Libelious Reviews can’t be forced to Take Down By Yelp

Businesses can not sue Yelp to acquire defamatory reviews removed, California’s Supreme Court has ruled. The conclusion overturns a lower court’s judgment against Yelp, affirming principles that protect internet platforms from legal accountability over users’ posts.

The court handed down a decision on Hassell v. Bird, where a law firm sued a dissatisfied customer for posting falsely negative reviews. Yelp wasn’t directly involved in the litigation, but when a court sided with the law firm, it included an order that made Yelp — in addition to the customer — responsible for eliminating the offending reviews. Yelp argued that this arrangement violated the broad protections granted by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, but lower courts disagreed, stating that the removal order was not directly threatening Yelp with liability.

Libelious Reviews can’t be forced to Take Down By Yelp

The Supreme Court found that this interpretation of Section 230 overly narrow, and wrote that holding Yelp to a different standard because it was not named as a defendant was just an”end-run” around the law. A removal order such as the one against Yelp could”interfere with and undermine the viability of an online platform,” and”the exceptional position of online intermediaries convinced Congress to spare republishers of online content… from this kind of ongoing entanglement with the courts.” The Yelp reviewer is still legally required to take the review down, in addition to paying damages to the law firm. Buy Yelp Reviews

Yelp celebrated the decision in a blog post, stating that”online publishers in California can be ensured that they cannot be lawfully forced to eliminate third-party speech through enterprising abuses of the legal system.” However, the lawyer representing the defamed law firm called it”an invitation to spread falsehoods on the internet without consequence.” The Associated Pressreports that the firm is considering an appeal to the US Supreme Court.

Yelp testimonials are a legally contentious area. Along with individual defamation suits such as the one above, aggrieved Yelp users have unsuccessfully sued the company for alleged crimes like extorting businesses with review scores and inflating stock prices by exaggerating its reliability. In 2016, Congress passed a law to prevent companies from suppressing customer reviews. And last month, one Yelp consumer was sentenced to prison for writing falsely negative reviews — he left in retaliation after getting a previous prison term for extorting the business with negative reviews.

Section 230 has also suffered some blows this year. Its scope was limited by recently signed legislation FOSTA, and it has been misinterpreted to argue that social media platforms should not be permitted to moderate user posts in their platforms. This ruling doesn’t change any of that — but the decision makes it easier for platforms to resist claims that they are required to moderate posts.