A lawsuit seeking to force Yelp Inc., a California based company that posts customer reviews of businesses on its social-networking website, to reveal the identities of its anonymous users, could change the way Americans express themselves online.
Particularly those Americans who are too cowardly to send back their steak, but bitch about it afterwards in the safety of their man cave.
Virginia’s Supreme Court this week heard arguments for an online defamation case involving Hadeed Carpet Cleaning in Alexandria, which is suing Yelp on account of negative customer reviews it published, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
Yelp’s website posted more than 80 reviews of Hadeed by 2012, 8 of which were negative.
Even though at least 72 reviews were really nice, Hadeed decided to check out the bad ones, and said it compared the reviews with its customer database and found no record of them on its customers list.
So Hadeed filed suit against seven of the bad reviewers in Alexandria Circuit Court in 2012, alleging that those reviewers were not customers, which made the bad comments defamatory.
You have to admire a business with this much oomph. If they’re half as vigorous about cleaning people’s shirts, it would explain those 72 positive reviews.
Yelp refused to comply with an order to turn over documents revealing information about the authors of the seven reviews, because of the freedom of speech thing, so a Circuit Judge held Yelp in contempt.
Yelp appealed to the Virginia Court of Appeals.
The court of appeals agreed that online reviewers enjoyed freedom of speech, but said that it “must be balanced against Hadeed’s right to protect its reputation.”
The court of appeals finally ruled that the lower court judge was correct in finding that Yelp had to disclose the identities of the anonymous posters.
So Yelp appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court.
You see where this is going, right?