Lawyer Who Sues Yelp Admits He Had No Idea About Section 230 Safe Harbors

from the great-moments-in-lawyering dept

Last week, we wrote about a defamation lawsuit over a review on Yelp, which seemed to backfire — bringing a lot more attention to the negative review than if left alone. That case actually was settled soon after, but yet another defamation lawsuit has been filed by yet another person — this time a dentist — over a negative review. There are a few things worth commenting on about this lawsuit, but the big one that caught my attention is that the lawsuit was filed both against the couple who wrote the review… and against Yelp.

Now, as pretty much everyone knows around here, filing against Yelp is a big no-no. Yelp is clearly protected by section 230 safe harbors that make third party service providers immune from liability for actions of their users. This is pretty widely known among anyone involved in anything having to do with internet law… but was not known by the lawyer who filed the suit. In fact, the lawyer admits in the article above that he “wasn’t aware” of the law and will probably drop the suit against Yelp now that he knows about it. But, it certainly raises questions about the lawyer if he was totally unaware of a key piece of internet legislation before filing such a lawsuit.

Then, there’s the bizarre response from the dentist, replying to the point that Yelp lets the service providers directly contact those who write negative reviews to try to clear up the problem. The dentist says: “I would be very upset and would not know what to say to them.” Fascinating. So, rather than talking it out as adults and clearing up any misunderstanding (and from the sound of it, it was a basic misunderstanding), she jumps straight to the lawsuit stage? She doesn’t know what to say to them, but has no problem dumping a lawsuit on them. Isn’t America great?

Filed Under: ,
Companies: yelp

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Lawyer Who Sues Yelp Admits He Had No Idea About Section 230 Safe Harbors”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
49 Comments
Adrianos Facchetti (user link) says:

Internet Defamation

Internet defamation is a niche area that many lawyers know little about. I am not surprised that this lawyer, let alone any other lawyer would not know about the Communications Decency Act. If you ask 100 lawyers what it is, I bet less than 5 would know. Further, I think it’s a bit misleading to say that, “Yelp is clearly protected by section 230 safe harbors that make third party service providers immune from liability for actions of their users.” This is an example of a blanket statement in an area of law that is changing, and which, unfortunately, gives false comfort to unsuspecting internet users. Mark my words: the CDA will not be as expansive as it is today. Reviewer beware.

Steve says:

Shake Down

I have seen more than one instance where a negative Yelp review was intended to shake down the reviewed party for free services in exchange for retraction or amendment to the original review. I think blanket protection to Yelp or other services providers is dangerous as there needs to be a way to force service providers to address such abuse.

I am in no way making a judgment on this case but the damage caused by a service provider not investigating or monitoring such abuse can be significant.

Zack (user link) says:

Re: Shake Down

This is definitely a problem, but where do you draw the line? Once ONE user gets sued for defamation or liable or anything else that can be tied to a negative review, that opens the field up to all sorts of law suits from other companies with bad reviews…then people become afraid to be honest, then the whole system is screwed.

Maybe it should be up to the service provider (Yelp, in this case) to mediate and make sure the two parties can come to an agreement – not involving free services, or completely removing the negative review, but instead maybe just having the user modify the review, taking out words like “dishonest practices” and other more aggressive claims, and just stick to, “this place sucks, don’t go there” and give it 1 star.

I don’t know, it’s going to be interesting to see how this issue pans out over the coming years. Certainly could make or break the review sites…

nasch says:

Re: Re: Shake Down

If the user believes the service provider engaged in dishonest practices, why should they be forced to remove that language? Doesn’t it make a review site less valuable if you’re only allowed to say certain things? Or not allowed to say certain things?

I think the dentist (or whoever) should be allowed to respond on the site. If they go crazy and put in all caps profanity or some such, they’re shooting themselves in the foot and get what they deserve. If they offer a reasoned counterpoint or even an apology and offer of recompense of some kind, they’ll come off well. Perhaps even get creative – come on in, mention this bad review for a 10% discount. If the service provider has nothing useful to say in response to the review, I think that should be the end of the story (although of course they always have the option to sue, regardless of the web site’s policies and practices).

Peter Blaise Monahon (profile) says:

A judge should send them back to negotiation

.

If I were the judge assigned the case (and I’ve seen this happen in court), I’d first ask,

“Have you tried to resolve this with each other?”

If the answer is, “No,” as the dentist seems to say, then I, as judge, would reschedule for a month, letting the parties know in the strictest terms that I’m miffed and don’t like being used as the first line of communication between parties. If the case is not dropped by the month, I’d want a very complete explanation of the attempt to resolve. Then the case could proceede.

It really is up to the judge how silly and inappropriate these things can become.

However, I’ve also seen judges complete loose it and act on a clear misunderstanding (to coin a phrase!), and I’ve also seen judges “play” with a case no end for their own entertainment.

So it goes both ways, er, all ways:

– silly plaintiffs,
– silly lawyers,
– silly judges,
– silly laws.

It’s never ending. People are like that. Always have been. Always will be.

People.

Can’t live with ’em, can’t sue without ’em! 😉

.

John Drake says:

Law

This is a stupid story.

If existing laws are not challenged, how do you think changes or a presidence is set?

He should continue to sue Yelp for harboring and hosting liars, stalkers and fake reviewers.

Perhaps the safe harbor laws needs a second look for such behavior on behalf of the host who uses those bad reviews as a way to sell advertising by offering to remove them or push them to another position on the web page.

Nicolas Martin (profile) says:

The cartel

Dentists are members of a state enforced cartel. They don’t have to talk it out as adults. Physicians and dentists are using their monopoly powers to try to squelch any publicly expressed objections to their services. There is even a company, Medical Justice, which provides physicians with a contract that, if signed by new patients, prevents them from criticizing the doc on the Internet. If the patient won’t sign, the doc refuses to see the patient.

http://www.modernmedicine.com/modernmedicine/Modern+Medicine+Now/Safety-net-Doctors-contract-with-patients-to-avoid/ArticleStandard/Article/detail/563269?contextCategoryId=40145

This sort of contract would be acceptable if the market for medicine were free and consumers had power. But doctoring is a state-imposed cartel, so consumers already have but slight power, and this contract reduces it further. Imaging if all retailers were to make as a condition of sale that consumers could not make negative comments about them.

beware says:

lawyer suing yelp

The physician or dentist is prevented from commenting on patient care due to privacy laws which prevent patient protected information from being divulged. Therefore they can not respond online to any allegation that patient care has been compromised. It is therefore open season on all practitioners. The result will be that sensitive people will leave the profession. What will be left will be professional business people who will view these negative reviews as simply the cost of doing business.

angela says:

Attorney directory

Martindale.com helps corporate counsel and law firm lawyers connect with lawyers and firms. We are the destination for buyers of legal services. Use Martindale-Hubbell’s lawyer locator to find lawyers, law firms, in-house counsel, corporate legal departments, US government and law school faculty. The mesothelioma attorney and mesothelioma lawyers directory is the place to search for an attorney or lawyer for your mesothelioma settlement.

===========================
find lawyer

Janet says:

Yelp is responsible

Yelp is responsible because they continually remove positive reviews and keep the bad ones. Especially, if they are calling you weekly for money. I’ve had 10 positive reviews removed but one negative review stays up no matter what. They even double listed the one negative review and had it count towards the total stars. I am all for open speech but they are manipulating the reviews and affecting businesses. I did a screen shot of my listing to prove they are double listing. By the way, the positive reviews started dropping like flies when they started to call for money.

RW says:

Re: Yelp is responsible

Same thing happened to our business. We advertised with them one month. Then we had a false review made up by our competition they refused to remove that had nothing to do with our business. The competitor removed it themselves – but then they began taking down every single good review so we have NONE. I want people to know not to use yelp.

Yelp Is Dishonest says:

Our business has had 5 reviews so far. One is a negative review from a man who is lying about being a client; the other four are very positive. Yelp keeps only the dishonest negative review on our Yelp page, and filters out all positive reviews. Then, after complaining about this, they start hitting me up to set up a “business” account. I will never trust Yelp, again.

Erin (user link) says:

I want to sue yelp

Well i have had over 20 real customer reviews taken down off yelp. they were all 5 stars and my business and income has gone down about %400. it all happened after they called me asking if i wanted to advertise. they said i would have to committ to at least a year of payments of $350 a month. so i said i wouldn’t make that big of a commitment without trying it out first (i said no). It was within a week that all my reviews went down along with my business. Also, every new customer review i have got since the incident has been “flagged” mysteriously within 4 days of being post. One of my reviewers even reached out to me asking why his review was taken down (as if i did it) and i told him that yelp took it down. Apparently he wrote yelp about the incident and they canceled his account. I love using yelp as a consumer, but its pretty clear that its a very very very political website, and unless you are the kind of business that is going to get the yelp “elite” to review you all the time (aka a restaurant or hipster joint) then you will probably not be able to hold onto any real reviews.

mark says:

Review Yelp !!!

There is not much you can do against yelp, but at least you can go to yelp (san francisco) and review yelp. You will see a massive number of 1 star reviews for yelp recently. You can also contact the BBB and share your experience with them. At least you can make Yelp do some letter writing and paperwork. The way it stands now, yelp is giving people the power to cost a business a lot of money, just because the person did not get what they want. Since many people on Yelp are anonymous, there is no way to “work it out” with that person.

legal90210 (profile) says:

YELP HELPS NEGATIVE REVIEWS & IS ANTI-BUSINESS! DO NOT SIGN UP WITH THEM EVER!

We have a medical Business that we listed on Yelp. On two occasions two individuals in 2010 and one in 2011 posted fake, defamatory and slanderous on YELP. We contacted Yelp for an entire year and it took them that long to finally take down the comment and delete our account.
We were unable to delete our account because we got an E-mail from YELP that our account had opened few other accounts and hence we had to be removed!

Now we have another posting that a person left naming the patient in front of him breaking the HIPP privacy rights of the patient. I have personally written a 100 letters to YELP to remove this comment and to delete our account yet one more time, ( our new marketing person was unaware our previous problem with yelp and had opened an account), NO RESPONSE from Yelp.
Yes yelp may be protected by the 230 safe harbor law but guess what the climate is changing and Yelp is now participating by encouraging the negative comments by removing the positive one and leaving defaming, slandering and fake posting on hence depending on a judge and court they can be found responsible as well in the eyes of LAW!
Who is YELP to keep negative postings of hard working doctors and dentist because some IDIOT didn’t like the services or didn’t want to pay hence decides to leave nasty comments to ruin reputation of these harding working people?
SHAME ON YOU YELP, I HOPE YOU get bought over by some other company and FAIL because YELP is a HORRIBLE site with the MOST HORRIFIC costumer services who just wants to Rip you off!
HOW IS THAT FOR A REVIEW YELP???????????????

legal90210 (profile) says:

YELP HELPS NEGATIVE REVIEWS & IS ANTI-BUSINESS! DO NOT SIGN UP WITH THEM EVER!

We have a medical Business that we listed on Yelp. On two occasions two individuals in 2010 and one in 2011 posted fake, defamatory and slanderous on YELP. We contacted Yelp for an entire year and it took them that long to finally take down the comment and delete our account.
We were unable to delete our account because we got an E-mail from YELP that our account had opened few other accounts and hence we had to be removed!

Now we have another posting that a person left naming the patient in front of him breaking the HIPP privacy rights of the patient. I have personally written a 100 letters to YELP to remove this comment and to delete our account yet one more time, ( our new marketing person was unaware our previous problem with yelp and had opened an account), NO RESPONSE from Yelp.
Yes yelp may be protected by the 230 safe harbor law but guess what the climate is changing and Yelp is now participating by encouraging the negative comments by removing the positive one and leaving defaming, slandering and fake posting on hence depending on a judge and court they can be found responsible as well in the eyes of LAW!
Who is YELP to keep negative postings of hard working doctors and dentist because some IDIOT didn’t like the services or didn’t want to pay hence decides to leave nasty comments to ruin reputation of these harding working people?
SHAME ON YOU YELP, I HOPE YOU get bought over by some other company and FAIL because YELP is a HORRIBLE site with the MOST HORRIFIC costumer services who just wants to Rip you off!
HOW IS THAT FOR A REVIEW YELP???????????????

Legaldefender says:

YELP HELPS NEGATIVE REVIEWS & IS ANTI-BUSINESS! DO NOT SIGN UP WITH THEM EVER!

That section 230 Safe Harbors protects companies like this is true to a degree.

Other companies (many) that have stood behind this law have been torn to shreds by competent attorneys in the past.

Any time such a company encourages or supports unfair activities, they are subject to consequences. The simple act of charging for a service and then prioritizing any one review negative or positive, over another is a manipulation and destortion of the truth. This is actionable by law.

To the extent that any purposeful distortions affect business, and the resulting tax base, negatively, Yelp can be found accountable.

Once there is sufficient cause, and of course potential for financial gain, a reputable law firm will file a viable class action. I am aware of one at least that is waiting patiently.

If Yelp continues these practices, they will have their day in court. And they will lose.

Ali Hashemian says:

Yelp is not a simple reporter of facts

The question that comes to mind is that Yelp is not simply a publisher of facts BUT an arbitrator of it. Everyone knows of the freedom of press and safe harbor law (or should), but Yelp actually does more than publishing client comments. First it allows anyone to publish any comments about any business (perfect vehicle for competitors) without requiring any evidence that the person is real, or that they did actually used the services in questions or had an encounter with the business, (which may be all fine) but it ACTUALLY filters some reviews, often positive reviews based on some unpublished formula, which then has an effect of lowering the businesses star rating. I am not a lawyer, but this seems inherently unfair to the business. If the freedom of information rules, then how and why the filtering of the comments?

Don Wachter (user link) says:

Internet Defamation

I am looking for a Attorney to help me with my yelp problem I have 15 reviews 12 good ones and 3 bad ones the 3 bad ones are posted on yelp are all customers of my competition I know this because they posted good reviews about him and the 12 good reviews are filtered out how can this be legal Please help me fine a good Attorney.

Don Wachter (661) 714-0771

Tavis says:

Yelp is responsible

Exactly , there are different issues here.

1 is the suit over a bad review , which is silly because everyone is entitled to their opinion especially if they paid for a product or service.

The 2nd issue is the endless amount of small business owners who feel they are being shaken down by Yelp for advertising money in exchange for better “policing” of their yelp page.

I personally have a loved one that is falling victim to this , which is how i ended up on this page. This story is from 2009 , here it is 2013 and the same thing is still happening.

Calls for advertising money from Yelp sales , followed complaints about unfair policing on yelp. Sounds like Yelp’s originally business model wasn’t working and this process came about somehow.

Jerome Risby (user link) says:

YELP - Method for holing Yelp Libel for damages is Assault

The author of this piece is informed on the protections for Yelp, but misinformed on the protections for which Yelp is party to: Assault.

Being invited to an area of contention with those whom which to do one harm (ones’ business) is assault, and not just a defamation claim, per the law the which the Clinton’s are responsible which protect ISP provider.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...