Sigh. I suppose this was bound to happen sometime.
This blog is approaching its third birthday and has been blessed with over 62 million page views from 5.2 million people and counting. Many people have helped and contributed along the way, and while we rant, swear, and speak out against many aspects of our culture, there have been very few bumps along the way. Even the corporate world that we occasionally mock has left us alone. Until now.
A few weeks ago, a flurry of registered letters and FedEx packages started arriving at the Mustache residence. They were from a law firm representing a company who didn’t like something that had been said by a member of the Forum section of this website.
How did they even find out about this conversation, you might ask? Through Google searches. After all these years, this website has garnered sufficient page rank that when we talk about something, it shows up high in the search engine rankings. The company was apparently Googling their own name, found something they did not agree with, and decided they wanted to silence the critics. Here’s a copy of that first letter, signed by the chairman:
From what I could tell, there wasn’t much merit to their complaint. They were asking me to take down posts that a reader had made regarding their company, alleging that it was “Libelous”. Never mind the fact that Section 230 of Title 47 of the United States Code holds that website owners cannot be held responsible for comments that their users make.
I could have taken it down anyway and been free from the hassle. But the whole thing seemed like bullshit to me. If I’m going to sit here and write about financial independence and the freedom it gives you from putting up with bullshit, I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a corporate law firm push all of us around with questionable legal threats.
Adding to the bullshit nature of the claims, it seemed like my adversary was humorously unaware of the Streisand Effect: trying to suppress information only ensures its permanent and widespread distribution. That shit may have worked for totalitarian leaders intimidating villagers, but come on, the Internet has been invented. Can a tiny East Coast firm suppress a large blog, run by a person who thinks suppressing information is really, really evil?
So while I removed the old post pending some legal advice, I did take one step: I started a new thread on the forum, explaining the legal threat that I had received. I figured it was only fair that people should know what is happening, and there is no possible threat of libel from me simply reporting some actual events taken by this company. The Mustachians had a field day with it, and the discussion continues.
Well, they didn’t like that either. I came home from my day of carpentry today to find a slew of “sorry we missed you” registered mail and FedEx notes, and a non-registered letter from that same law firm. Inside was a huge printout of the whole forum thread and even more scary threats from the lawyers.
They stated that their lawsuit would be targeted against my wife and I, as well as our domain registrars (translation: we’ll get your website taken down too.)
It may all be groundless bullying, but it is also a little scary.
I’d love to have an aggressive lawyer who could receive these little threat letters for me and turn them around on the originating firm, so they would know that we will not be bullied. I do have several good friends who work in or own law firms, and they have provided some early encouragement. But rather than imposing on them, I thought it would be most appropriate (and most entertaining) to reach out to the Mustachians first.
If there’s an actual law we are breaking here, I will gladly stop breaking it, and offer my full apologies to those affected.
But if we are within our legal rights, then I will absolutely fight with every resource available to preserve those rights and keep publishing the opinions of both forum users and myself. And the results of the battle and the names of the companies who have attempted this will be published on this blog forever for the protection of others.
Update: After further advice from the MMM legal team, I can now safely share more details. The company is called Kiss Trust. The forum thread they are objecting to is this one right here. Their law firm is called “Law office of Mark B. Williams, PLC”, and here is a copy of the letter they sent me:
I’ve heard that all state BAR associations forbid their members from sending threatening letters when they know there is no real basis for the complaint. If a law firm is publicly shown to be doing this, it could be very bad for its reputation. But the practice remains widespread, and this surprises me. I’m not saying that Mark B. Williams’ law firm would stoop to such a level – I don’t know enough of the law to prove such a thing. But if this does turn out to be the case, it will be important for this information to remain public as well. And for all other letters I receive from law firms to be published for further scrutiny by a larger audience.
Hey! What do you know, this new one came from another lawyer just the next day!
Either way, I look forward to learning the truth so I can better comply with the law, and sharing the results with you all along the way. I could not imagine a better learning experience, so I thank Kiss trust for providing us with this opportunity!
I will also start a dedicated page on this blog so this story and others from readers about legal and corporate harassment can be shared. It makes sense that if suppressing information and opinions with fear is the disease, then a public forum where we can share them permanently with each other is the antidote.
This blog reaches over 25,000 lawyers every month as just a tiny slice of its readership. I’m looking for one person, an aggressive and serious one who is willing to take on the bullies. This blog, while not a big-bucks operation, can pay you for your time as required, and you will also receive my wholehearted endorsement and recommendation if you want your firm’s information to be public. Ideally, this would become a recurring story as we document the progress of our fight.
Update: I’ve found my great lawyer! After dozens of responses from attorneys in all sorts of firms, I have had an amazing crash course in first amendment law over the last 24 hours. What strikes me is how incredibly baseless the threats seem to be – they directly contradict everything the best lawyers around are telling me the law says! One of the cited precedent cases in that second letter turned out to be about an old couple with a leaky roof, and had no relationship to defamation at all.
I have chosen one firm to represent the blog, and we have some response letters in the works, which I can share with you as they are finished and sent.
If you are a US attorney with expertise in this area (or are just interested in helping out), please get in touch with me through the blog’s contact form here: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/contact/
Although I am now happily represented and ready for some fun, the crowdsourcing effect of this article is amazing: we can combine knowledge from all attorneys and focus them into one case, ensuring a very good result.
Many thanks and here’s to the next three years!
Mr. Money Mustache
In response to your first threat, I documented your actions on a low-profile forum thread. The second threat encouraged me to write this article.
Then it spent some time on today’s top 10 in Hacker News.
Then the king of first amendment defenders, Ken White from Popehat tweeted it to his 12,000 twitter followers. (Thanks Ken!)
There’s currently an editing battle going on in your Wikipedia Entry between an IP address registered to your office, and somebody else who has added reference to this post. So you asked to have the whole post deleted, but Wikipedia isn’t listening to you either! (Internet etiquette tip: you’re not supposed to write your own Wikipedia entry)
And you got a good chunk of the country’s first amendment lawyers digging into your own firm and each of your law firms.
We can go a lot further on the publicity side of this, so just let us know where you want this story to appear next. It should be pretty obvious by this point that it is not me who is hurting your reputation, it is you. The more interesting you make this story, the more people will decide they want to share it. So keep making it interesting, and I’ll keep documenting!
On the other hand, when you are done punching yourself in the face, you can send me a personal apology and a promise never to do this again to anyone. I will publish it and we can all go back to our real jobs. Although your behavior is wrong right now, I have no objection to your actual trust business, and I believe in forgiveness. I think your potential customers may as well.
Update 2: This has all blown over
It didn’t take long after this post for things to go back to normal. I never heard from the company again, although I did receive second-hand word that they were pissed at the results of their attempted squelching. I also heard from the management of corporate-owned blog Get Rich Slowly that the K-trusters had sent very similar legal harassment to them over an honest review of the company’s products. What a bunch of bullshit. Glad it is over but we remain vigilant for the next battle.