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ABA Lawyers Teach How to Silence Franchise Blogs

A workshop for franchise attorneys will kick off Thursday on how franchisors can hush unwanted voices on the Internet. The workshop is entitled "New Media Threats - Responding to Cyber-Attacks" and will be held at the 2008 American Bar Association Forum on Franchising in Austin, Texas.

The Forum on Franchising is an annual meeting in which franchise attorneys gather to discuss developments in franchise law.

Here is the ABA's description of the workshop:

"Many companies have had to confront what to do when a disappointed customer vents his or her complaints over the Internet. Franchisors face additional problems since unhappy franchisees may also take to the Web to air their grievances and, in so doing, may disclose confidential or proprietary franchisor information. This program will review some of the steps a franchisor might take when dealing with complaints that appear on the Internet. The presenters will review the myriad ways that an unhappy person can communicate potentially harmful views electronically. They will also discuss the increasing tension between trademark law on one hand and principles of free speech and fair use on the other, as reflected in such matters as fights over Internet domain names and third parties’ use of marks in communications critical of the mark owner. The presenters will also provide a basic overview of trade libel laws and address franchise agreement language that can be used to address these issues."

The description of "Workshop 13" is completely and unabashedly concerned with covering up confidential information from franchisees and customers that the franchisor does not want released on the Internet.

Good luck with that. Online publishing is a brave new world that is not easily hushed. And even if someone found out by some miracle a way to do it, it is a medium that is changing by the minute . . . er . . . second.

Putting aside how technically difficult it is to squelch dissent on the Internet, there is another issue. The workshop describes a "cyber-attack" solely from the franchisor perspective. E.g. "unhappy franchisees . . . take to the Web to air their grievances." There is a failure to consider the other side of the coin—when a franchisee investor is a victim of a franchisor "cyber-attack."

There is no mention of when a firm aggressively and illegally engages in a malicious disruption of service attack against a web server, such as Blue MauMau's, with the aim of bringing the website down. 

Now that is a cyberattack.

Blue MauMau has experienced such attacks. Apparently, there are people out there that just do not want our readers to be able to learn of some investor news that can be found here.

Sometimes cyberattacks are when an attorney contacts a blogger to intimidate him to pull down postings. Covered by this news journal, such cyberbullying has happened in the real world and has backfired. 

The description above also does not describe a cyberattack against investors in which franchisors illegally solicit franchise candidates over the Internet for specific states in which the franchisor is not registered, in order to use their anticipated deposits. The goal is to get enough candidates in queue to pay state registration costs. State registration officials have told us in interviews that such conduct toward investors is illegal.

A few franchisors have spent considerable sums of money to squelch the speech of franchisees so that they appear further down search engine listings. What can a franchisee do when a franchisor is spending considerable sums of money to make sure that transparency about the problems in the franchise system is difficult to come by?

Cyberattacks? You bet. They are carried out against franchise investors all the time. The key is, what can an investor do about it?

It behooves the organizers of the workshop that have both franchisor and franchisee attorneys attending to bring balance into such discussions: to also talk about franchisees not being the victims of cyberattacks and cyberfraud. Franchisees deserve better than such heavy-handed tactics. They deserve nothing short of transparency—warts and all—to maximize their ability to make informed decisions on their investments.


Related reading:

In re Sauls (Quizno's COMPL 25Aug2008).pdf173.48 KB
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