Last year, we reported on a lawsuit filed by Amazon.com, Inc. (“Amazon”) in Washington State against the owners of four websites offering paid online reviews. Last Friday, Amazon filed another such lawsuit against a number of similar Amazon product reviewers.

Why should sellers, paid reviewers and review-hosting websites be concerned about online reviews?

Amazon Online Reviews

Amazon encourages its customers to review products available for sale on its website. Each online review consists of the reviewer’s comments and a “star” rating that ranges from one to five stars. Amazon compiles these product reviews, summarizes the star ratings and publishes those results alongside the applicable advertised product.

Each Amazon user agrees to be bound by Amazon’s Customer Review Creation Guidelines, which expressly forbid “reviews . . . that are posted in exchange for compensation of any kind.” Amazon polices its website in an effort to remove false, misleading and inauthentic reviews.

Amazon Reviews for Compensation

According to court documents filed by Amazon, the owners of the websites located at amazonreviewsstar.com, amazonverifiedreviews.com, buyamazonreviews.info, paidbookreviews.org and reviewconnections.com, respectively, supply online reviews to product sellers and manufacturers for profit.

Amazon alleges that each of the suspect online review sites offers to create Amazon reviews guaranteeing a certain star rating (typically four or five stars).

Amazon Sues Online Reviewers

Last Friday, Amazon commenced legal action in the Superior Court of the State of Washington against the owners of each of the above-mentioned websites. Amazon brought seven separate causes of action against the subject reviewers, including allegations of:

  • trademark infringement, trademark dilution, unfair competition and cybersquatting for using Amazon’s trademarks in connection with their review selling businesses, domain names and websites without Amazon’s consent; and
  • intentional interference with contractual relations for interfering with Amazon users’ compliance with the terms of Amazon’s Customer Review Creation Guidelines.

As of this writing, the amazonverifiedreviews.com, buyamazonreviews.info and reviewconnections.com websites all appear to have been taken down.

Paid Online Reviews: A Risky Business Model

As the above-mentioned case demonstrates, the “reputation management” industry is fraught with legal risk. State and federal regulators, as well as online review-hosting websites (feeling the pressure of legal action and regulatory enforcement themselves) are now aggressively targeting businesses that supply online reviews for profit.

Further, businesses that purchase online reviews are at risk of facing false advertising and deceptive business practice allegations as well. For example, in last week’s court filing, Amazon stated that it intends to use the legal proceeding to “identify additional dishonest sellers and manufacturers who purchase fraudulent reviews and take enforcement action against them.”

Businesses should speak with experienced advertising counsel before engaging in the purchase, sale or display of online reviews in order to minimize the risk of unwelcome legal action.