Web retailer fines customer for posting negative review

You might want to think twice before posting that scathing review. Internet retailer Kleargear.com threatened to fine customer Jen Palmer $3,500 if she didn’t remove the criticism she had posted about the company on Ripoffreport.com. Palmer tried, but Ripoffreport.com told her she would have to pay $2,000 to remove the post, so she ignored the demand. Ripoffreport.com founder Ed Magedson said in a comment to ABAJournal.com that the site would never take down a consumer complaint, for any amount of money.

Although Kleargear did not sue to force Palmer and her husband to pay the $3,500 fine after its demand was ignored, it did report her as delinquent to credit agencies, which has made it impossible for the Utah couple to get loans. The couple has disputed the negative credit-report entry to no avail.

A Kleargear company spokesperson defended the charge in an e-mail as justified by the terms of use.TechCrunch and Techdirt provide the text of the anti-disparagement provision, which states in part: “In an effort to ensure fair and honest public feedback, and to prevent the publishing of libelous content in any form, your acceptance of this sales contract prohibits you from taking any action that negatively impacts KlearGear.com, its reputation, products, services, management or employees.” There’s some question, however, whether the provision was in force in 2008 when Palmer posted the review.

There is also some doubt whether such anti-disparagement provisions–which other companies also are beginning to use–are enforceable, a Better Business Bureau official told MLive.com. Klearview gets mail in Grandville, Mich., and Phil Catlett is president of the Better Business Bureau of West Michigan. “There’s a number of businesses around the country that are starting to put this language in their agreements; where they say ‘if you post anything detrimental there’s a cost to be paid,'” he says. “Whether it’s legal or not is a different issue.” Magedson says Ripoffreport.com supports customers’ right to complain, and also questions whether the anti-disparagement clause is enforceable.

News of the $3,500 fine sparked a swift negative reaction among bloggers, TechCrunch says, and Kleargear took down its Twitter account and closed its Facebook page as a result. Techdirt says the Web retailer has also removed the anti-disparagement provision.