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Oct. 8, 2013

Uphold Constitutional Rights of Anonymous Yelp Reviewers in Virginia Case

Precedent-Setting Case Stemmed From Negative Reviews of Carpet Cleaning Service; Could Determine Whether Consumers Can Criticize Anonymously

WHAT:  A carpet cleaning service that got bad reviews on Yelp should not be able to use the courts to find out the identities of its critics, Public Citizen will tell the Virginia Court of Appeals Wednesday.

Additionally, a lower court ruling that Yelp must provide identifying information about seven critics of the company, Hadeed Carpet Cleaning, Inc., violated the First Amendment and should be reversed, Public Citizen will say. The case is Hadeed Carpet Cleaning, Inc., v. John Doe #1, et al.

Public Citizen attorneys are representing Yelp, which tried to protect the identities of seven users who were among many to complain that Hadeed falsely advertised low prices. On July 2, 2012, Hadeed sued the authors of the seven reviews, alleging that the posts were false and defamatory, but not denying that it sometimes charges twice the advertised price or charges for work not performed.

The main question on appeal in this case is whether the trial court applied the proper legal standard in overriding the First Amendment rights of the anonymous speakers. Courts elsewhere have recognized that before stripping the defendant of a First Amendment right, they should take an early look at the case to confirm that the speaker’s statement appears to be false and defamatory, such that the company’s claim is viable. In this appeal, where the users’ original claims about Hadeed’s practices are echoed by dozens of other users whose reviews have not been challenged as defamatory, Yelp urges Virginia to adopt that approach.

WHEN: 11 a.m., Wednesday, October 9

WHO:  Paul Alan Levy, attorney, Public Citizen

WHERE: Alexandria Courthouse, Courtroom No. 3, 4th Floor, 520 King St, Alexandria, Va. 

To read the brief filed in the case, go to http://www.citizen.org/litigation/forms/cases/getlinkforcase.cfm?cID=823.

For more information about the case, go to http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/pressroomredirect.cfm?ID=3887 and http://www.citizen.org/litigation/forms/cases/getlinkforcase.cfm?cID=823.


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