Non Disparagement Agreements Should not Be Used to Block Criticism on Yelp and Other Review Sites

As more and more companies use non-disparagement clauses in their Terms of Service and other contracts with their consumers, it can feel to customers like they have no outlet to talk about their negative experiences with certain businesses. Congress has proposed a bill called the Consumer Review Freedom Act, which would prohibit companies from retaliating against consumers who leave negative reviews, but the law is slow to catch up with technology. Fortunately, there are other ways to deal with these non-disparagement clauses without resorting to the courts.

Review sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List, and Trip Advisor can take the initiative and help punish businesses who have been known to prohibit customers from posting negative reviews. Yelp will take down any reviews that have been posted by anyone who was not a consumer or did not have a direct experience with the specific business being reviewed, but that doesn’t always help consumers and there’s more that can be done.

Angie’s List has a “penalty box” in which businesses that do not sufficiently respond to consumer complaints get excluded from category and keyword searches. Only users of the site who know the name of the business can find it, which can seriously injure the business by preventing potential new customers in the area from finding it. Many businesses depend on consumer review sites such as Angie’s List and Yelp, so by making it more difficult for potential customers to find them, the sites can provide a serious incentive for businesses not to try to mess with their consumers’ reviews. Trip Advisor also has a penalty sign it displays on pages where it has detected instances of possible fraud.

These types of review sites exist to help consumers find the best experience possible in whatever field they’re looking for. It is therefore in the site’s best interest to warn customers when certain businesses have been known to take action against negative reviewers. A list of 4- and 5-star reviews or an unusually high average rating can be misleading to consumers if that business has intentionally prevented or discouraged negative reviews from being posted. That, in turn, can reflect poorly on the review site if consumers don’t find the reviews posted there to be helpful in determining how likely they are to have a good or bad experience with a particular company.

Hopefully, Congress will pass the Consumer Review Freedom Act, but until then, there are other ways to discourage businesses from trying to affect the reviews that get posted. By posting warnings that alert customers to certain businesses that have been known or suspected to participate in fraudulent behavior when it comes to their reviews, they make sure it is no longer in the best interests of the business to discourage negative reviews. It’s often better to have a few negative reviews than an alert against the company for its review practices.

These types of gag clauses are far from new, but hopefully, as the law catches up and consumers and review sites get more savvy, they can become a thing of the past.

Our Chicago libel and slander lawyers concentrate in this area of the law. We have defended or prosecuted a number of defamation and libel cases, including cases representing a consumer sued by a large luxury used car dealer in federal court for hundreds of negative internet reviews and videos which resulted in substantial media coverage of the suit; one of Loyola University’s largest contributors when the head basketball coach sued him for libel after he was fired; and a lawyer who was falsely accused of committing fraud with the false allegation published to the Dean of the University of Illinois School of Law, where the lawyer attended law school and the President of the University of Illinois. One of our partners also participated in representing a high profile athlete against a well-known radio shock jock.

Our Chicago defamation attorneys defend individuals’ First Amendment and free speech rights to post on Facebook, Yelp and other websites information that criticizes businesses and addresses matters of public concern. Our Chicago Cybersquatting attorneys also represent and prosecute claims on behalf of businesses throughout the Chicago area including in Naperville, Burr Ridge, and Hinsdale, who have been unfairly and falsely criticized by consumers and competitors in defamatory publications in the online and offline media. We have successfully represented businesses who have been the victim of competitors setting up false rating sites and pretend consumer rating sites that are simply forums to falsely bash or business clients. We have also represented and defended consumers First Amendment and free speech rights to criticize businesses who are guilty of consumer fraud and false advertising.

Super Lawyers named Chicago and Oak Brook business trial attorney Peter Lubin a Super Lawyer in the Categories of Class Action, Business Litigation, and Consumer Rights Litigation. Lubin Austermuehle’s Oak Brook and Chicago business trial lawyers have over a quarter of a century of experience in litigating complex class action, consumer rights, and business and commercial litigation disputes. We handle emergency business lawsuits involving injunctions, and TROS, defamation, libel, and covenant not to compete, franchise, distributor and dealer wrongful termination and trade secret lawsuits and many different kinds of business disputes involving shareholders, partnerships, closely held businesses and employee breaches of fiduciary duty. We also assist businesses and business owners who are victims of fraud or defamatory attacks on their business and reputations.

Lubin Austermuehle’s Batavia and Lisle defamation and slander lawyers have more than two and half decades of experience helping business clients unravel the complexities of Illinois and out-of-state business laws. Our Chicago business, commercial, class-action, and consumer litigation lawyers represent individuals, family businesses and enterprises of all sizes in a variety of legal disputes, including disputes among partners and shareholders as well as lawsuits between businesses and consumer rights, auto fraud, and wage claim individual and class action cases. In every case, our goal is to resolve disputes as quickly and successfully as possible, helping business clients protect their investments and get back to business as usual. From offices in Oak Brook, near St. Charles, Niles, and Morton Grove, we serve clients throughout Illinois and the Midwest.

If you are the victim of a defamatory attack on your business or a consumer who has been sued to stop you from posting criticism of a business online at Yelp or anywhere else, contact one of our Oak Brook and Chicago defamation lawyers for a free consultation at 630-333-0333 or online by filling out our contact us form.

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