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Yelp Reviews, Free Speech & Defamation

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Shutterstock/Gil C<br />

Shutterstock/Gil C

It’s no secret that word of mouth impacts business. If you try that new restaurant down the street and feel strongly about it, you’re probably going to tell someone. While many people are on Twitter or Facebook, some prefer to share their views on Yelp. Whether Yelp reviews can be trusted is open for debate. Either way, that delicate balance between the rights of consumers to voice their opinions and the rights of business owners to protect their reputations has become increasingly strained.

The Wall Street Journal reported on a Yelp case that is headed to the Virginia Supreme Court. Joe Hadeed owns Hadeed Carpet Cleaning in Springfield, Virginia. In 2012, he started noticing that his company was receiving many negative Yelp reviews, which had not been the norm. Business and revenue dropped sharply causing him to let go dozens of workers and sell six trucks.

Hadeed believes that several of the bad reviews were fake and sued the review writers for defamation in July 2012. The lawsuit sought the writers’ true identities, but Yelp refused to turn over the names. So far two lower courts have agreed that Hadeed has the right to find out the names of the negative reviewers. Yelp has appealed to Virginia’s highest court stating that the reviews are protected free speech. A judge will soon decide whether Yelp will disclose the names to Hadeed. The implications of this case could be far reaching when it comes to anonymous online reviews.

In New York, there was an interesting twist to the online review scenario. A CBS New York article states that Matthew Brand read positive Yelp reviews for Ron Gordon Watch Repair on Madison Avenue. He took his watch there and was not happy with the service.

Brand wrote his own Yelp review in April 2013 using his name. In March 2014, Brand received a letter from the watch repair shop’s attorney threatening him with a defamation lawsuit if he did not take down his review. Since the threat of the lawsuit, the shop is now getting bad reviews about the threat of legal action and the owner is being called a bully.

For the CBS article, Law professor Leon Friedman was interviewed. He said that reviews are protected speech, but he didn’t think that these types of reviews are libelous if they are just an opinion. Instead of taking the litigious route, he suggests that businesses put a comment on the negative review and tell their side of the story.

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April 30th, 2014 at 9:12 am

Posted in Lawsuits,Legal News

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