The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has recently ruled that Yelp can revise, edit and prioritize business reviews based on advertising money that the site receives from the business.
This high profile ruling really destroys the veil of impartiality that Yelp was benefitting from for all these years. Now its crystal clear that Yelp may (although they have not admitted that they did) delete bad reviews for a restaurant that places an ad on its site and similarly delete positive reviews given for a restaurant that refuses to place ads on the Yelp site.
Seems that this is a real wake up call for all of us (myself included) who thought that Yelp reviews were not being edited, deleted or possibly even created by Yelp itself.
Have you ever received a poor review for your restaurant and then contemplated suing the restaurant critic and/or publication that published it? Don’t bother. Review of the results of such litigation indicates that you would be wasting your time and money.
Libel is the publication of a false statement of fact. Opinion, however, regardless of how negative or damaging it may be, is protected and not considered libelous. Restaurant reviews have been consistently deemed “opinion” by New York courts and as such, the courts have consistently decided such cases in favor of the critics. For example, over the course of the past 20 years, restaurateurs have unsuccessfully sued over the following reviews: “Trout à la green plague”, “The fish tasted like old ski boots”, “Duck pancakes the size of a saucer and the thickness of a finger”, and “Bring a can of Raid if you plan to eat here.”
GENERAL RULE: If you receive a poor review, don’t file a legal action over it. Established case precedent dictates that you won’t win the case and even worse, the negative review will be republished (perhaps repeatedly) as a result of your legal action.
Rather than resorting to legal action, some established restaurateurs such as Harry Cipriani and Jeffrey Chodorow have retaliated against negative reviews by placing expensive full page ads called “open letters” denouncing the critic and the critic’s review and qualifications. While this avenue may be personally satisfying and even deserved, I don’t believe it has any redeeming business value. Besides being terribly expensive (a full page in the New York Times costs upwards of $84,000.00), it only serves to republish the negative review and keep it in the minds of potential patrons and public for a longer period of time.