Frivolous Lawsuits – Are they worth it?

September 1, 2006

Topics: Google.

Every time I see a lawsuit like Brava Corp vs. Google, I have to wonder exactly what the thoughts behind the suit really are. Is it an honest (though mis-guided) attempt at retribution for perceived slights? A search for publicity? Hope for financial gain?

Or is it just bad decision making?

In this particular case, Ms. Bradley of Brava Corp. claims that her business relationship with Google (as a brief participant in the AdSense program) caused her irreparable harm by damaging her reputation. Now, it’s rather unclear exactly who caused her reputation harm. Did Google publicize the fact that Ms. Bradley had violated their terms of service? No, she did that herself by filing this suit. Her lawsuit is definitely a little short on merit.

It seems unlikely that any lawyer would advise Ms. Bradley to pursue a suit like this after considering her statement and reading the Google terms of service. Fifteen minutes should be all it would take to determine that the suit is not likely to be successful. So, one is inclined to conclude that the suit has other goals.

Let’s consider publicity. From a search perspective, this lawsuit has significantly increased the appearances of her corporation name in web press. It’s also created a decent number of additional links in to her site. But what’s the context of these links? Are they relevant to her business? Are they positive recommendations of her company or services? Not exactly. Nonetheless, when a site with an Alexa 3-month average putting them at traffic rank 2,317,997 has a traffic rank today at 3,808 – there’s an obvious impact.

What good is this likely to do. It’s a lot of publicity. It’s a lot of people visiting her site – will most of them think her suit is frivolous? Sure. Will some of them think Google is an evil empire which must be destroyed? Yep. Ultimately, an increase in visibility of this level can do good.

But…it’s probably not worth it. A pure spike in traffic is only going to accomplish so much. And since the site isn’t monetized in any way to benefit from the brief traffic spike, Brava Corp. will be dependent on gaining additional customers from this experience.

So, what does Brava Corp. offer? Management consulting, business tech consulting, corporate psychology services, and a variety of other vaguely-defined corporate services. It’s not clear to me that there are a lot of corporations who would hire a company which has recently demonstrated such a poor sense for public relations.

So what’s my point here? Consider carefully before pursuing a lawsuit. In addition to the standard expenses of the legal system, you may want to consider the publicity you’ll receive after filing. From a publicity perspective, it may not matter specifically whether you actually win your suit – however, it probably matters more that you be able to demonstrate a real understanding of the issues you’re arguing. A suit which is transparently frivolous will have minimal benefits to your public image, where a suit which has merit can provide publicity benefits without also damaging your reputation.

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