Yelp’s lawsuit alleges a breach of the ToS (Terms of Service) by the defendants who “try to game the system and undermine that trust, by building businesses based on fraudulent reviews…” in addition to the more obvious trademark violations. The February 13, 2015 lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California in which Yelp specified in its ToS (last updated on November 27, 2012 -which is about 296 “Internet Years”):
You agree not to, and will not assist, encourage, or enable others to use the Site to…Violate our Content Guidelines, for example, by writing a fake or defamatory review, trading reviews with other businesses, or compensating someone or being compensated to write or remove a review.
Also Yelps states in the lawsuit that:
Yelp commits substantial resources to prevent fake, altered, or otherwise fraudulent reviews and to prevent improper or unlawful uses of the content and information available on the website, including spam.
Yelp enforces compliance with the Yelp TOS in a number of ways, including by developing sophisticated technology to detect and marginalize fake or suspicious reviews, investigating businesses that post or purchase fake reviews, working with regulatory authorities to crack down on such businesses, and warning consumers about such businesses through consumer alerts. Yelp also takes spam very seriously and does not tolerate third parties, like Defendants, attempting to spam businesses listed on Yelp with confusing, unwanted, and false messaging.
In the lawsuit Yelp sued Edward James Herzstock, Alec Farwell, and Melissa Scheinwald, doing business as Yelpdirector, Revpley, and Revleap, and Does 1 through 20 and requests damages and injunctive relief based on these causes of action:
- Federal Trademark Infringement;
- Federal Trademark Dilution;
- Federal Unfair Competition;
- Breach of Contract;
- Interference with Contractual Relations;
- California Unfair Competition; and,
- California False Advertising.
CBS News reported that defendant Alec Farwell (one of the owners of Revleap) said in an email to MoneyWatch that what the defendants are doing is:
…legal in all aspects of the law, and we specialize in only legitimate reviews from real customers. Yelp has filed completely false and unsubstantiated claims against our company. We aim to decrease defamation and increase awareness of free speech for businesses. We level the playing field for everyone who uses the internet or reviews on any site.
This case may help establish more specific guidelines for astroturfing, but it is obviously too soon to know.