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EFF To California Supreme Court: Website Owners Have A First Amendment Right To Defend Content On Their Platform

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EFF To California Supreme Court: Website Owners Have A First Amendment Right To Defend Content On Their Platform

Postby sunnyd » Tue Apr 18, 2017 1:03 pm

Story :

A bad review on Yelp is an anathema to a business. No one wants to get trashed online. But the First Amendment protects both the reviewer’s opinion and Yelp’s right to publish it. A California appeals court ran roughshod over the First Amendment when it ordered Yelp to comply with an injunction to take down speech without giving the website any opportunity to challenge the injunction’s factual basis. The case is on appeal to the California Supreme Court, and EFF filed an amicus brief asking the court to overturn the lower court’s dangerous holding.

The case, Hassell v. Bird, is procedurally complicated. A lawyer, Dawn Hassell, sued a former client, Ava Bird, for defamation in California state court over a negative Yelp review. Bird never responded to the lawsuit, so the trial court entered a default judgment against her. The court - at Hassell’s request - not only ordered Bird to remove her own reviews, but also ordered Yelp to remove them - even though Yelp was never named as a party to the suit. (If this kind of abuse of a default judgment sounds familiar, that’s not a coincidence; it seems to be increasingly common - and it’s a real threat to online speech.)

Yelp challenged the order, asserting that Hassell failed to prove that the post at issue was actually defamatory, that Yelp could not be held liable for the speech pursuant to the Communication Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230 (“Section 230”), and that Yelp could not be compelled to take down the post as a non-party to the suit. The trial court rejected Yelp’s arguments and refused to recognize Yelp’s free speech rights as a content provider. The California Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision, holding that Yelp could be forced to remove the supposedly defamatory speech from its website without any opportunity to argue that the reviews were accurate or otherwise constitutionally protected.

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