Publishers in court for harassing small businesses

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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has begun legal proceedings against four publishing companies it alleges misrepresented themselves and harassed a number of small businesses.

The ACCC is taking Exclusive Media & Publishing Pty Ltd, Elite Publishing Group Pty Ltd, Wiltshire Publishers Pty Ltd, Superior Publications Pty Ltd and Sole Director Andrew Clifford to the Federal Court.

The watchdog alleges the publishers offered primarily small businesses the opportunity to advertise in its community magazines for around $500. The small businesses were told 500 copies of the magazines would be distributed to various organisations, but the ACCC says the published never intended to and never did distribute any of the magazines.

The ACCC also claims the publishers invited the small businesses to sign a document to receive complimentary copies of the magazines and after the documents were returned, the publishers claimed that the SMEs had agreed to buy advertising services, for which they demanded payment.

It is also alleged that the publishers “used harassment, coercion and acted unconscionably when pursuing payments from some businesses.”

“The conduct allegedly included threatening legal proceedings against the businesses if they did not pay or representing that legal action had already commenced when in fact it had not,” The ACCC added.

Now, the ACCC is seeking:

  • Declarations that the conduct of the companies contravened various sections of the Trade Practices Act 1974 and that Clifford was knowingly concerned in the contraventions;
  • Injunctions restraining Clifford and the publishers from engaging in similar conduct in the future;
  • An order disqualifying Clifford from managing corporations; and
  • Pecuniary penalties.

A directions hearing will take place before Justice Dowsett on 18 October.