Can a business owner sue Yelp for publishing a negative review about his or her business?
That was the question the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals answered this week in Kimzey v. Yelp, Inc.
Douglas Kimzey is the owner of a locksmith business in Redmond, Washington. In September 2011, one of his clients left a negative review of his business on Yelp. The customer’s negative review resulted in Kimzey’s business receiving a one-star rating.
Kimzey sued Yelp in federal Court. The Court dismissed Kimzey’s case, holding that the federal Communications Decency Act (Section 230) offers immunity to companies like Yelp who merely publish content created by others.
Kimzey argued on appeal to the Ninth Circuit that since Yelp uses algorithms to convert a customer’s comments into a rating system using stars, this in essence removed any immunity afforded to Yelp because the algorithm creates new content.
The Court disagreed. Relying on precedent, the Court ruled that “the mere fact that an interactive computer service classifies user characteristics… and collects responses to… questions…does not transform it into a developer of the underlying misinformation (339 F.3d at 1124).”
Simply put, in the Court’s words, “proliferation and dissemination of content does not equal creation or development of content.”
This is an important ruling in a growing list of cases dealing with online content. We’ll continue to stay abreast of these important developments.
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