Check their policies. I suspect that it is against their use policies for competitors to file false or fraudulent reviews. If that is the case, then file a complaint with them, or at least make them aware of it. I am sure that they do not want to lose their own credibility and, if it comes to light that the reviews on their site are unreliable, then people will no longer look to them as being a valuable source of information. In short, they probably want to know if there are fraudulent reviews. You have to somehow prove to them that the bad reviews are fraudulent.
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I agree with my colleagues I read your comments.
You can sue but before you do that you really need a lawyer to address all issues with yelp. A lawyer that understand fraud. The act of maintaining libelous postings that directly affect your livelihood with absolute disregard of YOUR rights it can substantiated fraud.
Some of us in avvo are not only California Lawyer but we are also Fraud Examiners (CFE) and we can help you with your problem
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Many of these systems use automated programs / algorithms to determine which listings should be shown and why. Yelp may not be deliberately targeting you, but the negative reviews may be higher because it triggers certain criteria in their system.
I would contact Yelp first and try to address the issue. If they can determine that the reviews are fraudulent, they may remove them for you, helping you avoid expensive legal costs. If they are not responsive, then you should consider contacting an attorney.
I have to disagree with most of the responses posted here and I question whether the attorneys offering these responses have personal professional experience in dealing with this specific internet review site.
Yelp is a privately owned publication. It is not the government. It does not owe you or anyone else anything other than to abstain from tortious conduct. That is a critical point and one that significantly limits the potential legal issues. If Sports Illustrated publishes an article calling your neighbor a great bowler and criticizing your technique on the lanes, you wouldn't be surprised to find out that you don't have legal rights to redress that injury. It's pretty much the same thing.
It also bears remembering that unfair is often NOT the same as unlawful.
Yelp fields a deep bench of highly skilled and gifted attorneys with in-depth and broad litigation experience -- a genuine brain-trust. That battalion of warriors knows backwards and forwards the law of internet publication (U.S, and world-wide) and the laws of defamation ( in every state and territory of the US). You can spend many thousands of dollars and years suing to correct the problem that you describe, but the prospects for success are almost immeasurably low. Want proof? Try to find an attorney who not only tells you that you can sue on these facts, but who will take your case on a contingency fee arrangement. Need more proof? Run the site name through the defendant filter of Google Scholar.
But that does not mean that there is nothing you can do. The review site is remarkably rational and reasonable in responding to persuasion on the merits. The site cares deeply and sincerely about the principles embodied in its "Content Guidelines" (posted right where you -- the reviewed business -- initiate a protesting comment or request for relief). The CG is the bible.
Cards on the table: the site does not care and does not pretend to care about the accuracy of what is posted in the reviews. The site knows that such things are all matters of opinion, all subjective, and the site believes sincerely that there is value in a community dialog about community businesses, even if some of the "dialoguers" are wrong, even if some of them have an agenda or an axe to grind, even if some of them are outliers (and even if some of them are your relatives, or you, or the guy who needs you to succeed because you owe him money). Doesn't matter and will not be investigated or acted upon.
The site trusts the "crowd" to balance out the views of the outliers. And -- critically -- the site expressly does not warrant the accuracy of the reviews -- individually or collectively. Use the community or ignore it -- it is your voluntary choice. You can't stop customers from telling their neighbors what bad service they got the last time they used your business. This is not different than that.
If the CG's are violated, then the site is concerned because the dialog that it wishes to foster and allow is diminished in its quality. There is your opening: Study the CG's, or engage a consultant or attorney to do it for you. The CG's are not a legal issue, and do not bear a defamation analysis. It is a straight-forward task of matching reviewer's content against the site's published criteria. If you can DEMONSTRATE PERSUASIVELY that the the CG's are violated by a particular post, you will find the site willing and decisive in your favor. Persuasive demonstration requires more than just making the assertion.
There is only one issue and that is the CG's. If you get deep into the subject matter, you or your attorney will find that everything but the CG's has been carefully, expertly, and effectively drafted out of the equation.
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