Remember the Virginia-based Yelp user who was sued by a local business for posting a negative Yelp review?
(Check out: “Yelper Sued by Housing Contractor for Negative Yelp Review”)
Late last year, housing contractor Dietz Development filed a $750,000 online defamation lawsuit against Jane Perez of Fairfax, Va., who had posted an angry review of the company (accusing that they had damaged her house and stolen her jewelry) on leading online reviews aggregator Yelp. In early December, the Virginia judge in charge of the case ruled in a preliminary injunction that Perez had to edit or delete certain parts of her Yelp review – specifically her references to missing jewelry and to another, earlier court ruling surrounding her dispute with Dietz.
This week, the Supreme Court of Virginia reversed the injunction.
In a development that online free speech advocates and civil rights groups are celebrating, the court ruled that Perez’ Yelp review can stand, and may remain online, unaltered, before the defamation trial.
The actual review on Dietz Development’s Yelp page, however, has been hidden automatically by Yelp’s review filters. Not only is the page likely under heavy moderation; prior to the injunction, police also decided that the evidence needed to prove that Dietz Development employees stole jewelry from Perez was not sufficient.
It is nonetheless a pre-trial win for Perez, as well as for individuals and groups eager to defend and protect their right to create and post user-generated content on review aggregators like Yelp, Google+ Local, and TripAdvisor, among others.
“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, the advocacy group that filed Perez’ appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court. “Review sites like Yelp are vehicles for the free flow of ideas by helping consumers make informed decisions on how to spend their hard-earned dollars.”