California Governor, Jerry Brown, passed legislation yesterday that will prevent businesses from penalizing clients for leaving poor reviews online. Some have deemed Assembly Bill (AB) 2365 the “Yelp Bill,” considering the crowd-sourced review platform is the most trafficked of its kind. The bill essentially states that any threat of fines, legal action, or negative repercussions are illegal.
According to the Washington Post, this law was inspired by online retailer KlearGear’s response to the negative review a Utah couple posted to RipoffReport.com after their order wasn’t delivered. The couple received an Email warning from the company over 3 years later claiming that if the review was not deleted in the next 72 hours, they would be fined $3,500 for being in violation of a non-disparagement clause, which didn’t actually exist in their policy that was posted online. When the couple refused to pay, they were sent to collections, damaging their credit and fueling them to file suit in federal court. In May 2014, the federal court ruled in favor of the Utah couple and awarded them $306,750 for punitive damages. All this over a smiley face keychain and a desk toy.
While KlearGear’s clause didn’t actually exist, the (AB) 2365 ensures that clauses threatening public disparagement are unenforceable and void even if the consumer signs the contract. The bill threatens $2,500 in fines for a first offense.
Strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs may still protect a business who believes they are unrightfully and inaccurately being defamed, but anti-SLAPP laws such as (AB) 2365 seem to be spreading rapidly across the country.
Remember that Yelp and many other review platforms do allow both private and public responses to reviews. With knowledge of best practices and the right approach, crowdsourcing reviews sites such as Yelp can be your business’s best friend.