Some wedding photogs use small print to sue negative Yelp reviews
posted Friday, March 21, 2014 at 12:27 PM EDT
For many people, Yelp reviews have become the starting point of choosing just about any service, professional, or restaurant to use. But a current trend of business owners fighting back against negative reviews has taken a turn for the ugly, with some wedding photographers putting fine print in their contracts banning clients from putting their complaints online.
The Knot on Huffington Post cites a number examples of brides who posted fair reviews of photographers they dealt with on Yelp, which mentioned problems they might have had, only to be threatened with defamation lawsuits for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
These insidious legal texts can take a number of forms. One DJ had fine print that anything less than a five star review would invoke a $5,000 fee. Some require that any and all disputes be kept confidential, and serve legal notice if any conflicts are aired online.
This is part of a growing trend of business owners and reviewers coming to legal blows over Yelp. We've heard cases of doctors suing patients for bad reviews, a watchmaker threatening legal action, and now a $750,000 defamation hearing that's set to go to trial (though that one's a bit different, as the reviewer accused contracters of stealing jewelry).
Most of these sorts of contracts won't hold up in a court of law, and are used primarily for indimidation tactics. As the Knot says:
Ryan Bleek, an attorney in Boston who blogs at Wedding-Lawyer.com, believes that these claims of breach of contract go against public policy, and likely won't hold up in court. "Most courts want consumers to be able to freely give their opinions and, therefore, a contract that throws away that right would not be enforceable," he explains. Plus most lawsuits are expensive and time-consuming, so it's in the vendor's best interest to avoid actual litigation.
But the threat of a long, and potentially expensive legal battle? That's enough to stop all but the most ardent of Yelpers. So in the future, when signing a contract, look for any terms about "disparagement", that's probably where you'll find the areas that will cause all the trouble.
Image: Photos & Company by Wedding Photography Bloomingdale, used under a Creative Commons license