Virginia Supreme Court Says Court Was Wrong To Force Woman To Change Yelp Review

from the good-move dept

We've seen a bunch of stories over the years about local businesses upset about critical online reviews on sites like Yelp and Angie's List. Sometimes these business owners go to court, but rarely get very far. However, in a hearing last month, a court in Virginia issued a preliminary injunction, telling Jane Perez that she needed to make two changes to reviews she posted on those two sites of DC contractor Christopher Dietz. Dietz had sued Perez for $750,000 over the negative reviews, and arguing that Yelp and Angie's List should be held responsible as well, despite their clear protections under Section 230.

The preliminary injunction made her change some claims about possible "stolen" jewelry as well as her characterization of a small claims lawsuit that Dietz had filed against her for non-payment (that case was dismissed due to procedural failures, though she described it as a win for her on summary judgment), but did allow the rest of the posts to remain. This was a partial victory for Perez, since Dietz wanted the entire posts removed, but it still raised some significant questions. Public Citizen and the ACLU asked the court to review, noting that this was classic prior restraint:
Thus, even in jurisdictions that allow an injunction against the repetition of a libel that has been found false and defamatory after a full trial, or in which that issue remains open, injunctions may not issue against speech that has not been finally determined to be false and defamatory. For this reason, courts have rejected attempts to obtain preliminary injunctive relief against Internet speech.
Basically, a court cannot issue an injunction on speech that might be defamatory. It needs to wait until it's actually been proven to be defamatory. As the filing notes, in this case, the court didn't even find that Dietz had shown a "likelihood of success" let alone determined that the statements were defamatory.

Thankfully, the Virginia Supreme Court quickly recognized the error and has vacated the injunction allowing the original text to stay in place while any lawsuit continues:
Upon further consideration whereof, the Court also finds that the preliminary injunction was not justified and that the respondents have an adequate remedy at law.
Good news for free speech, though it's unfortunate that the lower court didn't get it right the first time. Of course, as always, this kind of thing makes you wonder what good it could have possibly done Dietz to file this lawsuit. Whether or not the original allegations were true, now he's made it clear that he's willing to sue over reviews as well. It seems like most people might see that and decide to hire a contractor who not only has good reviews, but doesn't have a history of suing his customers over their online reviews.






Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 2nd, 2013 @ 5:06pm

    DMCA

    And yet if you yell "copyright" in a crowded internet the idea of prior restraint goes out the windows and everything is taken down and held hostage until the Justice Department decides to give you back your property.

     

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    identicon
    Colin, Jan 2nd, 2013 @ 6:02pm

    If you Google "Christopher Dietz contractor" basically the whole first page is stories about how he is suing for bad reviews. Apparently Mr. Dietz has not been following ootb's links to the Streisand Effect Wikipedia page.

     

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      Mr. Applegate, Jan 2nd, 2013 @ 6:15pm

      Response to: Colin on Jan 2nd, 2013 @ 6:02pm

      Perhaps not but he has been following ootb's premise. After all any comment made on ones work is obviously covered by copyright and the owner is the person that performed the work not the person who wrote the article! Damn filthy pirates trying to profit on the hard work of others!

       

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    •  
      identicon
      Mr. Applegate, Jan 2nd, 2013 @ 6:15pm

      Response to: Colin on Jan 2nd, 2013 @ 6:02pm

      Perhaps not but he has been following ootb's premise. After all any comment made on ones work is obviously covered by copyright and the owner is the person that performed the work not the person who wrote the article! Damn filthy pirates trying to profit on the hard work of others!

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      nospacesorspecialcharacters (profile), Jan 3rd, 2013 @ 8:33am

      Re:

      It's somewhat ironic, but knowledge of the Streisand Effect has still not successfully managed to permeate mainstream consciousness and thus prevent unfortunate incidents like this.

      Perhaps someone needs to attempt a DMCA takedown of the Wikipedia article in order to get it more attention?

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Sean Polzer, Jan 3rd, 2013 @ 4:39pm

    Wow

    Never before did I think I'd read about two high school classmates suing each other here on Techdirt...

    I wish I had heard about all of this before things went viral, perhaps I could have helped spare all involved the publicity of this silliness...

     

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  •  
    identicon
    dese1ect, Jan 8th, 2013 @ 1:45pm

    Dietz the ditz.

    Users of sites like Yelp, Angie's List, etc. know that there are going to be bad reviews (not everyone loves you) and generally look at the total scope of the ratings. I think it would do Dietz and others more good to encourage happy clients to leave good reviews (even if you have to do some sort of promotion) to bury a bad review than to ruin your online reputation through lawsuits.

    Consumers also have a right to voice their opinion. Dietz is clearly acting as the censor demanding a sum so large as to quiet anyone who would try to write such a review about him again. This isn't a typical case because of his actions, not to mention his lack of communication through legal channels in advance of filing suit. I support Jane Perez because she first had shoddy work done, had property go missing, fired the contractor, beat him in small claims court, and now is being retaliated against with a defamation suit. You should to: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/309293

     

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