One of the modest maddening things for our clients in this day and age is the ease by which their businesses can be maligned under the cover of anonymity, and generally speaking, what little they can do in response. The simple truth is that the law values free speech-particularly commercial speech-and gives everyone a near unfettered right to express their own opinions, whether they are fairly derived or otherwise.
From time to time, however, the anonymous attacks go well beyond unflattering opinions and vitriolic rhetoric, and rise to the level of malicious untruths that would support some sort of legal action against the anonymous perpetrator. In one case, a client learned from its biggest customer that it had been receiving e-faxes from "theRealTruth@hotmail.com," transmitting batch records relating to services provided that were not only highly confidential, but had been altered to falsely suggest that the client was not adhering to strict processing protocols. In another case, a series of anonymous faxes were sent from a Kinko's fax machine to a number of our client's critical vendors falsely suggesting that our client was in economic distress. In both of these cases, the anonymous attacker threatened our clients' major business relationships and reputations, mandating an effort to root out the source and end the libelous propaganda.
In cases such as these, our clients were not powerless and authorized decisive action in response. In Illinois (and most other states) you can commence a legal action under Supreme Court Rule 224 against a nominal defendant solely to request information from them to determine the identity of the person(s) against whom legal claims can be asserted. For the first client described above, that meant successfully suing Microsoft Corporation simply to obtain information regarding the IP address used to create the email address "theRealTruth@hotmail.com" that was used to send the e-faxes. With that information, we traced the IP address to the home of a former and clearly disgruntled employee, against which we obtained an immediate restraining order requiring him to cease and desist from any further communications with the client. He also was ordered to return all of the company records that he had secreted during and after his employment with the Company.
With respect to the second client, the banners at the top of the offending facsimiles reflected that they had been sent from a specific Kinko's location between 10:30 and 10:38 am. We sued Kinko's Corporation for copies of its video surveillance tapes at that location during that specific window of time, as well as documents sufficient to reflect the identity of persons who paid for services at those times using checks or credit cards. The information helped to identify the culprit: a rogue salesperson employed by a competitor who was immediately terminated as soon as his misdeeds were exposed.
While the actions we took in the two examples just described may not help you deal with a nasty Yelp review by "MadBev87," if you are a victim of an anonymous attack involving false and malicious statements, talk to Your General Counsel about how you can legally strike back.