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Yelp wins defamation case

A New York Supreme Court judge ruled that federal law immunizes Yelp from liability for comments posted on its website by third party users. -db

Online Media Daily
September 10 2010
By Wendy Davis

A judge in Manhattan has dismissed a lawsuit against Yelp by a dentist who alleges that he was defamed by a bad review on the site.

New York Supreme Court Judge Jane Solomon ruled that the federal Communications Decency Act immunizes Yelp from liability for comments left by users. Solomon also rejected a request by the dentist, Glenn Reit, for an order requiring Yelp to remove the review.

“Congress granted interactive computer services immunity from liability for publishing false or defamatory material so long as the information was provided by another party,” Solomon wrote in a decision made public this week.

Reit is considering whether to file an appeal, according to his lawyer, Richard Raysman.

The case stemmed from post by an anonymous user, “Michael S,” who allegedly criticized Reit’s practice, saying “the equipment is old and dirty” and that the office was “small” and “dark.” Michael S. also allegedly complained about his experience, writing: “I allowed the barely competent xray tech to snap a couple of painful xrays.”

Reit says in his lawsuit that Michael S’s statements were false. The dentist also alleges that when he complained to Yelp, the company responded by removing 10 positive reviews that had been left on the site about him and leaving only Michael S’s critique.

In March, Reit sued Yelp for defamation and sought an order requiring the site to take down the post. “Online reviews are so ubiquitous that no marketing strategy Dr. Reit could follow would repair the damage to his professional reputation and practice,” he asserted in his complaint.

Reit also alleged that Yelp engaged in deceptive business practices by removing the good reviews. Reit’s complaint said that Yelp deleted positive posts as part of a strategy to persuade business owners to purchase advertising. But Reit didn’t argue that anyone from Yelp specifically asked him to advertise in exchange for either highlighting or burying reviews.

“He provides statements from other business owners who claim to have been manipulated as he described, and references class-action lawsuits against Yelp of which he is not a member,” Solomon wrote. “Notably, he does not allege that he was a victim of the conduct he complains about.”

Raysman says his client alleges that Yelp’s business model was meant to coerce him.

Yelp currently is facing a class-action lawsuit in California by business owners who allege that the site “extorts” companies by offering to hide bad reviews and promote positive ones in exchange for ad buys.

In April, Yelp changed its policies to no longer allow business owners to pay to have a favorite review highlighted at the top of its page. Yelp also said it would allow people to see some reviews it previously filtered out of the listings, including reviews that the site’s filters flagged as having been authored by business owners.

Reit also sued Michael S for defamation. That action is still pending. Raysman says that Reit plans to subpoena Yelp for information to identify Michael S, such as the email address or IP address connected with his post.

A Yelp spokesperson said the company was “gratified” that the court “recognized Congress’ intent to protect commercial free speech online under the Communications Decency Act, and granted Yelp’s motion to dismiss all charges.”

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3 thoughts on “Yelp wins defamation case

  1. I wrote a fair and truthful reveiw of a dentist that did not follow OSHA’s rules for removing my silver fillings and Yelp removed it without telling me why. The dentist is an advertiser so I suspect they are protecting him.
    I was an honest real person reviewing to protect others as this dentist actually made me sick.
    Shame on Yelp they are scum.

  2. I wrote the same review on a florist company which was under the same name, contact info and e-mail address but was under different street addresses. They ‘filtered’ my review(s) and claimed “”Your reviews were flagged by the community…”

    Then I noticed, other ‘unhappy’ reviews by other members for this same florist company were also ‘filtered’

    With this type of action from Yelp, it’s no surprise I would never trust using their site again.

  3. YELP also screwed me over by removing my negative review of an unscrupulous company that stole $1,300 from me in a scam. A friend suggested I share my experience on YELP with an honest review so that others might avoid being duped and scammed like I had been. Within minutes of leaving my negative review of “Compatible Introductions” on YELP, someone clicked on “funny” instead of “helpful” which made no sense since my comment was not funny. And what was the chance of someone to be doing a search on a company called “Compatible Introductions” at just the same time I submitted my heartfelt and sincere review? It took me almost an hour to write my detailed review which would have saved others much loss of money if it had been allowed to remain online but YELP removed it within a few days. I went back to show a friend and it was gone! Obviously, the company that screwed me is paying YELP their extortion money so YELP washes away any bad reviews of them. And how strange that they don’t have even one single positive review after supposedly being in business since 19700??? Compatible Introductions claims to be an “exclusive dating service” in Vancouver BC but it’s only a scam run by a strange couple who rent a stark office in Vancouver BC. I suggest their office looks like this so they can quickly close up shop and move out if and when they need to relocate elsewhere. Their scam is that they have paid some company a lot of money so that when you look for dating service in Vancouver BC, they always pop up on top. Then when you call, they are sweet as honey and quickly make an appointment. They give you a one hour interview and are over-the-top wonderful and encouraging to you during the interview. They tell you they have “thousands of men in their data-base” which just means they have already FLEECED thousands, not that any of them remain in their phoney club. Then they give you a 5 page in depth questionnaire to fill out, to make you assume that they really are running a legitimate dating service and will really try to match up people with those who are truly compatible in their values, lifestyles, and goals. They you give them the filled out questionnaire, that you’ve spent hours on, and you write the check that they quickly grab and stamp. As soon as you walk out their door, the only thing you will ever get from them is a man’s first name and phone number who is in your same age group and race. Each week they can give you the name and number of a different man who has nothing in common with you except his age and that he has also recently joined so he does not yet know it’s a scam either. After they email you 10 names and phone numbers of men who are in your age group, they wash their hands of you and you never receive another email from them again. To think that I paid $1,300 to be used like that and tossed aside like common trash. It’s very maddening and others MUST be warned. But YELP took my honest and detailed review of what that couple did to me after taking $1,300 from me (I spent almost an hour writing it) and they simply DELETED it from their site. No wonder this couple has absolutely NO reviews of their company, anywhere on the Internet, not positive and not negative, even after supposedly being in business since 1970. They don’t get positive reviews and they pay whatever is necessary to instantly remove any and all negative reviews from the Internet, just as they did to mine. After being screwed out of $1,300 from Compatible Introductions, it truly hurt to be BETRAYED by YELP for its false advertising as a service to consumers. YELP is simply a scam that makes its money from EXTORTING companies and punishing those that will not send them money while rewarding those who play the game. SHAME on YELP!

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