Business Owners Seek To Revive Payola Lawsuit Against Yelp

by , May 4, 2012, 8:07 PM
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Gavel-AA group of local business owners are asking an appellate court to revive their "extortion" lawsuit against the review site Yelp.

The business owners alleged in a case dating to 2010 that Yelp tried to extort them by promising to bury bad reviews and promote good ones in exchange for ad buys. Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen in the Northern District of California threw out the potential class-action lawsuit, ruling that the federal Communications Decency Act immunizes Yelp from liability for reviews authored by users. Chen also ruled that Yelp isn't liable for decisions about how to display those reviews -- regardless of the company's motives for highlighting particular content.

But the business owners say that they should be able to proceed with their claim that Yelp unfairly summarized the reviews, as well as the allegation that Yelp "manipulated" the reviews by removing some and highlighting others.

The Communications Decency Act "does not give protection to internet service providers who manipulate reviews for their own profit, and based on such manipulation, publish their own misleading star rating and information about a particular business knowing it is not accurate," they argue in papers submitted to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Yelp -- which denies the extortion allegations -- counters that it doesn't lose its immunity for user-generated content by deciding which reviews to weed out and which to display. "Plaintiffs are a group of disgruntled business owners who seek to suppress this legitimate, protected online commentary and to prevent Yelp from exercising its right to screen reviews which may be false or unreliable," the company says in papers filed with the 9th Circuit late last week.

In 2010, Yelp was hit with a flurry of lawsuits alleging that it pressured businesses to purchase ads. The lawsuits were later consolidated into one potential class-action -- which Chen dismissed last year.

One company that sued, the Cats and Dogs Animal Hospital in Long Beach, Calif., said in court papers that a Yelp salesperson offered to move two bad reviews to the bottom of its results, to ensure they didn't appear in search engine results. It would also allow the hospital to decide in which order reviews would appear on the site, in exchange for a one-year, $300-a-month ad buy.

Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman has denied that the site ever offered to bury bad reviews for advertisers. The company has said that it filters reviews that it believes violate its terms of service, including ones by business owners. After the lawsuits were filed, Yelp began allowing Web users to access reviews that had been filtered, but those reviews aren't counted toward the site's overall ranking.

Yelp also previously allowed business owners to pay to have a favorite review highlighted at the top of their page. The company discontinued that practice in 2010.

13 comments on "Business Owners Seek To Revive Payola Lawsuit Against Yelp".

  1. Jj Brown from HookUp Cellular
    commented on: August 10, 2012 at 3:26 a.m.
    "If you pay us I can have your good reviews unfiltered and help your ranking improve. We will also be able to highlight your positive ads instead of the negative ones we show right now -Jake Aggressive Yelp Sales Rep calling me daily and disturbing my business. 8-9-2012 Yelp Legal Extortion Organized Crime 2.0
  2. Tanja Bucur from Vio's Auto Sales
    commented on: October 2, 2012 at 9:33 p.m.
    Unfortunately our judicial system is not ready for Yelp. Yelp does manage negative reviews to attract businesses to pay for advertising and we are just experiencing an issue where they will not let us log into our account. So if we all can prove that they are causing injury to our businesses we will be able to win, because that is the only way or judicial system works!
  3. Adriat Markos from ----
    commented on: October 13, 2012 at 1:59 a.m.
    I am willing to anything to make this lawsuit go through and force Yelp be ethical in their way of doing business. I know it and every small business owner knows that yelp is taking advantage of this little power that Yelp has over the small businesses. Yelp caused my business's sales to drop by 20% since they started placing "ALL," even the once from two years ago, of my good comments in the filtered section. What is funny is this did not happen until two month after the Yelp agent showed up at my business and I declined to signed with yelp's advertising plan which would have cost me $300 a month. What yelp is doing is not ethical ans needs to be put to a STOP.
  4. Janice Morse from ADC Photography
    commented on: October 19, 2012 at 10:43 a.m.
    I just started this page. www.facebook.com/StopYelp Please join and let's see if we can stop what Yelp is doing to our businesses!!! I WARNED them that client I have a criminal complaint against threatened to write a false review on Yelp. They said they'd look into if it happened. It DID happen and they haven't done anything about it. My other reviews are hidden but this guy's review, who has NEVER reviewed anything on Yelp, appears??? WHY???
  5. richard cacace from body beautiful spa and laser center
    commented on: December 12, 2012 at 1:48 p.m.
    I own body beautiful spa and laser center in NYC when I cancelled my $3.00 per click advertising on yelp all my 5 star and 4 star reviews got filtered. I have 45 filtered 5 star reviews and 19 1 and 2 star. Reviews were even filtered from yelpers who got yelp awards for yelping so much and bad reviews of people with no picture who just posted this bad review of me an no one else stays there. I have a lawyer who is willing to fight them but I am going to need as many business across the country to join in a class action lawsuit. if I can get a few hundred businesses to join in then we can win. email me if you are interested in being a part of this lawsuit and finally putting an end to yelp killing our business. my name is Richard and my email is Richard@bodybeautifulspa.com
  6. Richard Wang from Industry
    commented on: December 12, 2012 at 4:35 p.m.
    let sue Yelp. my contact is rich.wang@aol.com
  7. Richard Wang from Industry
    commented on: December 12, 2012 at 4:36 p.m.
    Elite Yelpers are those who don't have job, and earn their living through bad and good reviews
  8. Art Angelo
    commented on: December 31, 2012 at 5:41 p.m.
    I noticed that I had two complaints that were not customers. One I believe was a competitor and the other I have no Idea. My company also had three positive 5 star ratings. Friday, 12/30/12 I was contacted by a YELP rep telemarketer and asked to advertise. I explained my discontent with YELP and advised him I filed a complaint with the BBB. He said that if I advertised, he was sure everything would be taken care of, so I signed up. That same day My 5 star testimonials were removed and the bogus ones were left on. I have cancelled the advertising and stopped payment. Vito Correlione would have been proud of YELP they have the best extortion scheme in town as stated above. I will join anyone with the guts to stand up against this type of fraud. If you are a law firm or have one, you can reach me at art@suresafe.com. Otherwise I am know of one of the largest Law Firms that have defeated larger concerns than YELP
  9. Shelley D from Dogs
    commented on: January 29, 2013 at 8:41 p.m.
    Is there any agency or person or group of persons that can help with yelp? I am desperate to have my listing removed. I work out of my home and my phone is a home phone, not a business and they have manipulated the feedback and refuse to remove my listing. I am desperate because someone posted it on facebook and smeared my good name in my own community. HELP. szukidavis@aol.com/
  10. Anders Garbro from Culima Inc
    commented on: February 1, 2013 at 3:11 p.m.
    Anyone have any updates, lawyers or groups that are gathering information to take Yelp back to court ? We are gathering up businesses from Vegas and would like to team up with others that like us have had great reviews removed, bad reviews highlighted and gotten offers to pay to get our names cleared on Yelp. This wouldn't be necessary in the first place because the few negative drown in the pool of great reviews, but since they magically disappear all of the sudden, I suppose we do need help!!! The economy is bad, but making money by manipulating reviews and then extorting business owners is just disgusting. Get your best and most trusted clients to post great reviews, have them take screen dumps and/or save their posted review and afterwards you (business owner) do the exact same. When the good reviews then, again, magically disappear, you have the proof on file. We need a long list of "missing" reviews to get this started and stopped. ag@culima.com
  11. Paul Willsher from Down under deli & eatery
    commented on: July 9, 2013 at 12:40 p.m.
    Check my yelp page no bad reviews 19 good filtered reviews from real customers and people I do no know or ask for reviews from. Yes I'm in for class action. I did not want to buy advertising from yelp a d this is what I get. Yelp sucks
  12. tracey cohen from Essenza Day Spa
    commented on: September 3, 2013 at 9:16 p.m.
    I am also in on class action! 3 very old bad reviews and 14 great reviews FILTERED. Yelp offered to highlight good reviews only if subscribed.
  13. tracey cohen from Essenza Day Spa
    commented on: September 3, 2013 at 9:23 p.m.
    I have proof of a client postimg a review that disappeared within a day.

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