A victory of a six-bedroom guest house owner at Uig (west coast of Lewis, Outer Hebrides) over the global travel website TripAdvisor may seem like an unlikely story. However this time around, David may again have defeated Goliath - at least to some extent.
The case against the internet firm TripAdvisor, worth an estimated £2.5 billion, has been brought by Richard Gollin, who originally represented himself in court. The B&B owner claims that the negative comments and feedback about his business posted on the website was untrue and should be removed from the website. He launched a small claims action in the Stornoway Sheriff Court, claiming £3000 in damages for loss of business.
Mr Gollin claims that the TripAdvisor website is full of false reviews and inaccuracies. To back up his claim, he pointed out that the writer of negative review about his B&B provided a wrong date of his stay which did not match up with any of the business records. This lie, together with the untrue nature of the comments posted, had not been picked up by the website administrators. According to Mr Gollin, the review resulted in lost bookings and had a significant negative impact on his income.
TripAdvisor have taken the claims seriously - the legal team based in Massachusetts (USA) instructed a Stornoway lawyer, Angus Macdonald, to represent them. They originally insisted that the organisation was not subject to the law of Scotland. The position was defended by the lawyers later hired by Mr Gollin, who pointed out TripAdvisor had a designated office in London, which put the defenders in the jurisdiction of the Court. Now, after months of legal arguments, TripAdvisor have dropped the challenge to the Court’s jurisdiction.
The agreement on the issue of jurisdiction may turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory for the B&B owner. Sheriff Collin Scott Mackenzie transferred the action to a higher Court, which may open Mr Gollin to unlimited expenses if his case proves to be unsuccessful. The TripAdvisor lawyers convinced the Court to transfer the matter as it was complicated and required expertise. The Scottish business man appealed to the Sheriff Principal over the decision, claiming that the decision could force him to drop the action due to the legal costs involved.
The case opens a wider question of responsibility in relation to review posts placed on the TripAdvisor website. The world-wide service can be accessed and used by anyone in the world. It gives the owners of businesses the opportunity to comment on the reviews, but not to delete them. Angus Macdonald, acting for TripAdvisor, argued that people use the website at their own risk. However, the choice between not using the site and gaining no publicity, or using it and opening your business to unfounded criticism, is not a fair one. It would be like having your B&B stuck between Scylla and Charybdis - a very unfortunate holiday destination, even in the mythical times. In any event, a business cannot prevent others from posting reviews on TripAdvisor.