The online business review site Yelp has proven to be an impeccable and irreplaceable tool for consumers and business owners alike. Thanks to the website and others like it, consumers can know what to expect when walking into the vast majority of establishments for the first time, assuming reviews are unbiased and numerous. However, up until just a few months ago, freely expressing your opinion of a business online could be problematic – and result in a frustrating lawsuit.
Speak Your Mind but Watch What You Say
All of the trouble started a couple years ago when a business in Utah tried to sue a Yelp reviewer for a negative review, claiming the review amounted to defamation that hurt their profitability. Once that story hit headlines, it was not long before a handful of other establishments the country over got the same idea. Essentially, the trend became filing a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) against anyone who reviewed you harshly.
Many of these SLAPP cases had nowhere to go. Without a direct causation between one single review and the decline of profits, the lawsuits were frivolous. Defendants were still reaching into coffers to retain legal advocacy, so SLAPP cases were not altogether harmless.
Consumer Review Fairness Act
Recognizing the growing problem that arguably infringed upon freedom of speech, Yelp and many other companies teamed up with bipartisan legislators to slap down SLAPPs. In a comparatively short amount of time, considering how long bills usually take to form and pass in Congress, the Consumer Review Fairness Act, or Yelp Bill, was created and passed. The bill prevents companies from creating gag clauses in consumer contracts that stop negative feedback from being posted publically. In effect, businesses can no longer legally tell consumers to be quiet.
Another bill – called the Speak Free Act (HR2304) – has been introduced that would try to combat SLAPP cases one step further. If passed, this act would let people targeted by SLAPP cases cite the bill, ask the presiding judge to throw the lawsuit out early in the legal process, and demand the filing plaintiff to pay all of the defendant’s attorney and legal fees. It is not known how HR2304 will fare as it moves through both sides of Congress.
Toppins Law Firm, P.C. is a Houston business law firm that strives to provide the best possible legal services to clients throughout the region. We are keenly interested in news stories and legislation directly related to businesses and business law, such as the Yelp Bill. If you require the help of knowledgeable and professional business attorneys in Houston, we encourage you to contact our office or fill out a confidential case evaluation form today.