Last July, a company based out of Houston Texas, called Cobblebot LLC. launched a Kickstarter campaign for what seemed like a deal that was too good to be true. It was a very large 3D printer called the Cobblebot, priced at a very low price of just $299. The brainchild of founder Jeremiah Clifft, the Cobblebot was to feature a 15 x 15 x 15 inch build envelope and could print with layer heights as precise as 50 microns.
By the time everything was said and done, the company had raised a staggering $373,916 from 1,208 backers, with a promise to fulfill all of these orders at the very latest in March of this year. In fact, the very first backers were given an October 2014 delivery estimate upon their Kickstarter pledge.
So just how did CobbleBot manage to ship over 1,150 3D printers costing $299, when they themselves stated that the average price for a machine of this size is over 12 times that price, ‘$3,716.57’? Well, they haven’t.
Whether parts were being held from their suppliers, problems arose with shipping companies, or some other problem popped up, excuse after excuse have been thrown at backers who have been waiting for their machines which the company had promised them. Yes, there have been CobbleBots shipped, and yes, there are happy customers. With that said, there is also a large number of Kickstarter backers, some who are allegedly still waiting for their shipments from October, despite the company shipping more recent orders well ahead of their’s.
The frustration with the company has started to boil over, with many customers rightfully posting their opinions of Cobblebot LLC on public internet forums and via the Kickstarter comments page. One customer, who goes by the handle of JeffRandall on the Cobbleverse forum, recently contacted the company via email with the following message:
“Can you please tell me what the status is for my final shipment. I paid the final invoice over a week ago and I am one of the 99 super early bird backers [these backers had an expected delivery date which passed 6 months ago!]. The message from you was that the package had been prepared, yet it hasn’t shipped in over a week.”
Jeff received the following, rather alarming reply shortly after:
Sorry for the delay and an explanation is necessary. Your account was placed on hold by our legal department.
Under Texas law, it is unlawful to engage in defamation of another’s character and reputation. The law presumes certain categories of statements are defamatory per se, including statements that (1) unambiguously charge a crime, dishonesty, fraud, rascality, or general depravity or (2) that are falsehoods that injure one in his office, business, profession, or occupation. Main v. Royall, 348 S.W.3d 318, 390.
Several of your recent posts on various internet forums were being reviewed by the legal department for inclusion in our fourth round of upcoming legal actions being filed to protect our company’s reputation from the illegal act of defamation.
All the above being said, we did receive a hold release from the legal department today and will proceed with the shipping of your package. What does it mean when the legal department releases a hold? It normally means one of two things: 1) The legal department has decided the reviewed statement(s) were not defamation under Texas law; or 2) They have decided to issue a warning (Cease & Desist letter) to provide the opportunity to stop defaming the company’s reputation.
Keep in mind that the support department does not have access to the legal department’s records, so we don’t know anything for certain. We are just attempting to explain the type of hold that we saw placed on your account and what that type of hold means.
In any case, the hold has been released and we will move forward with the shipping of your final package.
Thanks for supporting Cobblebot and have a wonderful day!
Unbelievably, this customer who was one of the very first to back CobbleBot on Kickstarter, helping them launch their company and get started, was told that despite his 3D printer already being over 6 months late, they had held up shipping it even longer because he had posted messages on internet forums which were possibly considered defamation.
We went back and did a little research on Jeffrey’s postings on Kickstarter, Cobbleverse and Google Plus. Although as of late, his posts had clearly shown his frustration, we couldn’t find anything at all that we would consider defamation in his case. In fact, early on, he was one of the company’s biggest supporters.
The most alarming portion of this email from Cobblebot may not be the fact that they were holding back Jeffrey’s shipment. The fact that this was the ‘fourth round of upcoming legal actions’ make us wonder just how many other customers are being penalized like this for speaking out against the company.
In the meantime, despite not meeting their current shipping times on the Cobblebot, the company launched yet another Kickstarter campaign, and in fact brought in close to $108,000 for their new Cobblebot Vanguard 3D Printer. With initial shipment dates ranging from this month to June, it will be very interesting to see if the company has learned a lesson from their first debacle.
Personally I hope that Cobblebot is able to get their act together fast, making good on the individuals like Jeffrey who have been waiting months for their shipment, and that everything works out for them all in the long run. With that said, yes there is a point where defamation has to be defended against, but there is also a point in which the customer has every right to complain, and even attack a company who has broken promises time and time again. As one anonymous Cobblebot customer put it in an email to us, “Delays are delays: it happens. But threatening legal action against financial backers? This is ridiculous.”
Have you ordered from Cobblebot? What has been your experience? Discuss in the Cobblebot forum thread on 3DPB.com.