Internet Law

California Supreme Court Rules That Yelp Cannot Be Ordered to Remove Online Reviews

In a July 2, 2018 plurality opinion (the “Opinion”), the California Supreme Court (the “Court”) vacated an order directing Yelp Inc., a non-party to the underlying defamation lawsuit, to remove certain consumer reviews posted on its website.  The Court thereby reversed the 1st District Court of Appeal and San Francisco Superior Court, which had rejected Yelp’s arguments that the default judgment injunction violated its due process rights and ran afoul of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (47 U.S.C. § 230).

“Our analysis of the statute begins with an uncontroversial observation: Yelp could have promptly sought and received section 230 immunity had plaintiffs originally named it as a defendant in this case. There is no doubt that Yelp is a ‘provider or user of an interactive computer service’ within the meaning of section 230(c)(1). … The question here is whether a different result should obtain because plaintiffs made the tactical decision not to name Yelp as a defendant. Put another way, we must decide whether plaintiffs’ litigation strategy allows them to accomplish indirectly what Congress has clearly forbidden them to achieve directly. We believe the answer is no.”  Hassell v. Bird, S235968 *21-22. 

“The immunity provisions within section 230 ‘have been widely and consistently interpreted to confer broad immunity against defamation liability for those who use the Internet to publish information that originated from another source.’” Id. at 14.

“The Court of Appeal erred in regarding the order to Yelp as beyond the scope of section 230. That court reasoned that the judicial command to purge the challenged reviews does not impose liability on Yelp. But … the Court of Appeal adopted too narrow a construction of section 230. In directing Yelp to remove the challenged reviews from its website, the removal order improperly treats Yelp as ‘the publisher or speaker of . . . information provided by another information content provider.’ (§ 230(c)(1).) The order therefore must be revised to comply with section 230.”  Id. at *2.

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