Arriving at his warehouse last week Knott Faire, owner of Faire Carpet Cleaning, discovered yet another complaining critique posted on WELP: “Lots of hype, a mediocre cleaning and a hassle at the end. Don’t get tied up with Knott!” In over 75 previous reviews only 3 were slightly negative. Since the “hype” complaint, another dozen scathing complaints were logged. Believing that the negative reviews are from a competitor, not his customers, Knott called his trusty lawyer Icahn Ficksit for help. Icahn issued WELP a subpoena demanding production of identifying information and ISP (Internet Service Provider) addresses for the dozen offenders. Will Ficksit win?
In Virginia, yes; in Texas, no. The Virginia Court of Appeals held that a Yelp reviewer is generally entitled to First Amendment protection if the reviewer is critiquing a business they patronized; however, [i]f the reviewer was never a customer of the business, then the review is not an opinion; but is based on a false statement. Virginia only requires that Icahn Ficksit and Knott Faire show, among other things, that the WELP reviews “are or may be tortious or illegal,” or that Faire Carpet Cleaning has “a legitimate, good faith basis” to believe that they were the victim of actionable conduct.