Thursday, September 29, 2011

Online Bad Reviews Tough for Restaurateur to Swallow; Sues for Libel

Image representing Yelp as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBaseIn YS Catering, LLP v. Yelp!, Inc. (Case No. 1:2011cv23483), removed this week from state court to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida,  a company that operates The Fresh Diet food service has sued the Yelp! review site for libel, claiming the defendant committed "defamation by implication" by top-loading site users' negative reviews of the company while allegedly hiding access to more positive feedback.

As reported by the MediaPost News blog, the complaint alleges Yelp! prominently displays 13 negative posts about The Fresh Diet, but that an additional 16 reviews, many of which are positive, require visitors to click to a second page. Interestingly, the plaintiff isn't alleging that it was defamed by the content of the bad reviews, which wouldn't withstand a fair comment defense to libel (opinions by their nature are neither true nor false, and thus, are non-defamatory), but rather, by the defendant's business judgment in how it decided to display the reviews critical of the plaintiff.

It's artful, but not likely to succeed, because Section 230(c)(1) of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 shields Internet Service Providers such as Yelp! from such liability by stating: "no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."

Food for thought.

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1 comment:

  1. Seems like a pretty fair argument to me. The counter in your 3rd paragraph for the defendant has been deflated by you in the 2nd paragraph. I wonder what David D. has to say about this.