Bloggers – Sometimes Innocent Mistakes Can Get You In Trouble

An interesting thing happened when I opened my mailbox yesterday.  There was a certified letter from a law firm in Houston Texas. I am always the optimist. After all it could be a notice that a distant Aunt had died and left me her cats and a $2 million dollar trust fund to take care of them. But certified letters from attorneys rarely contain good news.

I had to read the letter a couple of times to make sure I got it.  It seems that I had written an article last year about the interesting and profitable niche of selling coupons on eBay.

In the article I showed a list of recent coupon sales on eBay as an example of the types of coupons that sell and what they sold for.  One of them was a coupon for a large bottle of Bertolli Olive Oil that had sold on eBay for just over $12.

Well it turns out that the coupon was fake –a counterfeit.  There are a lot of completely legitimate Bertolli coupons –but none of them were for a free bottle of oil. (Which is too bad as Bertolli is my favorite olive oil).

So Bertolli and the nice folks at Grupo SOS hired this law firm to get everyone who was promoting the sale to cease and desist. In my case they felt that mentioning the value of the coupons on eBay would incent others to try and reproduce and sell more of the counterfeit coupons.

I called the attorney in Houston as instructed in the letter to see what this was all about. Not knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised that she was actually a very nice lady whom I enjoyed speaking with. She explained her client’s position and asked me to remove the offending line from the article.  I explained my position, that I was reporting on a fact that had occurred –not promoting others to do that.  In the end I made a counter offer. I said I would remove the offending passage, if Bertolli would send me a free bottle of olive oil to compensate me for the web costs. She said she would pass my request on to Bertolli.

The offending passage is now gone and I am waiting for my bottle of olive oil.

Yes, I could have objected and played hardball. Since I carry advertising liability insurance, a court proceeding wouldn’t have cost me any money. But heck –my time is more important. And the fact that Bertolli’s attorney took the time to be pleasant and reasonable, instead of belligerent, went a long way towards finding a solution. Also, the cost to remove the line from the article was not that great, so why get in a fight over something so minor?

If you blog or write newsletter articles, this points out some of the pitfalls. Even when you are working with the best of intentions, an innocent mistake can cause you problems. As things go this one was pretty minor, but that is not always the case.  A couple of years ago, I inadvertently broke some arcane consumer law in a state where a company I was writing about was located and it cost my insurance company $5000 to settle the case.  So you do want to be careful.

Carry Advertising Liability Insurance

Always check your facts and carry advertising liability insurance.  If you blog for a hobby, you can get this protection as a rider on your homeowners insurance. If you blog for money then you should take out a basic business liability policy with an advertising rider.  This type of policy pays attorney’s fees, court costs and even damage awards if you are sued or threatened with a lawsuit. Had this been a more serious case, I would have called my State Farm agent and he would have put me in touch with an attorney in Houston to deal with the matter.

So all’s well that ends well.  But my current bottle of Bertolli Olive oil is about half-full.  I hope the new one gets here before I have to buy a new one.

Skip McGrath


  1. So all’s well that ends well. But my current bottle of Bertolli Olive oil is about half-full. I hope the new one gets here before I have to buy a new one.

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