Threatening App Store seller behaviour - credible?
June 4, 2013 11:25 AM   Subscribe

I wrote a polite email to an App seller advising him I would be posting a 1-star review of his app on Apple's App Store. He replied, "Electronic postings of defamation, libel and slander are now well covered under English and European law. My litigation solicitors are [redacted] of London, who have looked after my interests for over twenty years now, nor have ever lost me a case, from individuals to a nation-state. Put up any post and it'll cost you several thousand pounds for each day it stays up; I do hope I make clear..." Can he do this, can I reliably protect myself, and has he violated any Terms and Conditions as a seller on the App Store? Specific reference to English and European Law and Apple App Store Terms and Conditions would be very helpful. Thank you.
posted by falcon to Law & Government (22 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
To the best of my knowledge, defamation, libel and slander are specifically about telling untruths. Were/are you planning to say something untrue about him or his app?
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:32 AM on June 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm an iOS developer.

You should forward this message to Whether he can legally do it is beside the point. He shouldn't be doing it, and Apple won't want him doing it.

That e-mail address should work. I used it recently to report someone who solicited my company offering to provide us with hundred of positive reviews for a few hundred dollars. The response I got made it clear that the e-mail address is read carefully, and e-mails are forwarded to the appropriate people within Apple to be handled.
posted by alms at 11:34 AM on June 4, 2013 [46 favorites]

needs more cowbell: libel and slander laws are weird and scary and dumb and unfair in the UK, so I understand the OP's caution.

However, if you'd like to privately memail me the name of the app, I'd be happy to give it a 1 star review from my place of relative safety (US) just to see what happens. Dude sounds like a jackass.
posted by phunniemee at 11:35 AM on June 4, 2013 [16 favorites]

A few more points:

has he violated any Terms and Conditions as a seller on the App Store?

Probably. Those terms are confidential, though, so I'm not going to look up chapter and verse to quote for you.

I'd expect his app to get pulled from the App Store for this behavior. At least I hope it would.

Put up any post and it'll cost you

The reviews that go up in the App Store are shown with screen names, not real names. At least that's true everywhere I've seen. How will he know that the review was from you?

Lastly, I hope you've requested a refund from the App Store. Just go into your account in iTunes, look at your purchase history, and report a problem with this app. Apple doesn't advertise a money-back guarantee, but in my experience they do refund money for apps on request.
posted by alms at 11:41 AM on June 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

Why did you write the developer at all? Were you hoping for some kind of bug fix or remedy out of the normal channels if you contacted them?
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:42 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I came here to point out what phunniemee did: slander / libel in the UK is no joke. Er, it is a joke, but in the really bad, "Wait, that's real?" style of jokes. Search on Simon Singh. Search on uk libel law. Laugh a sad panda laugh.

It could just be bluffing, but living in Scotland, unless you had a few thousand dollars to burn, I'd be wary.
posted by nobeagle at 11:46 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

While IANAL, Something can only be labeled as libel if it's false/inaccurate: "A published false statement that is damaging to a person's reputation; a written defamation."

Reviews are based on someone's experience of something. (Just because critic X says Movie Y sucks, does not make it libel. That's his experience of it.) While I'm in the US, it's a review, not a published article written by an expert or a basis of an organized protest/boycott.

If it's your opinion based on your experience, and you notate that this was the basis of your review of the app, then there is nothing he can sue for in any court I can think of.

I work for a manufacturing company, and while negative user reviews are a frustrating part of the general public's view of our products, they are what they are, as long as someone doesn't write anything blatantly untrue.

For example, if someone was missing the assembly manual from their shipment, put it together anyway instead of contacting us or downloading it, and wrote:

"This toy is a threat to the safety of everyone!!! It fell apart as soon as I used it and it is going to kill someone!!!!"

This would likely be grounds for us to request removal of the review after determining the cause of: "I'm a dumbass and I put this together wrong."

However: "The manual was missing, and this product is impossible to put together without an engineering degree!!! I know, because I'm good at putting things together, and when I tried, my son got hurt using it!!!" Is accurate to this customer's experience, though it still could have negative impact on sales. It sucks, but there's nothing we can do about how someone experiences something.
posted by Debaser626 at 11:49 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

My posting is/was to be limited and factual (I'm as tired as the next guy of "revenge" feedback and simply wish to inform others of certain unadvertised limitations). I've forwarded his email verbatim to and have an automated receipt and followup reference - I'll post their response here. I advised the seller of my intention by way of termination of a short, polite but unsatisfactory exchange.

Forgive me if I'm cautious about revealing the identity until I know what's going on, and thank you for the caution about the UK's peculiarly aggressive laws.
posted by falcon at 11:56 AM on June 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

I don't have any specific knowledge about UK libel law, but surely one-star reviews also exist in England? People are not getting sued left and right every time they post reviews on Yelp and Ebay? If you want, you can post only the one star, and in lieu of an explanation, you could copy and paste the guy's threatening email to you. That way, people would know not only that you'd given it one star, but that the rest of the higher-starred reviews can't be trusted.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 12:00 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

IANAL - IAAFJ (former journalist) with some very basic knowledge of English libel law.

The common-sense answer to this would be that it must be complete nonsense, otherwise no one would ever be able to give a negative online review to anyone, ever, and the reviews on Trip Advisor, the App Store etc., would all be sunk.

A slightly more robust answer than that, however:

a. The posters above are right that a true factual statement is not libelous.
b. However: If he sues you, the onus of proof is on you, not him. It would be down to you to prove the truth of any damaging factual allegations you made, not on him to prove that you were lying.

However (again) there is a defence of fair and honest comment which is designed to cover reasonable reviews, ie. expressions of opinion, rather than statements of fact.

The Carter Ruck online guide to defamation
is pretty good. Scroll down to the section "Can the claim be defended?" for details of the fair comment defence.
posted by penguin pie at 12:24 PM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Debaser626, what you're saying is true in the US. But in the UK, the truth can be considered defamation, and you can still lose the lawsuit. UK libel laws are really scary.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:32 PM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

PS - As a casual aside, when someone threatens you in a situation like this, the inclusion of any reference to slander (which is spoken and doesn't have much to do with this) generally acts as a big red flag signifying "I don't have a scooby but I think I sound impressive by dropping these big words". However, IANAL. Repeat IANAL.
posted by penguin pie at 12:34 PM on June 4, 2013 [10 favorites]

The reviews that go up in the App Store are shown with screen names, not real names. At least that's true everywhere I've seen. How will he know that the review was from you?

File a John Doe lawsuit and subpeona your information from Apple.
posted by Jahaza at 1:05 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I came in here to say what penguin pie said.

Good news is that the laws around libel are changing for the better!
posted by ozgirlabroad at 1:27 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

File a John Doe lawsuit and subpeona [sic] your information from Apple.

Do you think Apple would release this information without a fight? I don't. They'd be throwing their entire review/rating system under the bus for the sake of a cranky developer.
posted by alms at 1:29 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

The fact that he mentions having successfully sued a nation-state(!) is also a pretty good crank indicator. I'd be very tempted to contact the solicitors of Redacted of London to see if they've ever heard of the fellow.
posted by ook at 1:51 PM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

IANAL, but someone once threatened to sue me on eBay for losing an auction, so I sympathise with you having to deal with the stress of waving legal threats around. The Sally Bercow case has made me a little bit nervous about posting certain things online...

In the UK libel and slander are civil and not criminal charges. What this means is that it will cost someone a lot of money to bring a prosecution, and it would result in a financial settlement rather than criminal sanctions. And as Penguin Pie says, 'slander' would only apply to 'electronic postings' if it were a spoken medium such as a YouTube video.
posted by mippy at 3:22 AM on June 5, 2013

[Some comments deleted; it looks like we are getting more into examining this person & app specifically rather than answering the question. If you want more info from the OP, maybe contact via mefi mail.]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:37 AM on June 5, 2013

All - thank you for your comments, and thank you to those of you who messaged me privately to advise that the identity of the individual could be readily determined from the quotes I provided. Thanks taz for deleting that post and subsequent comments. And thank you alms for the specific advice to contact Apple directly under the terms and conditions the seller is obliged to observe.

I spoke with a senior legal representative at Apple today, who agreed that a violation of those Terms and Conditions has taken place, and that Apple regards this as a serious matter. He would not comment on the consequences, which is fine, but a formal complaint has been submitted on my behalf and they will advise me of the outcome, which I will post here for those who are interested.
posted by falcon at 9:32 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Chocolate Pickle: what you're saying is true in the US. But in the UK, the truth can be considered defamation, and you can still lose the lawsuit. UK libel laws are really scary.

I don't know where this rumour got started, but it's both rampant and wrong. The truth is a perfectly valid defence in the UK.

What makes UK libel law scary is that the burden of proof is on the defendant, and not the plaintiff. That is the principal difference, and it gives the advantage to the plaintiff. This is also unique (to the best of my knowledge) among western democracies. Some people choose to pursue defamation lawsuits in the UK for precisely this reason.

But honestly? Claiming that an online review is somehow subject to defamation law is patently absurd. If this were true, nobody would be running user reviews in the UK.
posted by rhombus at 1:56 PM on June 5, 2013

Apple have called to confirm that they are addressing the matter with the individual, but will not reveal what action they have taken.

Not to worry - satisfactory outcome from my perspective, and my thanks again to all.
posted by falcon at 12:27 PM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thank you for the update. It's good to know that they paid attention and then followed up with you. Sometimes megacorps are still responsive.
posted by alms at 1:53 PM on June 18, 2013

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