“Yelp Reviewers and Koch Aim to Bolster Speech Protections”
Yelp.com, Koch Industries’ CEO Charles Koch, and a Dallas couple who own a dog and pet fish all have chosen the same side in a growing debate about the free-speech rights of online reviewers.
By the end of July, the dog and fish owners, Robert and Michelle Duchouquette, expect a Dallas court to hold a hearing determining if Prestigious Pets of Plano violated their free-speech right and if, therefore a judge should toss a breach-of-contract lawsuit the pet-sitting company filed against them based on comments posted as part of a one-star Yelp.com review.
Nicole Williams, a partner in Dallas’ Thompson & Knight, Williams, who represents the pet owners on a pro bono basis, said the Yelp review was posted by Michelle Duchouquette and she didn’t sign the contract. But even if she had, the clause barring the couple from speaking truthfully would violate free-speech rights, Williams said.
In the big picture, Williams, similar to Godwin and Crenshaw, expressed concern generally about such contractual limits to consumers’ rights to post honest reviews on Yelp.
“It not only harms consumers that can’t tell what the real reviews are, but it harms businesses that are operating in a more proper manner,” Williams said.