CNET has a lengthy piece about a Yelp user who wrote a negative review about a Chiropractor and is now being sued for defamation:
San Franciscan Christopher Norberg went to a chiropractor after being injured in a car accident in 2006. After a disagreement with the chiropractor over billing, he posted a negative review of the business on Yelp suggesting that the doctor was dishonest. Now he is facing a defamation lawsuit that could chill self-expression on the popular gripe Web site.
Here’s the concise definition of defamation: A false statement that injures someone’s reputation and exposes him to public contempt, hatred, ridicule, or condemnation.
Here’s a quick statement of the legal test for defamation:
- False statement of fact (not opinion)
- Communicated to third parties
- Harmful to the reputation of the person the statement concerns
A simple example is:
- I think John is a terrible person (not defamatory)
- John is a child molester (defamatory if he is in fact not one and it hurts his reputation).
Yelp is not a defendant. This is really about whether the defendant was expressing “facts” or “opinions” and whether the particular Chiropractor was in fact harmed. The guy has lots of positive reviews on Yelp, but the controversy might turn some people away.
Another issue is whether the “culture of reviews” would be harmed if the defendant were found liable. It remains to be seen but my guess is no unless there was lots of press coverage and publicity around such a decision. Even so, it would probably only affect people who are marginal contributors.