commentary 2Clix's decision to take legal action against Whirlpool means the company has already lost the battle to hide negative comments about its accounting software.
Yesterday, popular broadband forum Whirlpool announced its founder has found himself on the wrong end of a lawsuit from accounting software maker 2Clix (PDF document).
According to the statement of claim, which was filed with the Queensland Supreme Court, 2Clix is alleging "injurious falsehood" against Whirlpool's owner, after the forum refused to remove user comments that negatively reviewed 2Clix products.
One of the comments cited in 2Clix's complaint read: "The software became such a problem, we threw it out recently ... We stuck with it for over two years but in the end, the many hundreds of lost hours of work and high stress levels were not worth it." Other threads involved in the action have been closed to new comments, but are still available online here and here.
The complaint goes on to list over 20 comments in the same vein from other disgruntled users.
2Clix is now suing for damages of AU$150,000 -- the figure it says it has lost in business as a result of the comments, which it calls "false and malicious" -- and the threads in question to be removed.
Product reviews are precisely that -- reviews: one individual's opinion. They are not ungilded, straight down the line, indisputable fact, nor are they presented as such. This is something any enterprise software buyer will be aware of and any such shopper worth their salt will read around any number of forums and reviews sites and talk to users in person before making any purchasing decision.
What vision of the future does this case engender? Will vendors campaign to stop their users voicing their opinions online? Will product reviews become contraband, passed hand to hand under pub tables? Will software discussions go underground -- a techie Fight Club, if you will? Is fair comment to become a luxury?
If 2Clix had hoped legal action would evaporate the bad press that appeared on Whirlpool, it has been proved very, very wrong. By attempting to stifle the forums and the offending posts, it has only served to distribute them to an ever wider audience.
News of the legal case has spread to influential news aggregators and Web sites across the globe, from Australia's mainstream media, to the US and UK. What started as a very Australian stoush has suddenly become worldwide news -- and as the story spreads, the comments that 2Clix has seen fit to sue over have been repeated over and over again.
Like a computer virus or Chinese whispers, those comments are seemingly self-replicating, making their way into the ears of more tech-heads and more software buyers -- presumably precisely what 2Clix had hoped to avoid.
If 2Clix had not fired up its lawyers and had not started court proceedings, I would suggest that the user comments that so riled it would have just drifted into the online horizon after a time.
Instead, the company has seen screeds and screeds of bad press thrown its way as a result of the case and, as Whirlpool intends to see 2Clix in court, we'll be hearing those comments over and over again.
I would suggest 2Clix would have been better off taking a lesson from Microsoft. The Web is awash with jets of bile of every shade labelling Microsoft products everything from pointless, inefficient bloatware to the software equivalent of Ivan Milat and yet it has never seen fit to call in its lawyers because it knows people will go on using the software, whatever reviews they read.
2Clix, however, has taken the opposite path and seemingly scored a spectacular own goal.
Whichever way the case goes, Whirlpool -- not 2Clix -- will come out the winner.