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.)

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