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Carpet cleaner sues Yelp to reveal identity of online reviewers

One of the benefits of online review sites is that consumers say what they thought of a business without their identities being made public. However, Yelp is embroiled in business litigation after a Virginia company sought to compel Yelp to produce user identifying information.

In July, the company sued seven Yelp users for defamation based on negative reviews. There were additional reviews containing similar comments. Those users were not sued. The plaintiff alleged that the reviews were false and may have been written by competitors to harm the company's reputation. The company served a subpoena on Yelp asking the company to identify the users. Yelp objected to the subpoena. The court found Yelp in contempt and imposed a $500 fine for not complying. The fine has been stayed pending appeal.

Public Citizen filed an amicus brief arguing that a person should be required to prove that a defamation suit has merit before compelling a company to release information on website users. State defamation laws prohibit a person from making an untrue factual statement about a person or a business if the statement is the type that is likely to harm the reputation of the subject. Reviewers are typically protected if they only state facts or their opinions of the service received.

A ruling in favor of the carpet cleaners in this case could have far-reaching ramifications on internet review sites. A local attorney may assist those whose businesses have been negatively impacted by anonymous online complaints or reviews to identify the persons who left the reviews and recover compensation for the harm to the businesses' reputations.

Source: The Consumerist, "Yelp Fights Against Outing Anonymous Reviewers In Lawsuit By Carpet Cleaner", Chris Morran, May 08, 2013

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