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Virginia Says Yelp Must Reveal The Real Names of 7 Who Left Critical Reviews

Posted on the 12 January 2014 by Worldwide @thedomains

A decision in Virginia could affect the free speech of users of the popular review website Yelp. This could also trickle down to other areas where free speech is concerned.

The case revolves around Hadeed Carpet based out of Alexandria, Virginia. The company did not believe that some of the negative comments it received were from actual customers. They sued Yelp to get the identities of these individuals and won. The case was appealed and the appellate court  affirmed the lower court’s ruling. So this matter is now going to the Virginia state supreme court.

Search Engine Land wrote about this and from the article:

Yelp argued that the First Amendment places a meaningful evidentiary burden on the plaintiff before the identity of an anonymous speaker can be revealed. The Virginia court sidestepped the First Amendment argument and decided the appeal on the basis of Virginia’s own statute dealing with  the “Identity of persons communicating anonymously over the Internet.”

As a practical matter all the plaintiff was legally required to do to compel disclosure of these user identities was make a number of sworn statements to the court:

  • That one or more communications that are or may be tortious or illegal have been made by the anonymous communicator, or that the party requesting the subpoena has a legitimate, good faith basis to contend that such party is the victim of conduct actionable in the jurisdiction where the suit was filed.
  • A copy of the communications that are the subject of the action or subpoena shall be submitted.
  • That other reasonable efforts to identify the anonymous communicator have proven fruitless.
  • That the identity of the anonymous communicator is important, is centrally needed to advance the claim, relates to a core claim or defense, or is directly and materially relevant to that claim or defense.
  • That the individuals or entities to whom the subpoena is addressed are likely to have responsive information

The “reasonable efforts to identify the anonymous communicator” in this case were apparently fulfilled by representations to the court that Hadeed consulted its customer database and believed that these individuals were not actual customers.

It will certainly be interesting to see how far this goes, could it make it to the U.S. Supreme Court ? A ruling like this could certainly affect other areas of the Internet at least in Virginia, forums and blogs could likely be affected.

Read the Search Engine Land story here…

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