RipoffReport.com, a for-profit website managed by Ed Magedson and owned by Xcentric Ventures LLC, has run into legal trouble.
The Ripoff Report website is notorious for publishing undocumented and anonymous complaints about any company or any individual. According to Ed Magedson (founder and editor), the website can publish any kind of complaints or negative reviews, which he refers to as "reports" (curiously, positive reviews are forbidden), because in his opinion it could be protected by the US federal law known as Communications Decency Act. Even if a report is false or defamatory, Magedson usually refuses to edit the webpage, unless the named company or individual pays him several thousand dollars in order to "repair their reputation".
He also writes that «based on the protection extended by the CDA, Ripoff Report has successfully defended more than 20 lawsuits in both state and federal courts. Each time, the courts have consistently found that the CDA shields Ripoff Report from any claims seeking to treat it as the speaker or publisher of information posted by a third party. […] You can always sue the author if you want, but you can’t sue Ripoff Report». The author is often anonymous, but that is another story.
However, the federal district court in Utah does not agree. According to the Order Denying Motion To Alter Judgment filed on Aug. 27, 2015, the court found that the website is not a neutral publisher, and publishes negative content so it can potentially get more money by the companies and the people named in the reports to have the complaint edited and turn the report into an advertisement.
Among other arguments, Ripoff Report's owner (Ed Magedson's Xcentric) claimed that the court had misapplied the Communications Decency Act. But the controlling authority in the Tenth Circuit — FTC v. Accusearch Inc., 570 F.3d 1187 (10th Cir. 2009) — stated that a service provider is responsible for developing offensive content "if it in some way specifically encourages development of what is offensive about the content."
This ruling against Ripoff Report can be downloaded here.
From page 4: «Xcentric maintains the "Ripoff Report" website with a tag line, "By Consumers, for consumers" and "Don't let them get away with it. Let the truth be known." Contrary to the stated tag line, the Ripoff Report allows competitors, not just consumers, to post comments.» From page 5: «The Ripoff Report home page states: "Complaints Reviews Scams Lawsuits Frauds Reported, File your review. Consumers educating consumers." These allegations allow a reasonable inference that the Ripoff Report encourages negative content. […] Xcentric offers, for a large fee, its corporate advocacy program to companies with negative postings on "How to make your search engine listings positive and make your reports look like they should: positive." […] These specifically pleaded facts support a reasonable inference that Xcentric was not a neutral publisher. It had an interest in, and encouraged, negative content. It refused to remove the content, even when told by the author that it was false and he wanted it removed. What interest would a neutral publisher have in maintaining false and harmful content against the wishes of the author unless it advanced its own commercial interests? The alleged facts allow a reasonable inference that Xcentric refused to remove the offensive content to promote its own corporate advocacy program.»
According to Ed Magedson, the removal of false or defamatory content from Ripoff Report is not possible because it is freedom of speech. On the other hand, many furious people on the Internet, who consider themselves victims of the website, believe it is a scam conceived to extort money. This is a typical conversation with Ed Magedson:
Us: A page on your website accuses us of stealing money. Why?
Ed Magedson: I don't care. I publish every review. I can say whatever I want because I am protected by the US Constitution. I am not a terrorist and I am not wanted by the FBI. We offer an important service to determine what is true and what is not.
Us: And how does this service work?
Ed Magedson: After your payment, we choose an independent arbitrator who will sort everything out.
This important ruling against Ripoff Report can be downloaded here. In June 2015, the Federal Appeal Court of San Francisco stated the following:
From page 4: «The underlying attempted racketeering extortion claim alleged that Xcentric attempted to extort money by encouraging third parties to post negative reviews, manipulating the posts to highlight negative reviews and to further highlight the negative reviews if the businesses posted rebuttals, and then charging high fees to "turn the negative into a positive." The claim was tenable because a district court had previously held that similar allegations stated an extortion claim against Xcentric. Hy Cite Corp. v badbusinessbureau.com, L.L.C., 418 F. Supp. 2d 1142, 1149-50 (D. Ariz. 2005) (holding that allegations that Xcentric created and solicited false, defamatory complaints against businesses and then charged $50,000 and monthly fee of $1,500 to remove or stop posting the complaints stated an extortion claim);»
Ripoff Report claims that reports cannot be removed: «Ripoff Report has a general policy against Removing Reports in their entirety. If you ask us to removal a Report, the answer will be NO.» Moreover, «Once a Report has been written and submitted, that Report is "As Is" meaning that you can no longer make edits or other modifications to the subject Report.»
Nevertheless, several reports have been arbitrarily modified and/or removed by Ed Magedson. One of the most famous examples is a complaint about Sergey Brin and Larry Page: basically, the two founders of Google were accused of molesting underage girls while being drunk in a coffee bar. Three years later, the name "Sergey Brin" was partly edited into "Soney Bonoi". Later, the page completely disappeared, but it is still present in Archive.org.
Undocumented sexual assaults seems to be a pretty common topic of the reports. For example, a report also blames — with no evidence or witnesses, as usual — the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of its emeritus professors for pedophile activities, sexual harassment and extortion. The complaint has not been removed yet, though.
Other examples of reports that get deleted immediately are the ones about Ripoff Report itself: for instance, if you say that "Ripoff Report is a ripoff", your report will not be approved at all or will be removed after a few minutes.
In his website, Ed Magedson introduces himself as "the founder of the original consumer complaint website" (Ripoff Report). Although is unclear what he means exactly by "original", it is clear that he does not provide evidence that his website is actually the oldest on the Internet — considering every language, non only English. Magedson was born in the state of New York in 1952 and currently lives in Arizona. According to Forbes, which interviewed Ed Magedson, he believes that any person could kill him at any time. Since Magedson claims that RipoffReport.com is a credible website, it is unclear why any person should kill him. Ed Magedson also does not disclose his net worth.
The Wikipedia article about Ed Magedson currently redirects to Ripoff Report.
(30th August 2015)