Almost every business has had a negative online review. You simply can't make everyone happy. But sometimes, a review goes beyond unhappy and is just downright mean -- and false.
What are you supposed to do when this happens? The site usually won't remove the comment even if you send a strongly worded request. Can you sue the online review site instead?
Well, you can, but you probably won't win.
To explain, let's take a look at a recent lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The digital rights group is suing a Florida lawyer on behalf of review site LawyerRatingz. The site won't remove negative reviews, which has prompted the attorney to threaten legal action.
The EFF is asking a federal court to preemptively rule that the site is not responsible for the reviews. It'll probably win.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 grants immunity to "interactive computer services." They cannot be "treated as the publisher or speaker of any [third-party] information." This pretty much means you can't sue an online review site for a user's defamatory comments.
Now, this doesn't mean you have no legal recourse whatsoever. With the help of an attorney, you can sue the anonymous user. A court can then order the review site to provide the user's IP address and contact information so that you can sue the proper person. If you win, you should be able to have the review removed.
So while you probably can't sue the online review site, you can probably sue the online reviewer. If this sounds like a good option, talk to a lawyer.
- Scorned Attorney Threatens to Take Down Lawyer-Review Site (Wired)
- Yelp Review: Court Allows Dentist's Libel Claim (FindLaw's Decided)
- How to Avoid Being Defamed By Your Customers (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)