April 17, 2007

The Consumer Network Prevails

Last week, I wrote about the heavy-handed efforts of JL Kirk Associates, an employment placement firm, to silence one of its dissatisfied clients on her blog. They hired a law firm and sent a cease-and-desist demand rather than addressing the cause of her dissatisfaction. When word went out about the legal brinksmanship, bloggers from across the nation linked to and discussed the story -- and apparently let JL Kirk and its legal team know about their unhappiness through a flood of e-mails. The story appears to have a relatively happy ending for the blogger, Kate Coble:

Attorneys for JL Kirk & Assocs. contacted Media Bloggers Association attorney Ronald Coleman shortly after receiving his letter stating that the MBA was representing me in this dispute on Thursday afternoon. Both sides expressed their wish to avoid litigation or further aggravation of the situation. JL Kirk’s main concern at the outset was that we communicate their position - which is different from the information originally told to me by a JL Kirk employee - that JL Kirk is not a continuation of the defunct Bernard Haldane company, either in terms of corporate identity or stock ownership, and that JL Kirk’s principal, Kirk Leipzig, is only a former Bernard Haldane employee but did not buy any assets or stock of Bernard Haldane. I can’t vouch for the truth of that statement because I have no first-hand knowledge of the facts, but evidently anyone who wants more information can obtain it from JL Kirk.

As you know if you read their cease and desist letter, the company disagrees with what I have said about them here, but they have told the MBA lawyer that they are interested in discussing this with my husband and me personally rather than litigating in court. I have not decided if I am interested in talking, but I don’t mind the idea of putting this behind me and moving on, and will not write on this topic again.

Bill Hobbs, who has provided continuous coverage of this story, blogs today about the stakes involved for JL Kirk:

The Nashville City Paper covers the story of the blogger and the company that threatened to sue her, giving yet more bad publicity to JL Kirk Associates. Among the quoted: Media Bloggers Association general counsel Ron Coleman, who is representing Coble pro bono and tells the City Paper that a settlement in the case is near.

One minor correction to the City Paper's story: The incident didn't just "set the Nashville blogosphere ablaze," it went global with bloggers around the world writing about JL Kirk's lawsuit threat - and the clueless attorney who made it - and digging into JL Kirk's business practices and history, with unflattering results.

And Brittney Gilbert underscores the danger to firms like JL Kirk:

A lawsuit was never this company's intent, if I had to guess. They just wanted to bully a blogger into taking down speech that made them look bad. Instead they set off a firestorm of fury from bloggers all across the web who take their right to tell the truth about negative corporate experiences very seriously. More seriously than even I guessed. And rightly so, because self-publishers on the web - your average, everyday citizen - no longer need to bend to the will of the ones with the most might. Bloggers no longer need to buy ink by the barrel. The ink is free.

Not only is the ink free, but so are those using it. Free to warn others about what they think is a shady business or uncooperative legislator. No longer are newspapers and television stations the only people with a platform. Through the wonder that is the tubes, a blogger with under a thousand readers a day can bring a company to its knees, especially when that company attempts to roll over an individual's First Amendment rights.

I'd say it goes even further than what Gilbert says. Companies with shady business practices and questionable ethics had better be prepared for massive publicity problems in the future. If the allegations in Coble's original post are true, then JL Kirk will suffer from the publicity they created for Coble's criticism. A bad experience with any product or service will be accessible forever through Google once someone blogs about it, and if the company makes JL Kirk's mistake of inflaming it into a full-blown national story, the stench of it will be almost impossible to remove.

Instead of suing their customers, JL Kirk would have done better to ask themselves how they could avoid such problems in the future. Other companies at risk of this kind of exposure should rethink their business approaches. Nothing will stay secret for long any more. Consumers have networked too well.


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» The End of the JL Kirk Story? from tdaxp
Coble, K. 2007. JL Kirk Resolution. Just Another Pretty Farce. April 17, 2007. Available online: http://mycropht.wordpress.com/2007/04/17/jl-kirk-resolution/. Katherine Coble declares victory, but J.L. Kirk may not be telling the whole truth. ... [Read More]

Comments (2)

Posted by quickjustice [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 17, 2007 5:54 PM

"I will not blog on this topic again." With all due respect, Ed, King & Ballow have taken their lumps, but they've also successfully shut her up.

Posted by M. Simon [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 17, 2007 6:32 PM

My first mate and I hand printed T shirts in '77:

"Support the Revolution, Buy a Computer"

Maybe we were on to something.