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Avoiding lawsuits is as easy as 1, 2, 3

Buttons I just returned from speaking at BlogWorld in Las Vegas. The huge number of attendees and speakers comprised some of the brightest online minds on the planet.

Not surprisingly, the main focus of these folks was harnessing the Internet to do their businesses' bidding. While the established ventures had their cadre of lawyers thwarting legal dangers lurking around every corner, most of the smaller and newer companies had any idea if what they were doing was simply an online version of digging their own legal grave. Emboldened by the impunity with which sites like YouTube seem to operate, many figured that even if they were breaking the law, some magical YouTube fairy was going to sprinkle magic invincibility dust over their business.

You know, because their approach was so cool. Most of the smaller companies seemed to be betting the entire future of their company on the existence of this magic fairy dust.

The fairy dust approach, however, may not be as strange as it might appear on first blush.

Confronted with the crippling legal fees necessary to bring their websites into legal compliance, many smaller companies opt to funnel money toward growth, rather than protection. Eventually all large online companies get their legal ducks in row. It is just a question of whether the company can fly under the radar of online legal complexity long enough to afford competent legal counsel.

While obtaining legal counsel from the outset is clearly the best option, if you are set on initially "winging it," there are some steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of a lawsuit destroying your online presences before you make the leap to legal counsel. Actually, even after you have an Internet attorney looking out for you, these steps still may help to lower your legal bills, keep you out of court and allow you to focus on doing what your company does best.

1) Play Nice

Although controversy breeds online interest, defaming a competitor, unfairly comparing your products to that of a competitor or using third party trademarks or copywrited material is a recipe for disaster. When in doubt, take the high road. In my experience, nothing gets companies involved in online lawsuits more often than provoking a litigious competitor. If they sued someone else, it is much more likely they might sue you.

2) Don't Ignore Red Flags

New clients often come to me after receiving a second cease and desist letter, or even after they have been sued. At this point options are much more limited. Although avoiding legal costs might be a priority, contact a cyber-friendly attorney at the first sign of trouble. Even if your own employee mentions that what you are doing might be a problem, a half hour discussion with your attorney could save you tens of thousands of dollars in litigation fees down the road. If they sent you a cease and desist letter through their attorney, it is unlikely that ignoring the letter is going to be a money maker for you.

3) Think Before You Act

Avoid the tendency to act on emotions, rather than business acumen. Your Internet attorney can often work wonders, but your knee-jerk missive to a company accusing you of online infringement or unfair competition will rarely work to your advantage. As Mark Cuban said at BlogWorld "Go ahead. Write it. It feels good to write it. Just don't show it to anyone."

This is great advice. A single hastily written angry letter can mean the difference of tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in the online litigation game. Once the other side gets your angry letter, you are unlikely to ever get it back. Personally, I envision typing my letters on an eight foot by ten foot screen, since I know that if I screw it up, that is how I will be looking at it while I spend days on the witness stand explaining it to a jury. Nothing begets more tempered rewrites.

There are no guarantees that the foregoing will keep you out of court, but it just might keep your company out of harm's way long enough for you to afford an attorney of your very own.

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Comments

Brett:

This is a terrific post.

Rush

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