Posted By: Stephen Timmer
Super Mario’s Pizzeria is celebrating two years in business! His business is in highly competitive area surrounded by other, established pizza places like Luigi’s Lovely Pizza Pies. Mario prides himself on customer satisfaction, whether patrons dine in or if they order take out through his mobile phone app (powered, ironically, by a video game company). He’s even snagged some prime catering gigs from businesses, like Sonic the hedge fund guy. Then one day a less than flattering review shows up on a review site for local businesses called “Holla!” under the name of “The Princess”. Holla, to protect anonymity of its users, allows them to use pseudonyms to protect against any reprisals and to elicit more candid comments. The Princess talks about how she got a fly in her Turtle Soup and how she sat at her table for twenty minutes before someone came over to take her order. Out of five stars she only gave Super Mario’s a half of a star. This review devastated both his dine in and his take out business. Mario has a pretty good memory and he never recalled anybody ever coming in and having an experience like that. Mario starts to think that Holla has made up the review and is favoring Luigi’s pizza joint, based on the lack of any negative reviews about his place. When Mario requests to Holla that they take that defamatory review down, they tell him to go stuff himself down a pipe. Knowing that the review has got to go, Mario decides to take Holla to court to compel them to take the review down. Unfortunately the court gave his case a game over when they told him that Holla cannot be held liable for the comments of its users, because they were not the one’s that posted it. Disheartened, Mario starts to consider a career in the plumbing business.
Unfortunately, a scenario with an infamous review site actually happened to a local service business in Seattle, where an anonymous review put dent in his business. Online service providers have been granted a seemingly bulletproof status thanks to legislation from Congress. While it has typically been a losing battle to challenge these providers in court over their content, recent developments in the United States Court of Appeals for Ninth Circuit could give businesses an extra life against online providers and their users’ content. Unfortunately, this light at the end of the tunnel for merchants could prove to have dire constitutional consequences for the users of the online services. Continue reading