Negative (but honest) Reviews - What Is Your Opinion On This?

33 replies
Hey Warriors,

I'll get straight to the point. Can a product owner take any reasonable legal action against you for giving a negative (yet honest) review of his product?

Now I'm not talking about the kind of negative review that is published out of spite because the reviewer and product owner are in the middle of a feud or something... I'm talking about a review that points out things like poor quality, poor support, failed to deliver on the promises in the sales page, etc.

The reason I'm asking is, when I review products I only ever give my honest opinion. My view is that if I recommend a product and a somebody buys based on my review only to find it's anything but good, I will have lost all credibility. But lets say I have a review site on which I review dozens of products in a given niche, and I give a negative review of a product which stinks... Can the product owner take any action for causing him to lose sales or giving him and his product negative publicity?

P.S. I am just asking out of curiosity. Nobody is hunting me down for giving them bad reviews
#honest #negative #opinion #reviews
  • Profile picture of the author johneye
    I think honesty is very subjective. Perhaps a truthful review substantiated with proof would do a better job. If you have copy of emails, chat transcripts, etc. that can verify your reviews, than I don't think they can take any legal actions against you.
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  • Profile picture of the author Alexandre Valois
    As long as you make no false claims or attempt at slandering and state that this is purely your opinion based on your experience with the product, there is nothing that the brand owner can do.
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    • Profile picture of the author Nick Lotter
      Originally Posted by Alexandre Valois View Post

      As long as you make no false claims or attempt at slandering and state that this is purely your opinion based on your experience with the product, there is nothing that the brand owner can do.
      You've confirmed what I believe to be an acceptable method of giving an honest review - with a disclaimer saying its just my opinion. Thanks Alexandre.

      Being from South Africa, I dont know if any US laws prohibit anything like this (giving negative reviews).
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      • Profile picture of the author KenThompson
        Originally Posted by Nick Lotter View Post

        You've confirmed what I believe to be an acceptable method of giving an honest review - with a disclaimer saying its just my opinion. Thanks Alexandre.

        Being from South Africa, I dont know if any US laws prohibit anything like this (giving negative reviews).
        Hey Nick,

        I'm not an attorney, but reviews have been around for a long time; both positive and
        less than. I'll say that, no, you are not prohibited from doing it.

        I am aware of instances in which court orders were issued against someone for what
        probably amounted to more than a negative review as it was worded a little too
        personal.

        Hopefully your negative review will be based on your experiences with the product, or
        having purchased it and read it, watched it, etc.

        You need to be objective and professional. Support all your assertions with facts or
        even your own experiences. Always avoid getting personal or making comments that
        could be construed by the product creator as a personal attack, etc.

        Lastly...

        Never insult anyone's mother.


        Ken
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        • Profile picture of the author Nick Lotter
          Originally Posted by KenThompson View Post


          Hopefully your negative review will be based on your experiences with the product, or
          having purchased it and read it, watched it, etc.

          You need to be objective and professional. Support all your assertions with facts or
          even your own experiences. Always avoid getting personal or making comments that
          could be construed by the product creator as a personal attack, etc.

          Lastly...

          Never insult anyone's mother.


          Ken
          LOL thanks Ken, one thing I know for sure is that you never take on the mother! (Or the mother-in-law, although not all mother-in-laws are bad. My wife has a great mother-in-law!)

          Objectiveness, professionalism and real experience is the key, I agree wholeheartedly!
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    • Profile picture of the author DeborahDera
      This. It is not slander if it is factually correct information. If you write "the customer service stinks" you need to be prepared to back that statement up with facts or documentation proving why.

      That said, I know many marketers who make a living writing reviews - positive and negative. Sometimes the brand owners will actually come back and publicly try to make amends, too. Depends on how much they actually care about their reputations and whether or not they even realize there is a problem.

      Originally Posted by Alexandre Valois View Post

      As long as you make no false claims or attempt at slandering and state that this is purely your opinion based on your experience with the product, there is nothing that the brand owner can do.
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  • Profile picture of the author magnates
    I think you are entitled to give your opinion . You would be alright if you throw a disclaimer to cover yourself
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  • Profile picture of the author DrewClement
    There is certainly a lot of grey area when it comes to this stuff.

    Should you be liable for giving a negative and honest review? Of course not...in theory.

    However, I have seen a number of people get in hot water when they start trying to profit from that negative review.

    IE-give a negative review of a popular product on your website, and then work to rank your site for that particular brand name.

    Such as writing that "oil of olay" wrinkle cream doesnt work and is overpriced and then ranking that review at the top of the SERPS.

    A lot of people do this in order to turn major brand traffic into traffic for their site and then funnel the site visitors to their particular product or offer. "oil of olay doesnt work to get rid of your wrinkles but affiliate product XXXX WILL!"

    That is when a negative review can get you sued big time.

    And this is certainly a much more popular and widely used tactic than you may think.
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    • Profile picture of the author Nick Lotter
      Originally Posted by DrewClement View Post

      There is certainly a lot of grey area when it comes to this stuff.

      Should you be liable for giving a negative and honest review? Of course not...in theory.

      However, I have seen a number of people get in hot water when they start trying to profit from that negative review.

      IE-give a negative review of a popular product on your website, and then work to rank your site for that particular brand name.

      Such as writing that "oil of olay" wrinkle cream doesnt work and is overpriced and then ranking that review at the top of the SERPS.

      A lot of people do this in order to turn major brand traffic into traffic for their site and then funnel the site visitors to their particular product or offer. "oil of olay doesnt work to get rid of your wrinkles but affiliate product XXXX WILL!"

      That is when a negative review can get you sued big time.

      And this is certainly a much more popular and widely used tactic than you may think.
      Wow that's not cool (or honest). People who purposely set out to do that deserve to be sued.

      You make a good point though. I mean, legally, how do you draw the line between somebody who is pulling a marketing stunt like that, and somebody who is reall just giving honest feedback on a product?
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      • Profile picture of the author DrewClement
        Originally Posted by Nick Lotter View Post

        Wow that's not cool (or honest). People who purposely set out to do that deserve to be sued.

        You make a good point though. I mean, legally, how do you draw the line between somebody who is pulling a marketing stunt like that, and somebody who is reall just giving honest feedback on a product?
        Exactly.

        Who are you to decide whether or not I actually tried both products and feel the one I am recommending is better, or if I am just pulling a marketing stunt?

        On top of that, major companies have been doing this kind of stuff for YEARS
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  • Profile picture of the author Istvan Horvath
    In my previous life I used to be a theatre critic. The "product" in that context was the show put together by the director and the actors.

    As it happens with anything, some productions just suck... Now, if you are professional, you are writing about what you saw (and nothing else), about the results - then you can write negative reviews. Even more, it is your duty as the professional 'reviewer' to inform your readers about your opinion, which is based on your expertize, your knowledge etc.

    The criticized party can hate you, can argue with you, can write a counter-opinion - but all that doesn't take away your right to express your expert opinion.

    I don't see how it would be different online about a digital (or physical) product.
    Don't people post negative feedback on ecommerce sites? - They do.

    One caveat, though: it is considered very different to give "negative publicity" to a product or to its creator/author, i.e. a person. With this latter one you can get in trouble!
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    • Profile picture of the author Nick Lotter
      Originally Posted by Istvan Horvath View Post

      In my previous life I used to be a theatre critic. The "product" in that context was the show put together by the director and the actors.

      As it happens with anything, some productions just suck... Now, if you are professional, you are writing about what you saw (and nothing else), about the results - then you can write negative reviews. Even more, it is your duty as the professional 'reviewer' to inform your readers about your opinion, which is based on your expertize, your knowledge etc.

      The criticized party can hate you, can argue with you, can write a counter-opinion - but all that doesn't take away your right to express your expert opinion.

      I don't see how it would be different online about a digital (or physical) product.
      Don't people post negative feedback on ecommerce sites? - They do.

      One caveat, though: it is considered very different to give "negative publicity" to a product or to its creator/author, i.e. a person. With this latter one you can get in trouble!
      Thats a great point, thanks Istvan!
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  • Profile picture of the author patJ
    Film critics would be in so much trouble if that were the case. =)
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  • Profile picture of the author travlinguy
    Originally Posted by Nick Lotter View Post

    I'll get straight to the point. Can a product owner take any reasonable legal action against you for giving a negative (yet honest) review of his product?
    The answer is yes. Look around. People sue others for wild and crazy things all the time. And what the heck is reasonable legal action? Sounds like a contradiction. The real question is, can someone win? If you've written your review as you've stated, probably not. But that's not the point.

    Sure, we're allowed our opinions. But don't think for a minute some sleazy lawyer couldn't make a case for "willful and malicious" if he thought he could get any kind of traction from it. And for the price to file the suit, maybe he'd give it a go. But that's not how the game goes.

    Usually, filing or threatening a suit with something like this is little more than legal extortion. They send you harrassing letters threatening a suit in an effort to get you to "settle." This is a freakin' national passtime for some people. If you're clean, stand your ground. I have a couple of times with stuff like this and they eventually went away. Good luck.
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  • Profile picture of the author Nick Lotter
    Thanks travellinguy. I havent got a problem like this myself, I was just wondering and checking for future reference. I guess you're right, some guys out there will try and make a legal case out of it, no matter how many facts you give. Maybe its just best not to give a review at all, rather than give a negative one if you want to play it safe.
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  • Profile picture of the author eibhlin
    I'm nodding in agreement. (I'm also not a lawyer and don't play one on TV. *grin*)

    I'm in the U.S. and our "freedom of speech" includes the right to voice an opinion. (Have you ever seen some of our political ads during campaign seasons...? Appallingly critical!)

    The flip side is: Anyone can sue anyone for any reason. Whether the case will be thrown out before it ever reaches the court is another matter. "Frivolous" lawsuits can become very expensive for the person launching the suit, and you can counter-sue for the time & expense of dealing with the idiot.

    Maliciously lying about someone or his product will land you in the courtroom. That's reasonable. However, the intent to cause harm is a big part of the success of those cases, when they succeed at all.

    As a reviewer, if all you say is nicey-nice, your readers won't take you seriously. I lean heavily in the direction of, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." I also believe life is too short to spend time criticizing others. However, if I'm never critical, apparently I can sound like a shill.

    I think reviewers are more credible if, now and then, they give an honest, negative review. But, as with all good reviews, there need to be clear examples of what works & what doesn't. No product is perfect... or perfectly flawed, either.

    There are also ways to say something critical without sounding critical. I tasted an apple crossed with something that tasted bitter, and promptly announced that it tasted like broccoli. I can't stand broccoli, so that was a criticism.

    However, one of my children loves broccoli, so she was instantly interested... and liked the product.

    In many of my reviews, I say, "If you like ____, you'll probably like this product." It's one way to get around saying that it's truly awful and a waste of your time. Somewhere, someone is going to actually like it, and the game can be figuring out how to convey that to your audience.
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  • Profile picture of the author misterkailo
    You can always write negative reviews. You have the right to speak your mind!
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    • Profile picture of the author histheory
      Hello everyone, I'm new here and I've been reading around and this thread caught my eye. This is just my opinion, I just want to say that you can do as many bad or negative reviews as you want on anything, the thing is that you can be persued if they so chose to, but all you would need to do is prove that you actually purchased the product, wat ever it may B, used it or applied the tactics/strategies to the best ove your abilities, for a specific amount ove time and show that the results didn't deliver or produce what it claimed or what was claimed. Everyone has the right to B honest, I wish more people practiced it :rolleyes: I hope this helps to thanks for reading.

      Will $mith
      Aspiring IM Myself, to everyone's success
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      • Profile picture of the author Niky Ray
        In my book, honest reviews are fine no matter how hard they are. On the contrary, rude reviews are not accepted, even if they are the precise definition of honesty.
        There are a lot different ways to say the same thing, so how you review products tells a lot about how you use this privilege and how you feel about people.
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  • Profile picture of the author jamjar919
    No, noone can sue you for speaking your opinion.

    Some guy did however, but he failed - Don’t sue your way out of a bad review on Yelp « People like to share
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  • Profile picture of the author Alfred Shelver
    Nick my mom always said its not what you say that matters its how you say it, which I think in this context is very good advice. I Have given a few negative views here for some products I have purchased, but I try and highlight positives, if there are any, and state as nicely as possible why i did not like it. That way you can keep a review subjective and not look slanderous in any way.
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    • Profile picture of the author oDigger
      I think they would have to prove a motive (that you are benefiting either financially for example) to exonerate your claim that you left an honest review. Freedom of speech protects feedback but only if economic interests are not at stake. I'm not a lawyer but I do know at least that much.
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  • Profile picture of the author Mike Hill
    Well you certainly have a right to your opinion so I would think you can give negative reviews but substantiate the negative things with actual proof from the product. Heck, if it were illegal to give your opinion then everyone at Amazon would be sued for giving a 1 star review on products.
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  • Profile picture of the author Fraggler
    This reviewer was sued for his opinion but he ended up winning the case:
    Coco Roco - National - smh.com.au

    They sued, he won.
    They appealed, they won.
    He appealed (high court), and he won.

    It is a pretty well known case in Australia.

    When I read the review (this one was for his second meal there) I thought it was pretty tame and what I would expect from a restuarant review. The restaurant went bust though I think and blamed it on the review.

    I guess the point is that you should expect the expected if people are going to get upset by what you write, whether you are right or wrong.

    More detail:
    The cooks, the critics, the restaurant proprietors and their court cases
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  • Profile picture of the author J Bold
    Istvan said exactly what I was going to say.

    Nothing wrong with reviewing a product, honestly.

    But if you are seriously upset, you should be careful not to attack the person behind the product, just the product or service, itself.
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    • Profile picture of the author SeoVancouverWa
      Of course you can give an honest review. If you have a product or whatever and you have reviewed it negatively...then so be it.

      What we need on THIS site is a few more HONEST reviews of WSO's. But that is for another thread.
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  • Profile picture of the author uebomoyi
    WIth a disclaimer stating that it's just your opinion, I think you'll be fine. I've seen tons of websites and youtube videos where people said a product was horrible and to stay away from buying it. If anything, that's the vendor's fault for creating a horrible product. So I definitely wouldn't be afraid to state my honest opinion if I was in your shoes.

    And like you said, you wouldn't want to lose credibility if you sugar coated the truth and then the customers ended up dissappointed after purchasing. You definitely want to retain your customer base since those people will most likely buy from you again for giving only honest reviews.
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  • Profile picture of the author visimedia
    You can give negative feedback for any product you're reviewing to give your honest point of view, give them reasons and of course tell them to fix things up.

    Not all people can accept negative feedback, but people who can do this they'll get huge fix and they can improve their product's quality
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  • Profile picture of the author Lloyd Buchinski
    I've given a couple of really bad reviews that were fully deserved. I think it's an obligation. Keeping quiet is practically encouragement to scammers to keep on selling their trash. A lot of people are reluctant to say something negative, and this helps the scammers. It gives them a cushion.

    As a purchaser, I would certainly appreciate any honest information about anything I am considering.

    It isn't easy. If you do say something negative, there are some people who will object.
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  • Profile picture of the author petelta
    I've been asked to review a lot of products over the past few years and in that time I've come across a butt load of crappy products.

    I've found it best to not leave a review unless I feel it's positive for the product. I in no way want karma to kick my ass in my future product releases. So, if I think it's bad, then I will contact the product creator and let them know my opinions and why I can't leave a review for their product.

    This will either cause the product creator to fix the problems I suggested or get pissed off...but at least it wasn't in public and in front of his peers.

    A product creator will do everything in their power to make sure your negative review isn't in sight too. A bad product will have very scripted or fake sounding reviews. I don't find it to be my position to hurt anyone's reputation with my review even if I think their product sucks. I have the benefit of the doubt that they will actually try to improve what they produce.

    If they don't make that change to create better products, they aren't going to last very long in this business anyways.
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  • Profile picture of the author Nick Lotter
    Thanks for all your replies! There are so many good points raised, thanks guys (and ladies).
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    "Do not wait to strike until the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking."
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  • Profile picture of the author doorkicker13
    I've only gotten one negative review, for an eBook (a workout) on Kindle. He gave me a negative review because the image looks like a book, but the eBook is 9 pages - the description clearly states that it is short, simple, to the point, and EFFECTIVE. I think he purchased the book and once he read the workout he decided it was too hard for him and decided to slam me. It PISSED me off, and I'm still bitter about it. I left a comment on his review on Amazon, and I stated that I doubt he even tried the workout and I would be happy to personally refund his money.
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  • Profile picture of the author terrencewan
    All i can say is,
    this is a free world,
    giving your own comments is
    your rights, nobody can say anything
    or judge you.
    Everybody are unique and have their
    point of views.

    So do whatever you think is right for you,
    you are answerable to yourself only.

    Terrence
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