Online review site Yelp’s star rating system does not make it responsible for negative reviews of businesses because it is based on user input, a federal appeals court ruled on Monday, dismissing a libel lawsuit filed against Yelp by a Washington state locksmith company owner.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the star rating system that Yelp features is not content created by the company that helps guide people to everything from restaurants to plumbers. Under federal law, the decision said, Yelp is not liable for content its users post.
The ruling focused on the libel lawsuit filed by Douglas Kimzey, a locksmith business owner in Redmond, Washington. The court said Kimzey’s business received a negative review on Yelp in 2011. The review by a person identified in court documents only as “Sarah K” gave Kimzey’s company one star out of five, saying it was slow to respond to a car lockout and then overcharged.
Kimzey said he plans to appeal the decision to a larger panel of the appeals court. He claimed the negative review was actually about another business, and said Yelp transferred it to his company in an attempt to extort him to pay to advertise with the company.
The appeals court called Kimzey’s allegations “threadbare” and said there was no evidence presented that Yelp fabricated content under a third party’s identity.
“We fail to see how Yelp’s rating system, which is based on rating inputs from third parties and which reduces this information into a single, aggregate metric is anything other than user-generated data,” said Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel decision.
The appeals court has ruled previously that the 1996 Communications Decency Act lets websites provide “neutral tools” to post material online and that they cannot be held liable for libelous or potentially libelous material posted by third parties.