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Sorry, businesses: California high court rules Yelp can’t be forced to remove negative reviews

A Yelp sticker on the window of a business.
A Yelp sticker on the window of a business.
Steve Rhodes via Flickr Creative Commons

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Online review site cannot be ordered to remove posts against a San Francisco law firm that a judge determined were defamatory, a divided California Supreme Court ruled Monday in a closely watched case that internet companies had warned could be used to silence online speech.

Justices agreed in a 4-3 opinion, saying removal orders such as the one attorney Dawn Hassell obtained against Yelp "could interfere with and undermine the viability of an online platform." The decision overturned a lower court ruling that Yelp had said could lead to the removal of negative reviews from the popular website and leave consumers with a skewed assessment of restaurants and other businesses.

Hassell said Yelp was exaggerating the stakes of her legal effort. Her attorney, Monique Olivier, said in a statement that the ruling "stands as an invitation to spread falsehoods on the internet without consequence." She said her client was considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

With files from the Associated Press


Bob Egelko, courts reporters with the San Francisco Chronicle who has been covering the case

Aaron H. Caplan, professor of law at Loyola Law School who specializes in constitutional law, civil procedure and First Amendment law