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STRICTLY LEGAL: A social media dust-up

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A California law firm that allegedly submitted phony reviews to may itself need a lawyer, now that Yelp has filed a civil suit against the firm.

According to the lawsuit, Yelp owns and operated, a website that provides a forum for members of the public, free of charge, to read and write reviews about local businesses.

In the past eight years, Yelp users have written more than 39 million reviews.

In order to write a review, a user has to register for a free account and provide a name, ZIP code and functional email address. Businesses can sign up for accounts, which allow the businesses to post information or respond to reviews.

In this case, a San Diego law firm called the McMillan Group received a negative rating in 2010 that stated: “Would never recommend. Didn’t abide by their own agreement. Communication was very poor.”

Not long after that posting, according to the lawsuit, Yelp got flooded with positive reviews of the firm – many of them written by employees of the McMillan Group. According to Yelp, that kind of behavior threatens the integrity of Yelp’s operation and ultimately its existence.

Yelp’s lawsuit alleges four misdeeds: breach of contract, intentional interference with contractual relations and two counts relating to California’s false advertising statutes.

The breach of contract alleges that the McMillan Group violated the terms of service to which it agreed when it created its account. Included in the TOS is a prohibition against submitting fake reviews.

The interference claim contends that the folks who submitted the bogus reviews had to first set up a Yelp account, which included the TOS. Yelp says the McMillan Group induced those people to violate the TOS, and thus interfered with that contractual relationship.

I get those claims. But the claims for false advertising are a little more complicated. Typically, the person suing for false advertising is the consumer – e.g. “You told me this car got 40 miles to the gallon, but it’s really a gas guzzler.” In this case, the more typical false advertising claim would be a client who was misled by the McMillan Group’s claims.

But Yelp isn’t a client – it’s the messenger.

Interestingly, Yelp had been sued previously by the McMillan Group, which claimed that it had been coerced into entering an advertisement contract in order to receive favorable reviews. The firm won a small claims award of $2,700, but Yelp successfully argued that the firm’s case was covered by an arbitration clause in the TOS.

We don’t know whether that activity spurred Yelp to sue, but there is certainly more to come. ■


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Mystic Maggie

All of the Mystic Maggie Posts are RSS Reader Feeds from around the web. All copyright remains with the original publisher. No copyright is claimed or intended. Where supplied, links back to the original article are included.

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