2016 has been a tough year for Section 230 jurisprudence, and the nadir (so far) was the appellate court ruling in Hassell v. Bird. As you recall, the case involves some negative Yelp reviews about an attorney, Hassell. Hassell sued the putative author and got a default judgment, including an order requiring Yelp to remove the reviews. Yelp refused to honor the court order. The appellate court held that Yelp could not challenge the legitimacy of the trial court’s defamation “finding” but still had to remove the review despite the First Amendment and Section 230. Among other problems, the ruling provides a roadmap for plaintiffs to scrub unwanted negative reviews, and it trampled on Yelp’s rights to manage its database’s integrity.
Yelp has appealed the case to the California Supreme Court, which has the discretion to hear the case. In support of Yelp’s request, amici submitted 14 letters representing over 40 organizations and over a dozen law professors. Basically, the entire Internet community has rallied around Yelp on this matter–including key players such Google, Facebook, Wikimedia, Twitter (and many others and numerous public interest groups. The volume and gravitas of the letters, plus the obvious and stupid mistakes in the appellate court opinion, should give Yelp’s request a good chance of being granted. The California Supreme Court will announce its decision in the next week or two.
*Yelp’s Petition for Review, Hassell’s Response, and Yelp’s Reply. Amicus letters from ACLU/EFF/Public Participation Project, Automattic/Pinterest/Reddit, Avvo, Computer & Communications Industry Association, Facebook/Microsoft/Twitter, GitHub, Glassdoor, Google, Internet Law Scholars, Public Citizen, R Street, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (and 30 other organizations), Wikimedia, and Xcentric Ventures (Ripoff Report).
* Appellate Court Opinion. My blog post about it.
* Yelp’s Appeals Court Brief. Hassell’s Response Brief. Yelp’s Reply.
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