Are you on LawyerRatingz.com? If you are, it may be time to cringe.
Florida attorney Adrian Philip Thomas has been threatening the site with legal action for quite some time. He wants a number of poor reviews removed, and claims the anonymous comments have lost him business.
But now the Electronic Frontier Foundation has stepped in on the site's behalf. The organization has asked a federal court to issue a declaratory judgment stating that the website is not legally responsible for defamatory content posted by its users.
EFF lawyers point to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. In relevant part, it states, "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."
This language alone should prevent Thomas from successfully suing LawyerRatingz.com for defamation -- and from having the site completely removed from the Internet.
Despite statutory immunity, these sorts of lawsuits are becoming more common, according to the EFF. Last year, a dentist sued Yelp over poor reviews, but was instead ordered to pay the website's attorney fees. Legal threats have also been lodged against TripAdvisor and Google.
For attorneys, these suits -- and their outcomes -- are both welcome and alarming. On one hand, they represent an emerging area of law that can keep both you and your clients in business. On the other, no attorney wants to be virtually powerless to remove an anonymous review from a site like LawyerRatingz.com.
- EFF Files Suit on Behalf of Lawyer Ratings Site After Law Firm Sends Cease-and-Desist Letters (ABA Journal)
- ISP Liability for the Acts of Its Customers (FindLaw)
- Texas Law Firm Sues Over Negative Online Review (FindLaw's Greedy Associates)