Yelp has sued three Web site operators who allegedly tout their ability to help business owners improve their reviews.
“While Yelp’s online reviews are a trusted resource for consumers to learn about local businesses, unfortunately some try to game the system and undermine that trust, by building businesses based on fraudulent reviews, invasive spam, and conduct that otherwise violates the law as well as Yelp’s terms of service,” Yelp alleges in its complaint, filed late last week in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
The defendants -- Edward Herzstock, Alec Farwell and Melissa Scheinwald -- allegedly operate the sites Yelpdirector, Revpley and Revleap. Yelp says that those sites offer to “sell business owners 4 and 5 star Yelp reviews and to 'filter' or remove businesses’ existing 1, 2 and 3 star Yelp reviews.”
Yelp says it learned about the conduct after receiving complaints from businesses who received unsolicited email ads for the services. One email allegedly boasted that the defendants had “invented” a software that enables businesses to create “a large number of 4 and 5 star reviews from your customers in a way that makes them stick to the front page of Yelp.”
That message continued: “All reviews 3 star and below are filtered by the system and never posted online,” according to the court papers.
Yelpdirector, Revpley -- a name that includes “Yelp” spelled backwards -- and Revleap allegedly display the word “Yelp” on their social media pages and in ads.
Yelp argues that this use of its name amounts to trademark infringement, on the theory that it confuses people. “Yelp has experienced actual consumer confusion from individuals who have complained to Yelp about defendants’ services and spam messages, mistakenly believing those services and spam messages emanated from Yelp,” the company alleges.
Yelp also alleges that the defendants violate a host of other laws, including ones relating to cybersquatting and false advertising.
The defendants didn't respond to messages seeking comment.
This case isn't Yelp's first lawsuit against a company that allegedly promise to help businesses boost their ratings. Last year, Yelp won a default judgment against Florida resident Timothy Catron, who allegedly operated the fake-review company AdBlaze.In that matter, U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick in the Northern District of California ruled last year that Catron infringed Yelp's trademark. Orrick awarded Yelp $45,000 in damages and entered an injunction prohibiting Catron from using Yelp's name in ads, or incorporating it in Web site names, in the future.