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  • Carla V. Minnard

THE WILD, WILD, WILD, WILD, WEST


Like technology itself, the law that governs the electronic frontier changes all the time. As soon as we adjust to swiping credit cards and PayPal, here come chip cards, Apple Pay and Google Wallet. Before long, this too will be replaced by newer (if not always better) technology.

As technology continues to evolve and change, so does the legal landscape surrounding it. One area of the technology sector that continues to grow is the burgeoning field of online review. According to Vendasta, more than 88% of online customers incorporate and consider online reviews in making their hiring and purchasing decisions. As demand and use of online review sites increases, so does the field of providers and sites that house and publish the information. Most people are familiar with Yelp (which was started in 2004 by 2 former PayPal employees), or Angie’s List, which provides a platform for review of household service providers. In the last few years, other “specialized” sites have cropped up that focus on specific areas, such as Glassdoor, which is a website that enables employees or former employees to anonymously review their employer.

Why should everybody care about the laws relating to online review sites?

Because individuals may run the risk of being sued for negative reviews posted online, and businesses can be irreparably damaged by negative reviews.

The California Supreme Court recently granted review in Hassell v. Bird. The Court will decide whether a court can order an online review site to take down a post in a lawsuit between a reviewer and the business reviewed. This case goes back to 2012, when a client hired a law firm to represent her in a personal injury claim. After the client and the lawyer parted ways, the client published a review on Yelp, giving the firm one out of five stars, and stating that her lawyer deserved an even lower rating than that. The lawyer sued the client for defamation and the trial court ordered Yelp (a non party) to take down the review. Yelp refused to comply with the Order and appealed. The Court of Appeal ruled against Yelp. Yelp appealed to the California Supreme Court, which granted review this Fall. We expect the case will be argued and decided on the Court’s 2017 docket and further updates will follow.


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