Threat of lawsuit for defaming Video-Pro
The computer shop has targeted ex-customers for posting negative messages against it on a website
By OO GIN LEE
ABOUT 60 people here, some as young as 11, have been threatened with lawsuits by a Sim Lim computer shop for posting what it claims are defamatory messages against it on a local computer review website.
Ironically, many of these 60 people are believed to be customers or former customers of the shop, Video-Pro.
The statements, made on forum pages of http://www.hardwarezone.com
about a year ago, were mostly complaints by members of the website about the shop's poor service and defective parts.
But there were also profanities targeted at the employees of the shop.
Early this month an e-mail from Video-Pro's lawyers was sent to the writers, threatening lawsuits if the demands for an apology and compensation were not met.
Although some reacted with panic, others who had made the so-called defamatory statements felt they were justified in making their statements.
''We are just sharing our feelings as computer hardware users,'' said a 25-year-old air-force technician who goes by the pseudonym of ""Ccsray''.
Added a 14-year-old student who declined to be named: ""I feel that I have done nothing wrong as I was writing in a hardware rating forum.
""The shop should voice its unhappiness in the forum instead of threatening to sue us.''
But the shop disagreed.
Said Mr Thean Chow Leong, Video-Pro's lawyer: ""Basically, my client wants apologies from these members and an assurance that it will not happen again.''
""But for those who have uttered repeated profanities, my client is looking, on a case-by-case basis, for a more public form of apology and, possibly, damages.''
Just three months ago, Video-Pro was involved in a legal tussle with Hardware Zone, the operators of the website, for having a similar Internet address -- http://www.hardwarezone.com.sg
Hardware Zone sued Video-Pro for taking its name, while the computer shop counter-sued for copyright infringement and defamation arising from the website postings in issue now.
The parties settled the lawsuit on Day Four of the seven-day trial, with Video-Pro agreeing to transfer the Internet address to Hardware Zone, and paying the website $10,000 for legal costs.
In exchange, Hardware Zone said it would not publish any defamatory statements against Video-Pro, and agreed to help Video-Pro to identify who had made these statements.
Because of the settlement, the e-mail addresses of the members were released by Hardware Zone to Video-Pro.
Dr Philip Teo, a former polytechnic lecturer and long-time member of the website, has taken up the task of trying to resolve the dispute between Video-Pro and the members who have received the lawyer's e-mail.
""It is not good to write bad things and vulgarity but it's not right for them to threaten to sue their customers too,'' said the 50-year-old who holds a PhD in computer science.
Dr Teo told The Straits Times that he got to know the members through the website, and helped them with their hardware problems.
Almost half of the 60 had asked him for help, most of whom were in their teens, with the youngest aged just 11, he said.
""A few of them, were crying, and even brought their parents to see me, pleading for help,'' he said.
""I will dedicate all my time and effort to do whatever is necessary to protect these kids,'' he wrote on the website.
Dr Teo said he had written a letter to Video-Pro's lawyers, offering to apologise on behalf of the collective members and to reprimand the ""offending'' members -- if the shop dropped the matter.
However, Mr Thean -- Video-Pro's lawyer, said that his client could not accept the offer as it was not certain that Dr Teo represented all the members.
He said that Hardware Zone could only provide the nickname and e-mail addresses of the members, not their true identities, so there was no assurance that the acts would not be repeated.
This is something which has not escaped the attention of those who face the lawsuits.
Said a 16-year-old student who would not give his name: ""I'm not afraid because they only have my e-mail address, not my real identity.''
LEGAL ACTION: An ultimatum
IN THE electronic lawyer's letter Video-Pro sent out to the ""culprits'', the shop accused the writers of posting defamatory statements on the website hardwarezone.com at the end of last year.
Many of the 60 people involved said that they had bought computer hardware from the shop.
The Straits Times received a copy of this letter, in which the writers were given five days from the time they received the e-mail to revert to the shop's lawyers, failing which it threatened legal action.
The writers' user IDs and e-mail addresses were given to Video-Pro by Hardware Zone, which runs the website.
The Sim Lim Square computer shop claimed that the messages posted on hardwarezone.com had caused ""substantial damage'' to its ""goodwill and reputation''.
To avoid any further legal action, the shop said in its e-mail that the matter would be resolved if those involved:
Apologised to the shop;
Wrote a statement saying that they would not repeat their actions or cause any defamatory statements or messages about the shop to be posted on any website;
Agreed to pay the shop's legal costs;
Paid damages for the injury to the shop's reputation. Those involved were asked to suggest an amount.
Some of the negative comments posted on the website included one from customer ""JediKnight'', who said that Video-Pro was the worst shop he had ever been to.