Yelp Asks California Judges To Lift Censorship Order

A recent order requiring Yelp to purge a bad review from its site "threatens to undermine the validity and efficacy of the information available to consumers, and online speech generally," the company argues in new court papers.

Yelp makes the argument in a high-profile bid to convince the California Supreme Court to reverse a trial judge's ruling requiring the review site to take down a bad review of attorney Dawn Hassell, allegedly posted by one of her former clients.

Obviously unhappy over the post, Hassell sued the former client for defamation. The ex-client never appeared in court to defend herself, or argue that the review wasn't defamatory.

A trial judge awarded Hassell a default judgment of more than $500,000. Then, in an extraordinary move, the judge also ordered Yelp to take down the post -- and a subsequent post by the same user -- even though Yelp had never been notified about the case.



Yelp then intervened in the matter, in hopes of vacating the order. A trial judge and appellate court ruled against Yelp. The company is now asking the California Supreme Court to vacate the takedown order.

The review site makes a host of arguments, including that the lower court judges violated the company's right to argue its case before being hit with a censorship order.

"Yelp and other online forums like it ... are publishers and editors whose actions to disseminate speech are fully protected by the First Amendment and due process rights," the company says in papers filed Monday. "The appellate court plainly erred in failing to recognize ... that Yelp was denied its due process right to notice and a hearing before the injunction was entered against it."

The company adds that the lower court's order effectively teaches other businesses how to remove bad reviews. Yelp says those businesses could "follow Hassell's example: intentionally sue the commenter alone ... and then after a default judgment present the injunction to the website publisher as an unassailable fait accompli."

The battle has drawn the attention of numerous Silicon Valley companies, academics, and media organizations, including The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, The New York Times, Gannett, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Hassell is slated to respond to Yelp's latest arguments within 30 days.

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