Plastic Surgery Company Sues Consumer Site For Negative Customer Reviews

Lifestyle Lift claims it’s a “minor one-hour procedure with major results,” but a lot of customers who have paid for the procedure have been left unhappy, and they’ve consequently posted reviews about it on a plastic surgery review blog called RealSelf. Lifestyle Lift has sued RealSelf, claiming trademark infringement, and now RealSelf has countersued, claiming Lifestyle Lift padded RealSelf’s site with shill reviews.

Santa Clara University School of Law professor Eric Goldman, who has advised RealSelf on the case, posts about the issue on his personal blog:

No matter how many times I see it–and in the Internet era, I see it all too frequently–I always shake my head in disappointment and frustration when a company uses trademark law to lash out against unflattering consumer reviews. To these companies, trademark law is a cure-all tonic for their marketplace travails, and trademark doctrine is so plastic and amorphous that defendants have some difficulty mounting a proper defense. As a result, all too frequently, the threat of a trademark lawsuit causes the intermediary to capitulate and excise valuable content from the Internet.

In its answer, RealSelf goes on the offensive and alleges that Lifestyle Lift directly or indirectly posted shill reviews to the Lifestyle Lift discussion, thereby breaching RealSelf’s user agreement. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another lawsuit where the message board operator sued a company for shill postings, so I think this case may be breaking important new legal ground.

Interestingly, the second result of a Google search for “Lifestyle Lift” is a highly suspicious site titled “INFOMERCIAL SCAMS – LIFESTYLE LIFT COMPLAINTS,” which despite its title is incredibly pro-Lifestyle Lift, and which shares the same general complaint—”competing doctors are trashing Lifestyle Lift”—as the lawsuit (PDF) against RealSelf.

We’re having a hard time believing that “INFOMERCIAL SCAMS – LIFESTYLE LIFT COMPLAINTS” is an authentic product of a concerned consumer, which makes us even more curious about RealSelf’s counterclaim that Lifestyle Lift astroturfed on the RealSelf site:

We believe they have violated our terms of use by posing as patients posting reviews on our site, which is misleading and unfair to our community. These sort of fabricated posts threaten our community’s trust in us. We have no choice but to challenge these actions.

Ooo, ooo, can we sue suspected astroturfers too, Ben?

“Lifestyle Lift Tries to Use TM Law to Shut Down User Discussions; Website Countersues for Shilling–Lifestyle Lift v. RealSelf” [Eric Goldman – Technology & Marketing Law Blog]

(Photo: Warner Bros.)

Comments

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  1. Smitherd says:

    RS: “Lifestyle Lifts are a great way to solve your facial problems!”
    Customer: “It doesn’t work and it’s a waste of money.”
    RS: [sticks fingers in ears] “Lalala! You’re a big astro-turfing meanie head!”

    Please.

  2. B says:

    Does this mean I’ll get sued for all my posts about how awesome Comcast is?
    By the way, Comcast is awesome.

  3. nczuma says:

    I occasionally spam forums and sites for SEO purposes, but this is downright dirty. That Google search result reeks of a ploy to save their company. Rather then sweeping problems under a rug the company should have addressed them head-on.

    Whenever the company I work for gets a complaint, we reevaluate everything to find the problem, because online business and recommendations are our bread and butter.

    Company’s today need a crash course in handling PR in the digital age. Hmmmmm…. maybe I should write a book…

  4. Parting says:

    @B: As long as it’s your personal opinion, and not paid opinion by your boss, you’re free to go :) Or maybe you should be put in jail for 6 days…

  5. BlondeGrlz says:

    @nczuma: If you write the book, be sure to buy lots of positive reviews on Amazon.com.

  6. spankhaus says:

    I just wanted to say, this is the first time I’ve heard the term “astroturfing” to describe shill reviews and I think it’s fantastic.

  7. girly says:

    That ‘INFOMERCIAL SCAM’ lifestyle lift site is funny.

    1. it has ‘thumbs up, thumbs down’, which you can’t vote on
    2. one ‘thumbs down’ comment was essentially that the ‘problem’ was that people thought she lost weight and didn’t realize she had a procedure.

    Of course you can’t actually add comments…

    It is sad to think someone might be persuaded by that site.

  8. girly says:

    “My site was up for a few weeks when I started getting requests from past Lifestyle Lift patients who also wanted to share their experience. So, I added their reviews to this page. I did not edit them.”

    from what I see…there is no contact information on the site! Magic!!!!!!

  9. brennie says:

    creepiest. picture. ever.

  10. thedude2u says:

    Isn’t that picture from one of the Batman flicks? I wanna say the first one with good ole Jack, but I could be wrong…

  11. Nighthawke says:

    @thedude2u:

    Yeup, that is Alicia. Or was Alicia, she threw herself through a plate glass window

    Or so the Joker said.. *shrugs*

  12. Mr_Burmie says:

    Suing is purely an intimidation tactic. Lifestyle doesn’t have a case. The web-site used the trademark in conjunction with critique and commentary. Under trademark law, this is permissible.

    Preferably, the parties should resolve this issues without dragging lawyers into it.

  13. BigBoat says:

    My god, that website is one of the most amazingly awful fake things I’ve ever seen. Sadly, it’s probably worked on some people.

    Just…wow.

  14. Dashrashi says:

    @thedude2u: Yup. That’s Jerry Hall under there.

  15. picantel says:

    I love the negative reviews(if you can call em that) on:
    [www.myfaceliftstory.com]

    My name is Melissa. I am 47 years old. I had the Lifestyle Lift procedure a month ago and nobody really noticed that I had the Lifestyle Lift. They all think I lost weight or change my hair style … What? They say that I look great.. I feel that I look 10 years younger, but should I tell them that I had the Lifestyle Lift?

    GOT SUCKED IN. I SAW THE AD ON TV. THEY ALL LOOK SO MUCH YOUNGER: 15-20 YEARS YOUNGER. I AM 55, SO THEY SHOULD HAVE BEEN ABLE TO TAKE AT LEAST 20 YEARS OUT OF MY FACE. GRANTED I TOLD THEM THAT THAT I WOULD LOOSE 30 PONDS BEFORE THE PROCEDURE AND STOP SMOKING, BUT THEY SAY I WAS STILL A CANDIDATE. THEY WERE SO BUSY, THAT MY LIFESTYLE LIFT WAS SCHEDULED TWO MONTHS AFTER MY FREE CONSULTATION. WHY AREN’T THEY HIRING MORE DOCTORS? ANYWAY, I HAD THE LIFESTYLE LIFT A MONTH AGO THIS MONDAY (BY THE WAY, DON’T EXPECT TO GET YOUR LIFESTYLE LIFT DURING THE WEEKEND TOO.) MY KIDS SAY THAT I LOOK MUCH YOUNGER. MY OLDEST SISTER THINKS IT IS LIKE 10 YEARS AND THAT I LOOK YOUNGER THEN HER. BUT I DON’T KNOW. I AM A BIT CONFUSED. I DON’T KNOW IF THEY TELLING ME THAT TO MAKE ME FEEL BETTER. I DON’T KNOW WHO TO BELIEVE ANYMORE.

  16. B says:

    @picantel: Is that a negative review or a positive one? Do people who have plastic surgery really want people to know they had it? Don’t they just want to look younger/better?

  17. picantel says:

    @B:

    Those are what are suppose to be negative reviews. The website is suppose to be for all reviews but it certainly does look like lifestyle lift set it up as a shill site.

  18. rjhiggins says:

    @B: “I occasionally spam forums and sites for SEO purposes, but this is downright dirty.”

    Some of us would consider what you do “downright dirty.”

  19. rjhiggins says:

    (Sorry, hit the wrong reply arrow on previous post…)

    @nczuma: “I occasionally spam forums and sites for SEO purposes, but this is downright dirty.”

    Some of us would consider what you do “downright dirty.”

  20. SVreader says:

    I once interviewed at a small company and found they were hiring people to try to blend into different forums and then pitch their product once they were known online community members. Not uncommon, I know, but still skeevy.

  21. SAGA says:

    slimeballs

  22. SAGA says:

    dont sue me bro!

  23. modenastradale says:

    Over strong objections made by me and others, a family member recently had a “Lifestyle Lift.” She is, predictably, very dissatisfied with the results. Lifestyle Lift is indeed a scam, one that preys on people who have too much optimism for their own good.

  24. dieselbug says:

    If you take the time(as I did) to check out the DNS registrations of the top half dozen sites in that search, most point to the same company – SICM – in Troy, MI. Most of the other sites are hosted @ GoDaddy, with the Domains held by proxy so the identity of site owners can be hidden. The dodgy site has the same title as the original, genuine Infomercial Scams site you can find further down the search results.
    Sounds like Scam, tastes like Scam, most likely is Scam . . . . .

  25. rkmc12 says:

    @nczuma: That is dirty.

  26. bizzz says:

    @picantel:

    You know it’s a shill review because 55 year olds don’t generally confuse loose with lose. That seems to be a new quirk specific to gen y’ers

  27. c_gaun says:

    I’ve been to the infomercial scams website numerous times, mostly to read complaints on Kevin Trudeau (I hate that guy), but quite a bit of the reviews on that site are negative.
    I don’t want to sound like a smart ass, but are you sure you’re reading the LifeStyle Lift complaints and not the defenses?
    There are three pages of complaints but only one page of defenses.

  28. girly says:

    @c_gaun: actually, they are talking about a site labeled ‘informercial scams’ that is not the actual site, just a shillarific fake blog type thing.

    take a look:[www.myfaceliftstory.com]

  29. Haltingpoint says:

    @rjhiggins: Depends on how you do it. These days when someone says they spam forums and sites they can very well mean that they casually drop their URL in a post or in their signature. While not getting into the ethics of this, to be frank it is required for a new site facing big competition to stand any chance of getting traffic and breaking into the search results of Google.

    So, like it or not, its not going away anytime soon. I myself do this but only in posts that are 100% relevant to my site and not in a manner that would be considered “spammy”.

    On another note, this shill site is ridiculous. I love how they used the same Before/After pictures, slightly cropped. I didn’t check all of them but the ones on the main Lifestyle Lift site for Dave and Gail are obviously the same as those on the shill site.

    I’m half tempted to call the company and just laugh at them.

  30. girly says:

    “I decided to create this website because I wanted to share my story with others. After my first consultation, I went online and read horror stories about Lifestyle Lift. People were trashing Lifestyle Lift, their employees, their doctors, etc.. I got scared and seriously thought about canceling my procedure. I was getting cold feet. What was with all the negative posts online? Those negative stories did not add up at all. They did not make any sense.”

    Her quote does not make sense. If the comments didn’t add up why did they scare her to the point she would want to cancel?

    How does it not make sense that sometimes things go wrong? Sometimes there are bad doctors/staff?

    Not the worst fake site, but not a good one (not that any are good).

  31. Spooty says:

    Followup: the RealSelf blog linked to in the post has this:
    “UPDATE: 5/12/08 – this matter was settled by the parties by mutually agreeable terms.”