Supreme Court Tosses Dragons’ Den Reject’s Defamation Suit

The Supreme Court of Canada has rejected Montreal lawyer and entrepreneur Marc Ribeiro’s case for a defamation suit again the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and its show Dragons’ Den.

Ribeiro felt that when he appeared on an episode in season six to pitch his boardgame, Pick N Choose, he was wrong portrayed. Specifically he alleged that the popular CBC show aired a bad faith broadcast that completely misrepresented the merits of his business plan. Moreover, he said the editing job on the episode made it “completely misrepresent the merits of his business plan.”

One look at the extremely unflattering photo above, of Dragon Robert Herjavec laughing at Ribeiro’s game while he idly stood by is enough to give a pretty accurate view of how the pitch went.

As the Toronto Star reported today, Canada’s Supreme Court dismissed Ribeiro’s application seeking leave to appeal, so the case is over. The panel did not give reasons for its decision.

“Ribeiro says he’s disappointed but respects the court’s decision and will continue marketing his game. He says he has sold 15,000 units of the game since it was released in 2010,” wrote the Star. “A CBC spokesperson says the corporation is pleased with the Supreme Court decision.”

It all has to do with a waiver that every participant on the investment reality show must sign before going on camera. It states that “I further understand that my appearance, depiction and/or portrayal in the program may be disparaging, defamatory, embarrassing or of an otherwise unfavourable nature which may expose me to public ridicule, humiliation or condemnation.”

It’s an interesting point of debate, as the Financial Post pointed out yesterday. On one hand, “who in their right mind would consent to be defamed, then sue after the fact?” asked writer Drew Hasselback. But then again, is it fair to ask these entrepreneurs to sign away their reputation, especially now since many entrepreneurs view a shot Dragons’ Den as a huge asset in building their company?

“The issue has now morphed into a question of bargaining power, which is also of interest to lawyers,” wrote the Post. “Is there something about the way such consents are obtained or drafted that is so lopsided or unfair that they should be void for reasons of public policy?”

Photo by the Star

  • Moral of the story: Don’t go on Dragon’s Den. I haven’t seen a single episode where quality feedback is provided to the entrepreneur, or a really appealing long-term minded deal was proposed.

    Unless you already know how to grow your business, and appearing on the show is just a way to get exposure/advertising and this is appropriate for what you’re marketing, save your mental energy for other activities.

  • I’m a big fan of Dragon’s Den as a TV show. I’ve also been lucky enough to meet a few of the dragons in real life at business events. From my experience, great guys. The new guy Michael Wekerle in particular is hilarious.

    Would I ever in a million years consider Dragon’s Den as a route for either investment or even PR for my own company. Nope.

    The other thing I find interesting about this particular story is that you’d think that one of the key attributes of any entrepreneur would be to have the resiliency to handle – failure, rejection, etc… – pretty well and simply move on. Clearly not the case here.