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You can’t say that on the internet! … or can you?

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It is becoming increasingly popular for small or even medium size business to bring legal action against users of Yelp that criticize their service.  Many users of Yelp are under the false impression that they can say anything they want without facing any legal charges.  This is not true.  Yelp provides a forum for a user to share their views with others, but Yelp will not provide protection if you get sued for defamation, or more specifically, libel.

Under Federal Law, websites such as Yelp cannot be held responsible for any defamatory content placed on their sites.  Instead, the person who placed the content on the site can be sued.  If this has happened to you, there are several options you can pursue.

First, any lawsuit brought over a Yelp posting must be filed in court within one year from the posting.  This is known as the “single publication rule.”  Once a Yelp review is published, any lawsuit for defamation concerning its contents must be brought within one year.  It makes no difference when it is read by the person or company that is the subject matter of the review.  However, if this same review is amended or republished, than the one year time limit can be extended for another year.

Next, it is not defamation if the statements in the review are facts or statements of opinion.  To prove a statement is an opinion, the statement must be shown to be believed as an opinion by a reasonable person.  Generally speaking, the statement is taken a whole when determining if it is an opinion, rather than looking at each sentence individually.

Finally, if the posted review concerns a matter of public interest, than the person who posted it, can bring a counter-suit.  This is known in California as an “Anti-SLAPP” suit.  If proven that the post concerns a matter of public interest and a person of public interest, the post will be seen as a constitutionally protected freedom of speech right.

In summary, you cannot say whatever you like on Yelp.  However, as stated above, you can state your opinions, facts, and make public your constitutionally protected freedom of speech rights.

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