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Bad Reviews on Yelp – Can Yelp Be to Blame?

Many businesses, including ours, have Yelp accounts where consumers, clients, and others can leave reviews on the services and products they receive. For many, those reviews are helpful in making future buying decisions. However, businesses are always afraid of that one nasty Yelp review that just does not seem fair. The question that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided was whether Yelp can be responsible for the content that Yelp’s online users create and post on the site.

The case of Kimzey v. Yelp!, Inc. was one where a locksmith in the Seattle metropolitan area received a post on its Yelp page that started with, “THIS WAS BY FAR THE WORST EXPERIENCE I HAVE EVER ENCOUNTERED WITH A LOCKSMITH. DO NOT GO THROUGH THIS COMPANY.” After attempting to get the post removed from the website based on the businesses’ belief that the post was not a real customer (potentially a competitor), the locksmith filed a lawsuit claiming that Yelp caused a libelous statement to appear on the Internet.

The Circuit Court analyzed the case under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) which gives immunity for providers “of interactive computer services against liability arising from content created by third parties.” Kimzey claimed that by utilizing search engine optimization and altering the position of Kimzey’s placement on Yelp and other search engines, Yelp was actually creating content that he believed was known to be false. However, the Court held that, “Just as Yelp is immune from liability under the CDA for posting user-generated content on its own website, Yelp is not liable for disseminating the same content in essentially the same format to a search engine, as this action does not change the origin of the third-party content.” The Court upheld the previous dismissal of the case.

We have had many businesses upset in our office because of comments placed on Yelp or other review sites. There may be liability in such matters. However, it will likely not be with Yelp.