Let them Yelp? NJ congressman doesn’t want you sued for giving negative reviews
Type a bad review of a company online and get sued for thousands or millions of dollars.
Cases like these have been popping up throughout the country, and they caught the attention of a New Jersey congressman who wants to put an end to the practice.
Under the Consumer Review Fairness Act by Republican Rep. Leonard Lance, it would be illegal for companies to include non-disparagement clauses, often buried in fine print, in their contracts with customers.
"You shouldn't be able to be sued if you really just put your opinion online," Lance told New Jersey 101.5. "Right now in so many instances, there is a gag rule that prohibits the public from being honest in reviewing a service they have received or a product they have received."
According to Lance, a member of his staff recently uncovered a clause related to online reviews while searching for a disc jockey to handle a wedding. In the contract, customers were told they'd be subject to a $10,000 fine in the event of negative commentary on sites such as Yelp.
Lance would not share the name of the company because this type of contract language is currently legal.
In February, a Texas couple was sued by a pet-sitting company following a one-star rating on Yelp. The case was dismissed this summer.
Lance said his act is not "repealing the laws of libel and slander," and as long as a consumer's review is truthful, there should be no repercussions.
Yelp recently began tagging certain businesses with a warning, saying "there will always be a small handful of businesses who mistakenly think it's a good idea to threaten consumers who exercise their free speech rights."
"This business may be trying to abuse the legal system in an effort to stifle free speech, including issuing questionable legal threats against reviewers. As a reminder, reviewers who share their experiences have a First Amendment right to express their opinions on Yelp."
Lance's measure received unanimous approval in the House on Sep. 12 and awaits action in the Senate, where a similar measure passed last year.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.