Am I Liable? Part 2

By | June 5, 2010

This is a follow-up to the post I wrote regarding affiliate liability as it pertains to a recent situation in my business.

In a nutshell…

I had previously recommended a certain copywriter [redacted]. On my recommendation, one of my readers hired the copywriter.

Unfortunately, the copywriter did not complete the work that he was paid $1344 to do (The agreement was for two sales letters plus 3 landing pages. The copywriter delivered only one sales letter which was irrelevant to the project according to the customer). Rightfully upset, the customer asked for the work to be finished, and when it never happened, he asked for a refund.

The copywriter stopped responding to the customer. The customer tried disputing the payment with PayPal, but by that time it was beyond PayPal’s 45-day limit.

Having exhausted those options, the customer asked ME for the refund, citing that he had trusted my recommendation.

So I blogged about it and asked two questions…

1) Am I legally liable?

2) What is the right and ethical thing to do?

Over 1000 comments were posted – thank you for all the great input!

Regarding the first question (Am I liable?), the responses were nearly unanimous.

Everyone seemed to agree that I was not legally liable for the situation. I had made the recommendation in good faith, and the buyer was responsible for exercising his own due diligence.

Regarding the second question (What should I do?), the responses were mixed.

The majority of commenters agreed that I should not pay the refund to the reader out of my own pocket. In fact, many stated that it could set a bad and potentially dangerous precedent for myself and other marketers.

The most popular opinion seemed to be that it is solely the copywriter’s responsibility to remedy the situation, and the matter is exclusively between the customer and the copywriter.

Some readers suggested that legal action be taken against the copywriter. I’m not a lawyer, but in my opinion it would not be worth the time or money required to pursue a civil case.

The legal costs would exceed the $1344 amount, and even if the customer were awarded a judgment including legal costs and interest, it seems unlikely that the copywriter would be able to pay it.

A few readers suggested taking it to the police, and I do think that this suggestion has merit. The copywriter was doing business in Houston, Texas, so a case could be filed with a local jurisdiction. Again, I don’t have any legal expertise, but based on what I’ve seen I think the customer may have enough evidence for a criminal fraud case.

Additionally, I discovered that there are several other people who are claiming similar problems with the same copywriter over the past couple of years. Those within the statute of limitations could potentially be added to the case as additional victims.

Some readers suggested that I get in touch with the copywriter to intervene in the situation. I liked this suggestion, and I tried hard to get in touch with him.

I emailed every known email address of the copywriter, I found him on Facebook and sent him a message, I left him a voicemail, and I even did some additional sleuthing and ran a background report on him in attempt to get contact information.

I was polite in my communication, and I even offered the opportunity for the copywriter to correct the situation, tell his side of the story, and potentially save his reputation.

Unfortunately I never heard back from him. I could have gone another step and contacted his relatives since I have their contact information too, but I felt that it would be inappropriate for me to cross that line in this situation. If the customer wanted to do that in his attempt to recover his money, that would be his prerogative.

Of course it’s possible that the copywriter was unable to respond due to extreme circumstances like injury, death, or even a month-long vacation off the grid. However, I believe those are unlikely scenarios considering the copywriter’s history.

In my research I found that he has allegedly treated other customers similarly in the past. He communicates with them in the beginning, but when things go south he cuts off the communication. Here is a thread in the Warrior forum [redacted] evidencing a couple of disgruntled customers who stopped receiving communication from him.

Now he has done the same thing to me too. When he was trying to get me to recommend his service to my subscribers, he emailed me several times and even called my home phone number a few times.

At the time I thought… wow, this guy is really on top of things. In retrospect I see a pattern that is typical of someone who is either a con-artist or has some serious personal problems and was starved for cash.

Another example of his “hit and run” style was his [redacted] membership that he launched last year. He signed up members who paid $97/month for “unlimited” sales letters. [redacted] claimed to have a team of writers working for him, but in his [redacted] “confession” in the Warrior Forum, he implies that he was doing all the work himself and quickly got burned out.

[redacted] then reportedly turned around and sold that membership site to another individual for $10,000, claiming that the site was bringing in $10,000 per month. According to the new site owner (who communicated with me on the condition of anonymity), he did not realize that he was in fact acquiring a collection of disgruntled customers who had not received the copywriting service for which they had paid.

Due to the toxicity of the situation, the new owner issued many refunds, and shut down the site, effectively losing his entire investment.

In spite of all this, the offer I made to [redacted] in my communications still stands. If he is willing to correct the situation, I’m willing to post his side of the story here on my blog… and I won’t even critique it.

Some readers thought I was being too harsh by potentially damaging the copywriter’s credibility. I contend that he damaged his own credibility.

In the previous blog post, I remained objective and did not attack the copywriter’s character at all. I presented the facts, and asked for input.

Today, on the other hand, I am calling his character into question. It’s a gut-wrenching thing for me to do, but I think it’s the right thing to do. Honestly, I hate blogs that “bash” people and drag their names through the mud. I’m not into that, and if you know me then you’ll know that’s not what I’m doing here.

A few readers felt I was being insensitive to the customer/victim by blogging about the situation. I can certainly understand that sentiment, and I’d be asking the same question.

In this case you just need to know that the customer was aware that I was going to write the article. He was OK with it, and he was grateful for the opportunity to publicize his injustice.

He was also very happy with my attempt to intervene in the situation.

Several people said I should “go with my gut”. Not a bad suggestion. For those who were intuitive enough to see that my conscience was bothering me, you’re right. I wouldn’t have blogged about it if I didn’t care.

On the one hand, emotions can make this kind of thing tricky, which is part of why I wanted to get some additional opinions on the matter. On the other hand, I do have a moral conscience that guides me, and ultimately I think I did go with my gut.

A minority of people said I should pay the refund, and their reasons were mixed.

Some said I should pay my commission to the customer, but in this situation I did not receive a commission from the copywriter.

Others said I should pay a percentage of the refund to the customer (suggestions of 10%, 33%, 50%, or perhaps an amount equal to the commission that I SHOULD have earned).

A couple of people thought I had a moral obligation to pay the full refund, citing that my recommendation was the sole basis of the buyer’s decision.

Others thought that I should pay it simply because I CAN afford it. They assumed that I am wealthier than the customer I referred, and therefore I should happily transfer some of my wealth to him.

Yet others said I should give the refund because of the positive PR it would bring me, and the goodwill that it would generate with my subscribers.

A good number of people said I should provide some other method of compensation.

Some said I should write the sales letter myself, since I know how to write sales copy.

Others said I should hire a copywriter to finish the job.

Yet others said I should provide some free coaching or give a bunch of my own products to the customer.

All very intriguing possibilities.

So you want to know what I decided?

The first thing I decided is that I want to make two things abundantly clear for the future:

1) I am not liable for your results or experience that occurs as a result of anything/anyone I recommend. Always proceed at your own risk.

2) I DO stand behind my recommendations. While I can’t be held liable for someone else’s poor service, I also will not tolerate my subscribers getting ripped off.

If you believe you have been the victim of a rip-off or scam as a result of my recommendation, I want to know about it. To the extent that I am reasonably able, I will try to get in touch with the other party to help you get the product, or get your refund.

You still need to go through the normal channels first (contact their support, request refund, etc.). But if all else fails, let me know and I’ll see what I can do. I’m not making any promises, but I’ll definitely see what I can do on a case-by-case basis. And hopefully there won’t be any more of THIS kind of case, because I’m going to be even more careful about what I recommend.

As I mentioned, I diligently tried to get in touch with the copywriter and was unable. So under normal circumstances, there’s probably not much else I would do in this situation.

However, I felt it was warranted to do something extra for this customer since I did turn his unfortunate situation into a nice case study on my blog!

So I got in touch with a copywriter named Paul Hooper-Kelly, who seems to have a stellar reputation and came recommended to me by my friend Jeremy Gislason.

Paul has pulled off some great successes for Jeremy – as well as other internet marketing top guns in a wide variety of niches – with conversion rates as high as 12.5% and sales well in excess of a million dollars from a single sales letter.

With this kind of success to his credit, Paul doesn’t work cheap. But if you’ve ever had a truly great sales letter written, you’ll understand that paying good money for high quality sales copy is actually more “affordable” than hiring a “cheap” copywriter.

After all, the true measure of a sales letter is how well it converts, and a good-converting sales letter can pay for itself quickly.

If [redacted] isn’t a con-artist, at the very least he can be faulted for charging too little for his sales letters.

That means something has to give.

Researching the market, understanding the product, and making that vital connection between the two is often overlooked by “cheap” writers– so the sales letter lacks the magic that makes it convert.

Or (as may have happened in this case) the writer is overwhelmed with work because he’s offering “bargain” prices– so he never delivers.

Being closely involved in the copywriting business, Paul knew this wasn’t the first time [redacted] had upset customers, bringing the copywriting profession into disrepute.

So, to prove not all copywriters are the same, Paul has agreed to write this reader’s unfinished sales letters on a pro bono basis!

So at this point, the problem is solved for the customer. And if [redacted] ever comes around, he owes Paul Hooper-Kelly… big time!

After inspecting Paul’s work and examining his credentials, I’ve also decided to recommend Paul in the gap that was left due to my “unendorsement” of [redacted]. I’m confident, from what I’ve heard from his happy clients, that he won’t be letting my readers down.

So, I’ve arranged for Paul to set up a special area on his site – accessible only by Eric’s Tips readers – where you can enjoy Paul’s world class copywriting for a much lower price than the general public pays for it (His normal price for a sales letter is $7500, but Eric’s Tips readers can save thousands of dollars. Other services are available too.)

So don’t order any services from his open pages. Instead, submit a ticket to my helpdesk if you’re serious about hiring a top-notch copywriter, and we’ll give you a secret link to check it out.

Now in case you’re wondering…

NO this whole thing was not some sort of publicity stunt so that I could recommend another copywriter. It just worked out this way, and I think it’s a good outcome for everyone.

Thanks again for all your input, and as always… you are welcome to leave your comments below.

Have a great day!

206 thoughts on “Am I Liable? Part 2

  1. Kelly

    Pastor Laurence you are a disgrace you are just a scam like 99% of churches that I have seen I have lived in the third world and not seen anything done to help them by the church but build churches a scam the poor even more with false hopes. Shame

  2. Ben Brentlinger

    Hi Eric,

    If you think a product will be beneficial to your list, do you promise to contact the product owners if the sales page has way too many exit popups to limit their exit popups to no more than two back to back?

    The last product you promoted before I unsubscribed from your list had four exit popups before letting me leave the site and it was very annoying!

  3. Ben Brentlinger

    and if you’re not able to get the exit popups down to one or two, don’t promote the product. I don’t want to have to close out four exit popups if I decide that I can’t use a product you promoted that sounded interesting in the promotional email.

  4. Eric Post author

    I am sorry that you had an annoying experience, as that was certainly not my intention. In fact, I do try to avoid sending my subscribers to anything annoying. If you’ve been a subscriber for any length of time, you may know that I almost never send my subscribers to squeeze pages. In this case, I was recommending a product based on it’s own merit, and I did not feel that the exit pops warranted not promoting it. If a lot of subscribers start complaining, I’ll definitely look closer at this.

    In the mean time, I make no guarantees about exit pops. Generally I agree that it’s best to have no more than two. But from a marketing standpoint, it may be worth testing up to three or four. I talk a bit about them in lesson #56 and #66. It is an annoyance, but depending on your business model, it might be worth annnoying a few prospects in the process of closing a lot more sales.

    Obviously if it hurts your reputation, it’s not worth it. But a lot of marketers tend to overestimate the annoyance factor, due to the fact that us Internet marketers are exposed to a lot more exit pops than the average Internet user.

  5. John Dilan

    John you better stop doing these sales letters, we must admit you’re good at it but sometimes you cross the line.

  6. sean whelan

    An interesting story with a happy ending.Your morals & ethics are intact if not seen to be stronger than before.It would of been a sad day if you never gave your recomodations.The leason leant is ‘show due diligence & take responsibility for our own actions’I’m sorry but thats business.As a final note I would love to know if the buyer done anything with his top quality letters,or just left them on his hard drive!I hope that your health is improving.You & your family are in my prayers.God Bless


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