad that he is being sued by ePerks.

For those new to this devastating attack on blogging free speech, I recommend my previous post on ePerks and iHype which was just the tip of the iceburg of the information that is being collected, both prior to the legal action, and plans for the future.

Here are the documents served on Vlad.

Read this doc on Scribd: ePerks – Brabus vs Zablotskyy

Just a quick note for anyone who shares this document, it would be well worth modifying it to include some keywords in the links that Scribd inject. I should have also suggested to Vlad that it be prefaced with some links to relevant discussions.

<a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/3271851/Barabus-vs-Zablotskyy">ePerks - Brabus vs Zablotskyy</a> - <a href="http://www.scribd.com/upload">Upload a doc</a></div><div style="display:none"> Read this doc on Scribd: <a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/3271851/Barabus-vs-Zablotskyy">ePerks - Brabus vs Zablotskyy</a>

It is interesting to note that for some reason Brabus are looking for punitive damages and claiming malice, and they have confined the case to the way Vlad defended his family name when he was attacked quite viciously on multiple websites suggesting he is/was a paedophile which as far as I know is untrue – Vlad has always come across as a kind and generous person.

This was particularly damaging for Vlad, he writes a pro-life blog, and is in the process of filing for adoption.

ePerks - Jaffar S - Yahoo Answers

Vlad’s post in my opinion, and I have read it at least 20 times, doesn’t seem to directly accuse ePerks of anything, and would only suggest suspicion, but certainly not direct accusation, if the whole situation up until that point was taken into account.

At that time the suspicion was warranted, “Jaffar S” was using the same IP address in comments as people claiming to be ePerks employees, and others posting multiple positive comments, the same IP address range as I previously highlighted being used for ePerks shilling.

76.206.0.160 to 76.206.0.167 – I suggest anyon who has come into contact with ePerks in any way search their databases and email accounts for every IP address in that range – it may be vital evidence.

Ben Behrouzi claimed his company ePerks had nothing to do with the address range, and Vlad posted that information very clearly on his blog.
There was a little confusion though of which Ben might not be aware – though Vlad originally mentioned Texas, the IP range is actually tied to San Francisco and San Jose, where ePerks is located, and that is the area that lots of shill comments originated from as well.

As Trace points out about ePerks

Vlad made no accusations but simply presented anecdotal evidence indicating that ePerks was possibly linked to the false charges

Trace also goes into detail that the papers served on Vlad have no relationship with the previously sent Cease and Desist.

All of this is important, lets take a look at what I didn’t (deliberately) quote from the chilling effects article.

Question: If I write something defamatory, will a retraction help?

Answer: Some jurisdictions have retraction statutes that provide protection from defamation lawsuits if the publisher retracts the allegedly defamatory statement. For example, in California, a plaintiff who fails to demand a retraction of a statement made in a newspaper or radio or television broadcast, or who demands and receives a retraction, is limited to getting “special damages” — the specific monetary losses caused by the libelous speech. While few courts have addressed retraction statutes with regard to online publications, a Georgia court denied punitive damages based on the plaintiff’s failure to request a retraction for something posted on an Internet bulletin board. (See Mathis v. Cannon)

If you get a reasonable retraction request, it may help you to comply. The retraction must be “substantially as conspicuous” as the original alleged defamation.

Vlad very clearly posted the statement on his blog that Ben Behrouzi claimed the attack on Vlad’s character was nothing to do with ePerks.

ePerks – Brabus Ventures are suing Vlad under California law, and my reading of Vlad’s article on IP addresses is that that could be looked on as a very fair statement given equal weight in the public eye, even though (as far as I am aware) no request for a retraction was ever received from ePerks / Brabus Ventures.

In a similar light, ePerks at least on Vlad’s blog might be looked upon as a public figure – they paid him to write about them – one article opened Pandora’s box.

From Chilling effects

A public figure must show “actual malice” — that you published with either knowledge of falsity or in reckless disregard for the truth. This is a difficult standard for a plaintiff to meet.

How Can We Help Vlad?

Spreading the news – this affects all bloggers free speech.

Donations – Greg Swann has set up a donation fund for Vlad

Greg has created some logos / banners / badges along with donation buttons that can be easily syndicated and posted on your blog.


Support Vlad Zablotskyy’s Defense Fund
Defend your own right to free speech!

I might have arranged things and orchestrated things differently, using a dedicated site for the donations, and coordinated the release of information, but nothing can quell the desire to help Vlad in any way people can.

If you have come into contact with Vlad in the blogosphere, or support free speech, or are a parent disgusted at the way false claims can be made against people anonymously, or someone who understands how important a clean reputation is for adoption, you might want to consider a donation.

For bloggers out there, remember to use descriptive anchor text for every link

Blog Posts

I am going to start compiling blog posts of people writing about this horrible situation, especially where they add something significant to the conversation (lawyers, want a link? SEO help?)

Aaron Wall went through this in the past, and has noted that ePerks is going viral (the negative point of view)

Are eperks spammers?, by Lord Matt takes a look at “piles of poo” about ePerks, and a very clear statement of personal opinion from Matt – “I fully believe that Ben Behrouzi of Brabus Ventures (eperks) is both a spammer and an unpleasant human being”- the type of vernacular he normally reserves for the local council and utility companies.

Joe from Sellsius Real Estate is the first lawyer that I am aware to blog about this, and whilst of course this can’t be looked on as legal advice the discussion regarding the long arm of the law and personal jurisdiction in libel cases is extremely interesting.

I never thought I would see the day I would link to Ripoff Report, but someone seems to have listed a complaint about ePerks there. Please don’t add to the report unless your have a genuine complaint about their service.

 

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Comments

  1. says

    something seems fishy….

    maybe I should file suit against vlad… perhaps it will get lots of links and mentions of my company.

    • says

      I think this is more like Dell Hell gone even worse.

      Imagine if Dell had people shilling comments all over the place to try swaying public opinion.

      ePerks need Real Estate agents, many of whom are more loyal to colleagues than the greenback.

      Also ePerks was launching iHype, but that isn’t going to get anywhere with their growing bad reputation.

      Sure you can say the only PR problem for a company is if people aren’t talking about them, but what is happening now is beyond that.

      It is hard to get a court order for access to information unless you take someone to court, or are taken to court.

      This is almost like them opening a second Pandora’s box

  2. says

    I want to thank you Andy for putting a spotlight on this for Vlad in such a positive clear way. I really want to encourage anyone reading this to click on the donation button to this very worthwhile cause.

  3. says

    As per normal I am not a lawyer and no very little about the US civil law system. But I would hope Vlad will take a little comfort that they chose big statements rather then gritty details , by that I mean they are going to attempt to convince things like Malice rather then going for something which is less showy but easier to prove on a technicality.

    That said I guess in this outing their lawyers are not on no win no fee, in the US can the defendant demand costs be paid in full by the plaintiff if the charges amounted to nothing or do they have to counter sue?

  4. says

    I have added Vlad’s issue, as well as Barry Schwartz from Search Engine Round Table Face Book Cyber Stalking issue to the Wikipedia Cyber Stalking thread on Digg.

    Cyber Stalking is horrible and should be fought against by the whole Internment Global Village community.

    And when a company like ePerks uses it as a tool to litigate against Vlad it is border line criminal.

    Please follow the discussion on Digg and Digg the threads to show support for David Shankbone who originally came out with a cry for help and Vlad. http://tinyurl.com/56hk9b

    To speak out against Cyber Stalking and Bullying is not easy! I have my own experience with Cyber Stalking and it is very painful. I am trying not to talk about it, because I do not want someone to interpet my care and help for the victims as a selfish reason on my part to do this.

    People tend to distract an issue even when it is pure!

  5. says

    I hope everyone who values their freedom of speech will put their money where their mouth is and donate to Vlad’s defense fund.

    With everything I’ve read following this I did not know Vlad was in the middle of adoption proceedings. I hope this mess doesn’t affect that. I am adopted and feel quite lucky because I’d choose my parents again if I had the chance.

  6. says

    That really sucks for him, definitly hearing now that he is adopting. I guess people that adopt are people with big hearts. And offcourse I really hope too that this wont affect his adoption plans. I think that could hit really hard.

  7. says

    So far everyone has really shown the spirit of the internet community, and I for one am happy to see that we can still get a ‘grass roots’ effort like this, together.

    David and Vlad do not deserve this, no one does. So, it’s up to us to stand up and fight these a-holes.

    Glad to see you still being THIS ACTIVE Andy! Kudos.

    Matt Pellerin – Realtor

  8. says

    I think Vlad will soon be a household name as he is pioneering an area that not many have been through. I applaud him for his continuing efforts.

    • says

      Igor this is known to be an SEO blog, there is very little point, plus it is now over 24 hours – if there had been 20+ votes in the first couple of hours it would have been worth pushing, but certainly it is not worth it now.
      An additional factor, people don’t like clicking tinyurls

        • says

          Andy, if we going to make a change we should not let the system rule us.

          Digg’s 24 hour front page formula is bad and needs to be changed.

          I am for one will continue advocating that Kevin Rose listens to Digg hard core users.

          I will also try to help Vlad how I can. Even when he did not know me, he was kind enough to Stumble my blog.

  9. says

    @Igor,

    fight the power bro!

    Groupthink is just another form of “not thinking” something which 99% of all humans have a problem with..

    @Andy,

    I hope you are joking about not promoting an idea just because its two days old… …the movement to impeach Bush is way older than that

    • says

      Marc other sites, other pages, other blog posts

      I have been twitering a lot, and if you search Friendfeed there are lots of stories about this people could “like”

      Stumbleupon is also a viable channel as it is timeless.

  10. says

    I do not know if Andy will agree with me but I would use a little Gorilla Marketing to enlighten ePerks about their abusive behaviors!

    Just set up ePerks Social Media user ideas on different Social Media networks and tell people what ePerks is doing. Let their customers decide.

    If they have done nothing wrong, then they have nothing to worry about, but it does really look like their abusing themselves in the corporate world.

    So let’s just call them ePerks fan sites! Should we start with Digg, Sphinn, StumbleUpon…keep going…you can even set up ePerks.wordpress.com etc.

    Once you set them up, just link them together for SE indexing.

    Should do the trick to make ePerks recognize that they are doing a wrong thing to Vlad.

    Anyway this is my opinion, others may think differently.

    I believe you need to fight Fire with Fire when common sense fails.

    • says

      Igor it might be worth spending some time reading previous content on my blog, Vlad’s Broker Science, Bloodhound, Dennis Pease and probably a few more.

      In this particular case those are the exact tactics that were used to attack Vlad – anon or fake blogs, fake social media accounts to promote those blogs, fake questions on various other services.

      That type of action isn’t going to help Vlad, and the more you spread things out, the more conversations you have to monitor. it is bad enough on that score already.

      • says

        Andy, I understand your concern and I totally agree with you! I am not recommending spreading rumors and false stories, this is what they used to attack Vlad and it is the Dark side of Social Media Gorilla Marketing.

        What I advise, if someone is interested, is to set up an ePerks Social Media user account and report the truth! I do not mean some cooked up gossip but the real truth that they pick up from this case and if their other cases that are similar as this.

        Social Media Marketing can be used for Good or for Evil depending who uses it and for what reason.

        I never used SM for evil, but have used it to protect myself from Cyber Bullies.

        From my experience it works, but must be used with respect and you are always walking on a thin line.

        So please if anyone attempts to do this, do it with utmost care and integrity. This is very serious and not a game.

        What you will be doing is running a PR site.

  11. says

    Andy: I just posted voice mails from ePerks CEO Ben Behrouzi threatening to black ball and sue a former employee…. the same tactics used on Vlad and myself…. I haven’t DUGG, stumbled, or submitted anywhere…. if you have any advice on the best way to get traction on putting more pressure on Ben and ePerks to help Vlad with his case… let me know….

  12. says

    Desperate and completely unprofessional. Because of the nature of the post in Yahoo Answers – can they request the ip it came from? It seems like that is one of the first steps that ought to be taken.

    Somehow this whole suit feels like a personal vendetta. How sad that such a ridiculous (and being in the industry I can say the offering they have is ridiculous) would solicit editorial advertising then go after the blogger like this. This has now gone way too far. Thanks for keeping us posted on this topic.

    I am a big Vlad supporter and applaud all you and Greg Swann are doing to keep this in the public eye.

    • Lise Broer says

      Agreed: the existence of a suit is probably justification enough to subpoena Yahoo Answers. Have you considered a countersuit?

    • says

      Trisha the legal system in any country can be a little wacky at times.

      The thing I am proud of are the bloggers who have decided to take a stand and promote this in some way.

      The thing I am ashamed of are the bloggers who have heard about this, but are prepared to let it happen and do nothing.

  13. says

    Andy: I saw that you stumbled us… much appreciated. I have put days and days and days (yes days) into researching and writing about the facts regarding ePerks to try to get as much coverage regarding Vlad’s case as possible….. while virtually guaranteeing that we will be sued as was confirmed by ePerks CEO’s comments in the Inman piece that came out today. I’ve been in contact with Vlad on a daily basis and it became clear to me early on that simply bringing out the facts would be the best way to help…….Again, I truly appreciate your help.

  14. says

    Guys, this sort parallels with Strumpette Amanda Chapel abusive PR attacks. http://friendfeed.com/e/b1c5c074-3940-11dd-a24e-003048343a40/Who-Is-Strumpette/

    We all need to stand behind Vlad. This type of behavior is extortion and borders criminality and Mafia type of way of doing things.

    I really sympathize with Vlad and I totally understand how he feels, and how scared he is from this whole thing.

    It is nice to have people Like Andy and others who stand up for people on the Internet. It takes courage!

  15. says

    Agreeing with REBloGirl: a subpoena of Yahoo Answers for that poster’s information is the first thing that comes to my mind. If I were Vlad I’d hire a lawyer (if he doesn’t already have one) and look into getting the case dismissed and/or building a countersuit.

    • says

      Vlad does have a lawyer which is why he is keeping totally quiet now.

      Inman recently interviewed multiple parties, including Vlad’s lawyer, Ben from ePerks and his lawyer, and Trace, who ePerks have now threatened legal action against for his coverage.

      A countersuit? I suppose that is for Vlad and his lawyer to decide depending on whether information is forthcoming from Yahoo, though that may not even be necessary as it is not the only record.

  16. says

    One of our posts about Vlad drew a comment from someone alluding to the Yahoo post. If that post can be linked back to an ePerks employee, than I’m sure a countersuit would be recommended by Vlad’s attorney. This kind of bullying certainly isn’t going to help ePerk’s reputation (what’s left of it) nor any new ventures the principals are involved in. I’m not sure exactly what they are hoping to accomplish. I agree with Mary about the subpeona. That should be the first order of business. It’s one thing to post an opinion, what was posted on Yahoo is a whole other matter.

  17. says

    Andy, time to do an investigation on Brabus Ventures owners of ePerks brabusventures.com Who are these people? There is no press release, no Wikipedia article, are they a legally registered company? Do they have a tax id? Are they a legally registered Angel capital fund with SEC?

    The more I look into this thing the more fishy it smells. Is this another Spoof?

    It sort of reminds me of that movie “The New Republican” I think this is the title.

    Anyway, some serious investigation should be done of these purported companies. Are they even an America entity or some foreign soil based individuals? Vlad’s lawyer needs to do some investigation.

    I checked with Hoovers.com and came up with some records for Brabus companies kevin@brabusonline.com

    http://www.hoovers.com/free/search/simple/xmillion/index.xhtml?query_string=Brabus&which=company&page=1&go_x=6&go_y=10

    I am sorry guys, there is no Real Estate license no Mortgage Broker license for lending money. Are these some Shell companies?

    Maybe I should stop here and let professionals look at this.

  18. says

    If VLAD wants to end this just send the attorneys this link. – Look at the areas I boxed in Red.
    http://www.interiorliving.com/eperks.jpg

    For those who need an explanation.
    http://www.robotstxt.org/faq/prevent.html

    How do I prevent robots scanning my site?
    The quick way to prevent robots visiting your site is put these two lines into the /robots.txt file on your server

    I would estimate they did this around October/November and didnt change it.

    Now ejerks go fire your webmaster and stop the stupid lawsuit its your webmasters fault not anyone elses.

    Mitchell
    InteriorLiving.Com

    • says

      Hi Mitchell

      ePerks don’t have a problem being indexed

      They have a problem with all the other blogs being indexed which contain unfavourable comments.

  19. says

    I agree the suit is about negative blog comments.

    However if ePerks tries to say their website and traffic was greatly diminished by the blog I would beg to differ because the robots.txt entry is doing more damage to their website than any negative post on a blog would.

    Makes you wonder if ePerks did the robots.txt file on purpose or if its out of incompetence on the webmasters behalf.

  20. says

    If you look around they used to have a significantly larger base of keywords inbound they no longer have and timeline wise it falls in line with what looks like a design change on the website. Its not the worst thing they could have put in their robots.txt but its certainly not helping their site.

    • says

      Look up hanging or dangling pages – I certainly look on dealing with duplicate content using robots.txt as a matter purely when there is no other alternative.

      Lots of problems occur in SEO – for instance they have a very clear linking profile of paid blog reviews, all of which are likely detected and slapped.

      It isn’t a problem of the robots.txt

  21. says

    Interesting Andy,

    Thats the first I have heard about that. Thats the thing about SEO you can learn something new every day and still never get it all and once you get close the rules change.

    • says

      I think the majority of SEO experts still don’t fully understand it or make mistakes with it.

      Whilst I could rip the ePerks site apart from an SEO perspective, as with most sites, I don’t do consulting and I don’t particularly feel inclined to help them.

      Trace placed the decline in traffic as a result in reduced advertising spend, and to a large part I am inclined to believe that. Large changes can happen – both up and down, but the ad spend fits – the paid reviews are less likely though possible.

  22. says

    I personally do not believe it is going to be thrown out, because ePerks is after Vlad nail and tooth! They want to ride and squeeze him as much as possible, and not for the money but for publicity. They are using Gorrila marketing to promote their company.

  23. says

    People consider themselves to be experts because it doesn't take two years to learn SEO. You can literally pickup enough knowledge in half an hour.

    The people who make a big deal about SEO are the “SEO Experts” who tell you that to survive online you need to have that company charge you 250 big ones to check a few lines of code and keyword density.

    SEO is the single biggest rip-off on the internet today

  24. says

    I have no idea what other SEOs charge, I rarely do any SEO for others, and when I do it is normally based upon some kind of equity stake – more partnerships than anything else though effectively it is an extreme version of “pay for performance”

    Would you work on the basis of spending months programming an app for me, and only expecting a payoff in 2-4 years? Thought not.

    I have been learning SEO for over 4 years, and can make some SEO experts heads spin on certain topics. There are also a number of SEOs I know extremely well who make me look like a newbie in topics I just don't have the time/education to focus on.

    With SEO it is often a case that the solution is knowing “Where to tap” (research tons of articles on mechanics and plumbers)
    Seemingly small changes can make significant differences when sites have 100k+ pages of content and 10k+ visits/day (to start with)

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