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Yelp Review Leads to Defamation Suit

At What Point is it No Longer Free Speech?

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A California man named Christopher Norberg is in the middle of a legal dispute with a chiropractor for posting a negative review of his services on the site Yelp.com. The dispute stems from a billing experience, which Norberg referred to in his review, and the chiropractor filed a defamation suit. It is now a classic example of where the line between free speech and defamation should be drawn.

Norberg has set up a website which simply includes the following text-image, and links to his MySpace and Facebook pages:

Stand up for Free Speech

Yelp, who according to Elinor Millsat CNET, says lawsuits like this stemming from reviews on their site are uncommon, shouldn’t have to worry much about it if their terms of service page is any indication. In one section it reads:

Responsibility for Your Content.

a. You are solely responsible for Your Content. You assume all risks associated with use of Your Content, including any reliance on its accuracy, completeness or usefulness by others, or any disclosure by you of information in Your Content that makes you personally identifiable. You hereby affirm, represent, and warrant that you own, or have the necessary licenses, rights, consents, and permissions to use, and authorize Yelp to use, Your Content as described herein. You may not imply that Your Content is in any way sponsored or endorsed by Yelp.

b. Because you alone are responsible for Your Content (and not Yelp), you may expose yourself to liability if, for example, Your Content violates any third-party right, including any copyright, trademark, patent, trade secret, moral right, privacy right, right of publicity, or any other intellectual property or proprietary right; contains material that is false, intentionally misleading, or defamatory; contains material that is unlawful, including illegal hate speech or pornography; exploits or otherwise harms minors; or violates or advocates the violation of any law or regulation.

I’m no lawyer, but if I had to guess, I would say that defamation may fall under "moral rights." I will be curious to know how the case pans out for Norberg though, as it could have quite an impact on Internet reviews in general. If the chiropractor wins, pissed off customers all over the web better watch out.

Yelp Review Leads to Defamation Suit
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  • Ian Brown

    I work with SF-based Internet law attorneys with a successful track record of handling online defamation cases in California and in other states. Failing a satisfactory outcome to the mediation happening today, this case could come down hardest on review sites, as you suggest. Karl Kronenberger at Kronenberger Burgoyne told me what hasn