Gotcha! How many times have you heard this exclamation on April 1st?
It's happened to all of us. Usually, an April Fool's joke ends with everyone on both sides of the joke laughing, but sometimes these jokes get taken too far. April Fool's Day jokes can backfire and end up causing legal problems for the jokester. Check out these examples of jokes gone awry and learn what not to do this April Fool's Day.
A very wealthy and well-known Montreal man proposed to his live-in girlfriend and mother of his three children. They set the wedding date for April 1, 2001. Later, the would-be groom balked, claimed that he never intended to marry her, and that his proposal was an April Fool's joke. Fast-forward to January 2009 and we realize that this was no joke to the jilted bride. She sued him for $50 million in alimony and is also seeking $56K in monthly child support payments. The woman alleges that she has been left with almost nothing. After winding its way through the Quebec court system, the case is expected to reach the Supreme Court of Canada. The case is seen as a constitutional challenge to Quebec civil laws that don't recognize the rights of common-law partners. The woman's attorney stated, "If madam weren't in a situation where she could finance the case—because it's a case involving big money—the million or so women across Quebec who have no rights would continue silent, without a voice."
Darren Rowse is one of the most successful and well-known bloggers in the blogosphere. He writes ProBlogger and gives others tips on writing and how to earn money blogging. He's also one of the founders and a Vice President of b5media, a blog network with hundreds of blogs written by hundreds of bloggers around the world. On April Fool's Day 2008, blogger Patrick Curl wrote a post stating that ProBlogger was bankrupt. Among other things, he stated, "... his [Rowse's] blog has been a farce, and he was 'faking it till [sic] making it.' The truth is that he was never making it." Unfortunately for Curl, at least one person believed the joke and then went to Rowse's Wikipedia page and entered the new information. Then the "news" really started to spread; Rowse started receiving emails from business partners and had to do damage control. Curl apologized several times with follow-up blog posts. While Rowse didn't take legal action against Curl, he hinted that he that he might have if he had not been able to get control of things:
"...consider the legal ramifications of your post. When you post untrue information online about another person that damages their reputation or that leads to them to suffer financially my understanding of the law is that you put yourself in a position where that person can take legal action against you. Luckily in this case it seems that I've managed to contain any damage that may have been done - however as a comment on this post says, if I'd been in the middle of a deal that someone pulled out of as a result of this then I (or someone much less forgiving than me) could have had reason to explore their legal position."
Most people believe what they read in The Washington Post. This was what a public relations executive and lawyer was counting on when he paid several hundred dollars to run an "in memoriam" ad about a living former US ambassador. The "ad" ran on April 1, 2008, and stated, "Though I no longer have you as my partner, this day will always be OUR anniversary ... I could never quit you." There was also a picture of the allegedly deceased Ambassador Edward Gabriel. Gabriel started receiving anguished calls from friends who thought he had died. J. Peter Segall, who took out the ad, ended up paying for a retraction the next day and apologized profusely for what he called "an immature mistake."
Joke press releases often land businesses in hot water, but they seem to persist. On April 1, 2008, Creative Visual Group AS issued a press release stating that the company, "spearheaded by its flagship Crestock.com today announced a definitive agreement to acquire Corbis in a cash and asset transaction valued at approximately $625 million USD." Corbis, privately owned by Bill Gates, is a stock photography company with a collection of more than 100 million creative and historic images. Crestock, while also a stock photography company, is a very small player in comparison to Corbis. Soon after the press release was issued, Corbis learned about it and asked Crestock to remove the release from its website immediately or Corbis "may be forced to consider legal action." Crestock did not remove the release, but updated it the next day stating that it was a joke. Surprisingly, Crestock's CEO Geir Are Jensen stated, "Of course we didn't remove the obvious April Fools joke, but in case the second richest man in the world comes after us with his pack of lawyers, we'll have to set aside a monthly sum to cover the expenses."
We all want to enjoy some fun and laughs on April Fool's Day. However, think about possible outcomes when the public is involved and most importantly, if your target doesn't "get" the joke.