While Yelp will forever be a battleground of hot takes and battles between business owners and customers, the site won a legal skirmish that, for now, protects it from liability over negative reviews.

So sayeth the California Supreme Court, anyway, who ruled 4-3 this week in favor of the online review site, affirming that the site was free from liability when people who are Mad Online™ say mean things about a place of business. 

The case, reports the New York Times, stemmed from a San Francisco attorney who claimed a former client’s Yelp posts about his business were defamatory. A San Francisco Superior Court judge agreed and ordered the posts taken down. When the client didn’t delete the posts, the attorney got a court order for Yelp to delete them. But Yelp continued its fight through the legal system.

Backed by the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Yelp employed the Communications Decency Act of 1996 as one line of defense, specifically section 230 which says, in part: 

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.


The California State Supreme Court agreed in its majority opinion, written by Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, stating section 230 granted Yelp immunity from responsibility while also expressing empathy for the attorney who had been the victim of the comments. 

Even as we conclude that Yelp is entitled to immunity, we echo Barrett, supra, 40 Cal.4th, in emphasizing that our reasoning and result do not connote a lack of sympathy for those who may have been defamed on the Internet. (Barrett, at p. 63.) Nevertheless, on this record it is clear that plaintiffs’ legal remedies lie solely against Bird, and cannot extend — even through an injunction — to Yelp.

The ruling also notes that while it protects Yelp, it doesn’t protect the former client from previous rulings ordering them to remove the posts. 

Of course, Yelp still retains the right to remove comments as they deem fit under their terms of service, such as spamming the pages of hotels belonging to a certain president. 

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