In Reversal, Court Says Accusations in Yelp Review Can Stand

social media, social networks, online speech, reviewsA Virginia court has lifted an injunction against a woman who posted a scathing review of a contractor on Yelp.

Jane Perez, of Fairfax, Maryland, had alleged that the contractor, Christopher Dietz of Dietz Development, was not licensed and had illegally entered her home and stolen from her. She claimed she’d filed a police report, but no such report existed.

Dietz sued, saying the review had caused a dramatic downturn in his business. Initially, the court sided with him, demanding that Perez remove the implication that he had stolen from her, which, if untrue, could constitute libel.

But after a complain from Public Citizen, which is representing Perez, the court rescinded the injunction late last week, falling into line with the established legal formula that courts can only require speech that has been proven to be false to be retracted.

“The decision confirms the importance of not shutting down public discussion on the Internet just because someone doesn’t like what’s being talked about,” said Paul Alan Levy, an attorney for Public Citizen.

Yelp agreed.

“Consumer freedom of speech provides an important public service, protected by law. Yelp provides a valuable contribution to this dialogue by providing a two-way platform for consumers to share their experiences and for businesses to respond to their customers,” a spokesperson said.

“Businesses that choose to sue their customers to silence them rather than address their comments, rarely prevail and often bring additional unwanted attention to the original criticism,” she added.

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