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EFF Urges Appeals Court to Protect Forums Allowing Users to Speak Online

May 7, 2012

EFF Urges Appeals Court to Protect Forums Allowing Users to Speak Online

Speculative Claims Against Yelp Barred by Federal Law

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is urging a federal appeals court to block an attempt by disgruntled businesses to make an end-run around the federal law that protects Yelp and other online forums from liability for their users' reviews. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit Friday, EFF argues that the strong protections for hosts of forums in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) must be upheld to foster free speech online.

CDA 230 protects online service providers from liability and lawsuits over user-generated content, except in very narrow circumstances where the providers created or developed content themselves. In this case, several businesses filed suit against Yelp, claiming without factual support that the popular review site manipulated and manufactured reviews in order to coerce businesses to advertise on the website. A lower court already found that mere speculation of interference with public reviews was insufficient to evade the broad protection Congress created for online forums, and granted Yelp's motion to dismiss the case. In its amicus brief, EFF argued that lowering the standards for when a forum like Yelp has to be dragged through litigation would effectively chill online speech.

"The broad protections provided by CDA 230 are one of the main reasons we have so much speech online," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "If online service providers like Yelp could be held liable for material posted by any one of their millions of users merely upon thin claims of 'manipulation,' providers would feel pressured to censor or eliminate forums altogether. The result is fewer places for people to participate online and a loss all of us who rely on user reviews and other user-generated material."

"The goal of Congress in enacting CDA 230 was clear: to ensure the Internet is a robust platform for users' free speech," said Senior Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "Users post millions of reviews on Yelp each year, but sites like this wouldn't exist without CDA 230's protections. We're asking the appeals court to make sure that sites like Yelp continue to thrive and remain vigorous forums for Internet users to share opinions and recommendations."

For the full amicus brief in Levitt v. Yelp:
https://www.eff.org/document/amicus-brief-7

Contacts:

Matt Zimmerman
   Senior Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   mattz@eff.org

Marcia Hofmann
   Senior Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   marcia@eff.org

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