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WASHINGTON — In what could be a game changing decision that could reshape the rules for online consumer reviews, a Virginia court ruled that Yelp must turn over the names of seven reviewers who anonymously criticized a prominent local carpet cleaning business, according to The Washington Times.
The case revolved around negative feedback against Virginia-based Hadeed Carpet Cleaning, who claimed that the bad reviews the company was receiving were not left by actual customers, which would violate Yelps terms of service, the article stated.
According to the article, attorneys of owner Joe Hadeed issued a subpoena demanding the names of seven anonymous reviewers.
The Virginia Court of Appeals ruled that, if the Yelp users were not customers and were making false claims, then the comments were not protected First Amendment opinions, the article noted.
"The Virginia statute makes the judge a gatekeeper to decide whether or not there’s a common-sense reason for someone in our position to get this information," said Raighne Delaney, a lawyer at the Arlington firm Bean, Kinney & Korman who represented Mr. Hadeed.
"In order for someone like Joe Hadeed to find out who these people are, he has to explain his case, and if he can convince the judge that there might be a real lawsuit against this person, the judge can then say, 'Yes, you can get this information,'" Delaney added.
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