Business owners using online consumer review platforms should be truthful and accurate, especially with respect to online reviews.

On August 20, 2013, social media search-and-review service Yelp! sued solo practitioner Julian McMillan for allegedly posting fake reviews about his own law firm. Yelp claimed that in 2010, employees from McMillan’s firm posted positive reviews of the law firm, and that some of these posts originated from his office building. Yelp further alleged that McMillan was one member of a group of local attorneys engaged in the practice of posting positive reviews of one another’s firms.

The Complaint, in part, reads:

Yelp users depend on the integrity of Yelp’s service. If businesses [sic] owners or employees post favorable self-reviews, solicit consumers to post favorable reviews in exchange for value, encourage friends, relatives, or colleagues to write favorable reviews not based on experience as a consumer, trade reviews with colleagues based on mutual self-interest, or pay third-parties to write favorable reviews, then people relying on Yelp reviews are harmed by the false or biased information presented by the reviewers as legitimate commentary.

Read Yelp!’s full complaint against McMillan. This lawsuit is but one of several similar lawsuits brought by Yelp! against users who post fake reviews (see, e.g., Yelp!’s suit against Adblaze earlier this year).  Note also that fake reviews can run afoul of the Federal Trade Commission’s “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Companies seeking to avoid litigation or other conflict in this realm are cautioned to avoid activity on such social media platforms that can be construed as preventing legitimate consumer opinion to drive (or decrease) business.

Justin Haddock ( / +1 416 216 2317) a trademark lawyer in Norton Rose Fulbright Austin’s intellectual property practice.