Yelp and Amazon are adored because they give anyone the power of posting a scathing rebuke of a company’s product or service. The platform effectively hands you a soapbox and megaphone, letting you broadcast your outrage to the world. But on rare occasions, a nasty review could be enough to get you sued.
That was because of “non-disparagement” clauses, which companies would often hide in their terms and services agreements. The clauses basically state that bad-mouthing a company was grounds for a lawsuit, meaning your 1,200 word diatribe about a lousy dog-walking service could render you broke. But thanks to a new a law signed by president Obama this week, those non-disparagement clauses are totally moot.
According to the Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016, a terms and services agreement is nullified if it “Prohibits or restricts an individual who is a party to such a contract from engaging in written, oral, or pictorial reviews.” This means, in essence, that you’re free to lambast the hell out of whichever business irks you the most. You can really be that person if you want to, without the anxiety of an impending lawsuit.
Quartz notes the story of a Dallas couple who were sued by a pet-sitting company for $200,000 to $1 million for leaving a one-star Yelp review on the business’ page earlier this year. While that suit was eventually dropped -- with a judge probably citing the plaintiff’s extreme childishness -- it serves as a worthwhile reminder of just how dangerous non-disparagement clauses could be.
So go forth, and exercise your inalienable right to
be incredibly annoying express your lovely, little opinions on the internet. Yelp will always be there for it.
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Sam Blum is a News Staff Writer for Thrillist. He's also a martial arts and music nerd who appreciates a fine sandwich and cute dogs. Find his clips in The Guardian, Rolling Stone, The A.V. Club and Vice. He's on Twitter @Blumnessmonster.