Yelp Reviewers Launch Class Action Lawsuit Claiming They're 'Unpaid Employees'

from the wtf? dept

Remember when a Huffington Post volunteer writer named Jonathan Tasini sued the company for not paying him, even though he had volunteered to occasionally contribute stories? That lawsuit went nowhere fast, but it appears that others are now trying something similar. A class action lawsuit has been launched by a small group of Yelp reviewers, trying to make the (laughable and ridiculous) case that reviewers on the site are actually unpaid employees who are now demanding compensation. It appears that they're hoping the recent success of a few lawsuits involving "unpaid internships" will now carry over to user-generated content sites as well. To put it mildly, this is incredibly stupid.

Nothing about the relationship of a Yelp reviewer to the company is anything like an employment situation (or even an intern situation). They aren't "hired." They don't have responsibilities or jobs that they have to do. They volunteer to share some reviews because they want to do so. Everyone has their own motivations for why, but the idea that it's some sort of unpaid employment situation is ludicrous. The entire argument seems to hinge on the idea that Yelp gets value out of their reviews. Well, duh. But that doesn't make it an employment situation at all. The lawsuit is also littered with out of context snipes at Yelp for other aspects of its business which have absolutely nothing to do with the legal questions in play. Part of the argument, believe it or not, is that Yelp "instructed" these "unpaid employees" to do more work... because it had policies associated with its various gamification mechanisms to encourage them to write more. For example, Yelp has long had a "Yelp Elite" status, but if you're not contributing lots of reviews, you can lose that status. But, again, all of that is voluntary and is no different than tons of sites with gamification/badges for activity. To argue that constitutes an employment relationship is simply laughable.

It appears that at least some of the plaintiffs are pissed off because, at some point, Yelp cancelled their accounts based on "flimsy explanations." But, that seems to work against their own arguments. If these folks were really so "exploited" by Yelp, and "forced" to write for no money... then, um, why are they so upset that they "lost" that "job"? The best the lawsuit can offer up (and I'm not joking) is that the "cult-like rewards and disciplines" associated with the gamification drove people to continue to "work" for free.

Once again, this seems like the sort of class action lawsuit that gives class action lawyers a bad name. Find a company that is making a lot of money and come up with some absolutely ridiculous reason for suing. Even in the ridiculously unlikely chance that this lawsuit goes anywhere, the only ones who will benefit are the class action lawyers.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Ninja (profile), Oct 28th, 2013 @ 8:48am

    Hopefully they'll find volunteer lawyers for this... Strong cause, no?

    I'd suggest Prenda...

     

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

  2.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Oct 28th, 2013 @ 9:24am

    I think Mike is against this case because he's cheated a ton of money out of me. Hear that Mikey! I wrote TWO articles for this site, and what did I get out of it? Nothing! Besides the respect of people I will never likely meet, I got nothing! I'm gonna sue you too! In fact, I'm gonna open my own blog, with blackjack and hookers. In fact, forget the blog!

    /sarcmarc for those too stupid to realize

     

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

  3.  
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    Chris ODonnell (profile), Oct 28th, 2013 @ 9:46am

    I presume they hired their lawyer based on Yelp reviews?

     

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

  4.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Oct 28th, 2013 @ 9:52am

    but but but I should get paid because stuff!
    Seriously?

    I stopped pressing the button and they stopped giving me the treat! They owe me!!!

     

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

  5.  
    identicon
    bob, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 9:54am

    about damn time

    I hope they succeed, as it will give credence to my lawsuit demanding I get payed for my hard work at farmville.
    which will, of course, then go after govt farming subsidies.

     

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

  6. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 9:55am

    Reveals more of MIke's pro-corporate, anti-labor position.

    Arguing legalities that allow The Rich to exploit the poor. -- Civilization is all about fairness and morality for the common good, Mike, NOT legalities that empower The Rich.

    Here's a relevant similarity, has corporations that have already been found guilty and fined by DOJ:
    The lawsuit against big tech firms like Google and Apple over their hiring practices has been given class action status, making it easier for the workers to lever greater wads of cash out of the companies if they win.

    The case alleges a conspiracy between technology firms in Silicon Valley to keep employees' wages down and curb competition by agreeing not to poach each other's workers.

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/10/25/no_hire_pact_lawsuit_class_action/

    "Crony capitalism" is one of those terms people use to try and maintain that there's also a beneficial version; what the 99% actually want is well-regulated fair markets favoring Industrial Production over Money Manipulation.

    05:55:48[g-026-3]

     

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

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 9:56am

    I should sue Facebook for the same thing!

    I'm going to sue facebook for the exact same thing! I'm a hard working employee blogging about everything I eat for lunch, and what I'm doing all day long. Plus facebook sells my information to make cash and to send me advertisements, so I should be entitled to some of that cash!

     

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  8.  
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    Josh King (profile), Oct 28th, 2013 @ 9:56am

    Maybe the fact that the lead plaintiff(Dr. Allen Panzer) has a 2.5 star rating on Yelp has something to do with it:

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/allan-j-panzer-od-pa-houston-2

     

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  9.  
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    miatajim (profile), Oct 28th, 2013 @ 9:57am

    Why? Why not. It's what the system has become.

     

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

  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 9:58am

    Re: about damn time

    Wow, bob made a funny, intentionally no less.

     

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

  11.  
    identicon
    Troll Translator, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 10:01am

    Re: Reveals more of MIke's pro-corporate, anti-labor position.

    Troll Translation:

    I'm just another mysterious corporate paid shill to debase this site but I fail at it poorly that my tactics help Techdirt's credibility.

     

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

  12.  
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    Michael, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 10:04am

    Yelp is filing a counter-suit against the reviewers for doing a horrible job.

     

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

  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 10:09am

    Re:

    No, worse:

    Yelp is demanding that everyone report to work tomorrow at 7AM sharp.

     

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

  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 10:11am

    bar grieve the lawyers

    The ABA model standards talks about how a lawyer should not advance an argument contrary to existing law ONLY to change that law.

    If they ain't doing that - bar grieve them.

     

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

  15.  
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    Jack, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 10:14am

    NOT Hansmeier?

    I was shocked to scroll to the bottom of the lawsuit and NOT find "/s Paul Hansmeier". I thought he might have finally filed his first Class Action lawsuit... I bet he is sitting at home all pissed off he didn't come up with this first. Though I guess filing a class action suit is more work than objecting to a settlement at the last minute demanding $30,000...

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 10:27am

    Truly an injustice.

    Come on Techdirt, join me in shedding a tear for these downtrodden employees whose job (which they volunteered for) has:

    - No hours
    - No responsibilities
    - No boss
    - No annoying customers
    - No expressed or implicit promise of a salary
    - etc....you get the point

    Oh woe is them.

     

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

  17.  
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    Baldaur Regis (profile), Oct 28th, 2013 @ 10:32am

    So...

    ...when I review 'The Yelp Class-Action Law Firm' I can expect my check exactly when?

     

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

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 10:44am

    How is this any different than going around to random grocery stores, and start stocking the shelves and cleaning up aisles, then suing demanding to be paid for my "internship"

    Or even better, people who post on forums demanding to be paid for the content the volunteered

    lol

     

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

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 10:48am

    Re: Re: Reveals more of MIke's pro-corporate, anti-labor position.

    That's quite a skill to translate incoherent gibberish.

     

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

  20.  
    identicon
    Pragmatic, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 11:04am

    Re: Reveals more of MIke's pro-corporate, anti-labor position.

    legalities that allow The Rich to exploit the poor. -- Civilization is all about fairness and morality for the common good, Mike, NOT legalities that empower The Rich.


    What, like copyright, Comrade Blueski?

    It also is used to empower the capitalist running dogs of the imperialist elite by taking money from the poor in the names of artists who never receive it, da?

    What is this "everyday good of copyright" you speak of, bearing in mind that multiple copies must be sold to garner enough royalties to engender a payout if one is due? Surely the monies go first to the corporate masters, then to the middlemen, then to the serfs, and even then, only the most popular ones tend to gain anything from it.

    Ah, comrade, you know little of the real world of copyright, and your rantings are but the misplaced frustrations of a failed writer and broadcaster. It's not the pirates' fault that you never sold much, but your own, for being crap.

     

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

  21.  
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    McCrea (profile), Oct 28th, 2013 @ 11:17am

    Re:

    If that's what it takes to get a job.

     

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

  22.  
    identicon
    JBDragon, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 11:27am

    Shouldn't we file a Class Action here for not being paid for our posts here??? Come on, who's with me!!!



    /s

     

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

  23.  
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    ChrisB (profile), Oct 28th, 2013 @ 11:57am

    Re: Reveals more of MIke's pro-corporate, anti-labor position.

    "Well" regulated markets is what we already have. Why was no one charged for the 2008 meltdown? Because very few people were doing anything illegal.

    When laws are written as "The seller shall get a rating on the asset backed securities" as apposed to, "Buyer beware", then we take responsibility for failure. Failure should punish those involved (banks) not those who aren't (taxpayers).

    Crony capitalism can be result of "well-regulated" markets, depending on the regulations. Think about tennis vs. gymnastics. In tennis, it is obvious when the ball is out. The ref just enforces the clear rules. In gymnastics, the score is based on so many intangibles, so corruption is easy. Capitalism must have regulations, but they must be clear and results-based. Procedure-based regulations should be avoided at all costs. Procedure based regulations allow companies to abdicate responsibility by claiming they were following the procedures, and the results are not their fault.

     

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

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 12:40pm

    Re:

    If these people win, I'm going to sue everyone who ever used any of my open source software contributions to make money. So what if I gave you a valid license to use my code. I was an unpaid employee.

     

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

  25.  
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    Drew, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 12:47pm

    FIRE THEIR ASSES

     

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

  26.  
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    davebarnes (profile), Oct 28th, 2013 @ 1:21pm

    Interesting

    Allen has 58 filtered reviews.
    And, his 2.5 star rating is meaningless as all his visible reviews are either 1 or 5 stars with nothing in the middle.
    He is not happy with Yelp.

     

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

  27.  
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    Andrew F (profile), Oct 28th, 2013 @ 2:26pm

    I estimate that my Yelp reviews are worth 200 million theoretical Internet Dollars and I demand to be paid!

     

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

  28.  
    identicon
    Davey, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 3:39pm

    Kinda like your corner mime suing everybody who walked by without paying because he was "employed" to entertain them.

     

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

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 5:29pm

    Response to: Rikuo on Oct 28th, 2013 @ 9:24am

    You make Bender proud

     

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

  30.  
    identicon
    MrWilson, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 5:34pm

    Re: Reveals more of MIke's pro-corporate, anti-labor position.

    So it's unfair for rich companies to create websites based on customer participation, but it's okay for rich corporations to exploit both talented musicians and their customers and corrupt the legal system with their purchased legislation?

    You've got a beam in your eye called copyright maximalism which you might want to remove prior to ranting about the "exploitation" of volunteer reviewers who aren't forced to write a damn thing for Yelp.

    ...then we can talk.

     

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

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 7:20pm

    Re: Reveals more of MIke's pro-corporate, anti-labor position.

    These grifting grifters are grifting my grift. Grift grift grift, grift grift grift grift!!

    01:23:45(a-678-9)

     

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

  32.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Oct 28th, 2013 @ 9:00pm

    I would not want to be them...

    ... when it's time for employee evaluation day. 'Not a team player' is probably going to be the least of their worries.

     

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

  33.  
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    Atkray (profile), Oct 28th, 2013 @ 9:09pm

    Re:

    "Besides the respect of people I will never likely meet, I got nothing!"

    I got nothing.

    FTFY

    :P

     

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

  34.  
    identicon
    yelpclassaction, Oct 28th, 2013 @ 9:42pm

    The lawsuit is solidly based on the law

    Yelp admits that 200,000 of its reviews came about because they paid the writers wages. Yelp pays its employees to write reviews, pays community managers to write reviews, pay scouts to write reviews (Group A).
    The vast majority of the reviews are written by non-wage paid writers. (Group B) The writing between A's writing and Group B's writing is indistinguishable.
    All we are asking is that you, as a Yelp writer, get paid like the other 200,000 review authored postings got paid in wages. It is an easy legal matter.
    Quantum meruit-Yelp demanded the reviews. You can't "volunteer" for a commercial enterprise and avoid paying taxes by getting paid in liquor, food, badges, trinkets and titles.
    I would suggest that you actually read the complaint as it explains how well bottomed in the law this class action is. As for other web publishers-Yelp's right to control, control and nature of the business model makes it unique. Yelp does things, demands things and exploits workers in a far more aggressive and actionable way than other websites. As for HuffPost...those plaintiffs stated that they were "owners" for their free work. We, however merely are asking that under federal law that all workers be paid wages-not just the C.Mgrs, scouts and other writers of the 200,000 reviews ALL writers get paid for the same work. Read the complaint and thank you for making Jeremy a multimillionaire off of your labors. Did you want your small share? http://yelpclassaction.info/panzerC.pdf

     

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

  35.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Oct 29th, 2013 @ 12:37am

    Re: The lawsuit is solidly based on the law

    The lawsuit is solidly based on the law


    No. It's not. You're going to lose badly. You look very very foolish.

     

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

  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 29th, 2013 @ 1:39am

    Re: The lawsuit is solidly based on the law

    Just checking - by posting here you know you're not an unpaid Techdirt employee, don't you?

     

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

  37.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Oct 29th, 2013 @ 4:41am

    Re: The lawsuit is solidly based on the law

    As my comment up above indicates, I willingly wrote a couple articles for Techdirt, knowing full well that I wasn't getting paid. It's the exact same situation here. In fact, IpayTechdirt money in return for Insider status and privileges.
    I'd like to know exactly how Yelp "demanded the reviews". Usually when one party demands something of another party, the first party threatens the second in some way. If my boss tells me to do something in the workplace (and as long as it's not illegal) but I refuse to do so, she threatens me with loss of my job and hence, wages. What did you stand to lose? You weren't being paid. You didn't have set working hours. You volunteered to write reviews.
    If I make a video review on Youtube, but don't sign up for ad revenue sharing, do I have the right to go back and complain when I notice the view count is in the hundreds of thousands? Same thing here. You willingly wrote a thing once, gave it to Yelp and willingly did it in exchange for what are basically e-trinkets.

     

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

  38.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Oct 29th, 2013 @ 4:42am

    Re: Re: The lawsuit is solidly based on the law

    Whoops. HTML got screwed up
    "In fact, IpayTechdirt"

    should be "I pay Techdirt"

     

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

  39.  
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    AMM, Oct 29th, 2013 @ 5:57am

    My thoughts exactly

     

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

  40.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Oct 29th, 2013 @ 9:34am

    Re: The lawsuit is solidly based on the law

    All we are asking is that you, as a Yelp writer, get paid like the other 200,000 review authored postings got paid in wages.


    Then demand it as a condition for writing the reviews. If Yelp doesn't agree to pay you for the work, then don't do the work.

    Easy legal matter.

    I don't see how the reviewers have even the start of a legal leg to stand on for a lawsuit. The reviewers agreed to write the reviews without compensation. According to IRS guidelines, Yelp reviewers don't even come close to being considered employees. Yelp has not defrauded or cheated anybody in this matter. I don't see the beef here.

     

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

  41.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Oct 29th, 2013 @ 9:40am

    Re: Re: The lawsuit is solidly based on the law

    I just read the court filing, and I have to say I think you're understating things.

    The lawsuit seems to boil down to "Yelp is making money and we want some of it," mixed with a lot of irrelevant anecdotes about how there are people who hate Yelp.

     

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

  42.  
    identicon
    novictim, Oct 30th, 2013 @ 2:26pm

    Yelpers v Yelp: The Extortionist is Now Being Extorted

    YELP is a known extortion scheme whereby businesses who decline to advertise wind up with their positive reviews filtered and their negative reviews made prominent. A cadre of so called elite Yelpers (chronically unemployed losers paid off with invitations to catered events) are Yelps hired guns who do the dirty work of defaming small businesses for them and shilling for advertisers. They helped this money losing sham of a business reap a huge IPO windfall and an absurd run-up in its stock price. No wonder they are now looking for a little payback.

     

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

  43.  
    identicon
    yelpclassaction, Oct 30th, 2013 @ 9:40pm

    Re: Re: The lawsuit is solidly based on the law

    OK. I'm sorry. Thanks for the warning.

     

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

  44.  
    identicon
    yelpclassaction, Oct 30th, 2013 @ 9:41pm

    Re: Re: The lawsuit is solidly based on the law

    OK. I'm sorry. Thanks for the warning. You can't waive your right to wages under the federal Fair Standards Wage Act.

     

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

  45.  
    identicon
    yelpclassaction, Oct 30th, 2013 @ 9:59pm

    Re: Re: The lawsuit is solidly based on the law

    You can't waive your rights to payment for wages, just as you can't waive your rights to your apartment not having rats or can you waive you right to not have someone stab you.

     

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

  46.  
    identicon
    yelpclassaction, Oct 30th, 2013 @ 10:04pm

    Re: Re: Re: The lawsuit is solidly based on the law

    The complaint is 17 pages long and can't be boiled down.
    1. Yelp pays wages to all writers. It pays wages to some writers but trinkets to other writers. Our clients want wages as per the FLSA.
    2. Yelp has the right to control-therefore they are employers.
    3. Yelp's business would not exist without the work of our writers. Therefore under the Nature of the Business test, our clients are employees.
    4. Quantum Meruit. Yelp pays our clients in trinkets, titles, prestige. Yelp demands that our clients write more often and at a faster pace. Yelp profits from this. Equity demands that our clients get paid for their labors.
    Thats as close as we can get to boiling it down.

     

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

  47.  
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    Josh King (profile), Oct 31st, 2013 @ 9:00am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: The lawsuit is solidly based on the law

    The complaint "can't be boiled down?"

    Sure it can; here are a but a few ways:

    "Lunatic"
    "Sure to be dismissed on the pleadings"
    "I can't believe an actual lawyer filed this thing"

     

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

  48.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Oct 31st, 2013 @ 10:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: The lawsuit is solidly based on the law

    1. Yelp pays wages to all writers. It pays wages to some writers but trinkets to other writers. Our clients want wages as per the FLSA.

    You don't understand the FLSA. At all.

    2. Yelp has the right to control-therefore they are employers.


    You don't understand what employer means.

    3. Yelp's business would not exist without the work of our writers. Therefore under the Nature of the Business test, our clients are employees.

    You don't understand the Nature of the Business test.

    4. Quantum Meruit. Yelp pays our clients in trinkets, titles, prestige. Yelp demands that our clients write more often and at a faster pace. Yelp profits from this. Equity demands that our clients get paid for their labors.
    Thats as close as we can get to boiling it down.


    You are astoundingly clueless.

    You are going to lose so badly that it's not even funny. Seriously, you look completely clueless.

     

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

  49.  
    identicon
    Tammy, Nov 4th, 2013 @ 1:56pm

    There are actually plenty of review sites that pay participants or offer some type of nominal incentive. It seems these people knew what they were getting into and accepted the terms to write reviews without getting any compensation other than the right to share their opinions.

     

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

  50.  
    identicon
    SKP, Nov 4th, 2013 @ 3:32pm

    Spock is Logical

    By the Very Fact of Moderating and Deleting some Posts (unimortant they are offensive and/or spam)any Discussion Board that hosts paid ads is an employer

    Does that apply to 4chan? Because they sure beat me up bad back when

     

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

  51.  
    identicon
    Cy, Dec 10th, 2013 @ 10:58pm

    haha

    Would you expect any different from the self entitled yelper ????

     

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


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