Yelp, one of the largest websites for online crowd-sourced reviews of businesses and restaurants, is suing an online reputation company, Revleap (also operating as Yelpdirector and Revpley), alleging trademark infringement, unfair competition, cybersquatting, contract interference, along with state-level claims, including false advertising.
Yelp has been a controversial company among many business owners. On the one hand, consumers enjoy using Yelp’s rating system to help them find reputable businesses, but on the other hand, businesses that receive bad reviews on Yelp are frustrated that Yelp has helped to facilitate injury to their online reputation. Revleap capitalizes on this frustration by claiming to have invented a software that allows businesses to “proactively generate a large number of 4 and 5 star reviews from your customers in a way that makes them stick to the front page of Yelp.” This software is also supposed to keep any 3 star or lower reviews from being posted. Within six weeks, this software will help businesses’ improve their online reputation by improving their Yelp rating.
However, as Yelp’s complaint points out, Revleap has no ability to remove or filter out the bad reviews. Instead, the complaint alleges that in order to generate positive reviews for businesses, Revleap offers a chance to win gift certificates as an incentive to write positive reviews. The complaint also charges that Revleap advertises a three year track record of success generating positive reviews for businesses on Yelp. As a counterexample of this success, Yelp cites a maid service that used Revleap to enhance their reputation and still maintained a 1.5 star rating (out of 5 stars).
Yelp makes eight different claims against Revleap: four claims related to Yelp’s trademarks (infringement, dilution, unfair competition, and cybersquatting), two contractual claims (breach of contract and interference with contractual relations), and two California State law trademark claims (false advertising and unfair competition). Yelp’s trademark claims center on Revleap’s use of the Yelp trademarks on their online sites and in Revleap’s advertisements and solicitations. Yelp’s contractual claims are related to Yelp’s terms of service. The breach of contract claim is that Revleap breached Yelp’s terms of service by offering reviews for sale, soliciting reviews, and spamming Yelp users. And Yelp’s interference with contractual relations claim alleges that Revleap induced Yelp users to violate Yelp’s terms of service.
In a statement to Ars Technica, Revleap disputes Yelp’s claims; stating that Revleap’s “services are legal in aspects of the law, and [Revleap] specializes in only legitimate reviews from real customers.” Revleap’s statement also states that through their services, they are trying to make Yelp more transparent and create a more open Internet. Revleap cites Yelp’s website as using its reviews as leverage against businesses to detrimentally affect an open Internet. However, the statement does not describe how Yelp uses this leverage.
Why Should We Care?
Regardless of the result of this lawsuit, the larger issue looming behind the scenes will still remain: how to effectively maintain and manage online reputations. In this digital age, managing businesses’ online reputations has become increasingly important. Online reviews play a significant part in the reputations of many local businesses. The fact that businesses have turned to companies, like Revleap, that have no actual power to affect their online reputations illustrates two points: (1) businesses understand how important their online reputations have become, and (2) these businesses are not sure how to effectively manage their online reputations. Figuring out how manage online reputations should be an important concern of both businesses and legislators now and in the immediate future.