I want to start a reviews site. How to protect myself from lawsuits?
June 14, 2016 8:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm wanting to start a reviews site where people can report unethical members X_PROFESSION. Clearly, members of X_PROFESSION will not be happy to see themselves reviewed on my site. What is my legal risk in running this site? How can I protect myself from lawsuits?

I've read about people being sued over leaving bad reviews, but I haven't heard much about the sites themselves being sued. I'd imagine there's some way for reviews sites to protect themselves; if there wasn't, how could Yelp or any of the others continue to exist at all?

I realize that anybody who can pay a lawyer can file a lawsuit, but I'm trying to get a fix on what my actual legal risk is here. Can they sue me as a person, or can they just try to shut my company down? What is the likelihood they would win their case? And what can I do to protect myself and my company from lawsuits?

I don't know if it makes a difference, but I'm considering incorporating as a not-for-profit. I'm not really looking at this as a money-making opportunity -- I really just want to help people protect themselves from unethical members of X_PROFESSION.

Apologies for the n00b questions. I've never started a business before, and I don't know a whole lot about law. This is an entirely new area for me.
posted by when it rains it snows to Law & Government (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you want to know about legal risk, talk to a lawyer. The Mefi wiki has an extensive article about finding one.
posted by zamboni at 8:45 AM on June 14, 2016 [7 favorites]


You have a valid concern. It is too easy to companies with large capital to go in and ruin a small business just because you are allowing your site suers to publish opinion publicly. I think at the same time you have to look at the odds of that happening.

First, your site has to take off and become known, influential and popular. That is not an easy thing to do. Only when and if you have achieved that status would you have to even entertain the idea that someone may decide to sue you for hosting reviews. But realistically by the time you have reached that point, you will be able to monetize your site and be able to afford legal representation.

I do not know of any instances where people were sued based on review when they did not have a contractual obligation with the company that they were reviewing. Some businesses will have you sign terms and conditions that act as a legally binding contract to not share your opinion about them.

To summarize: Don't worry. Go for it.
posted by LarryMan at 8:46 AM on June 14, 2016


how could Yelp or any of the others continue to exist at all?

They have lawyers that advise them in particular courses of action to minimize (but not eliminate) risk. This is a question for your lawyer.

Can they sue me as a person, or can they just try to shut my company down?

This depends on how you form your corporation (or lack thereof). This is a question for your lawyer.

What is the likelihood they would win their case?

This will depend on the circumstances of your situation, what occupation you are reviewing, and your locality. This is a question for your lawyer.

And what can I do to protect myself and my company from lawsuits?

This will depend on your local law. This is a question for your lawyer.

I've never started a business before, and I don't know a whole lot about law.

AskMeF is not a good place for situation-specific legal advice. This isn't even the typical AskMeFi general legal question - it is a highly fact-specific question that no one here can or should answer.

You likely have the idea here - this is a question for your lawyer. If you can't afford that consultation (which will cost money, as this is a broad area of law that is not well-settled), your corporation (non-profit or for-profit) is not viable.
posted by saeculorum at 8:47 AM on June 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


(Thank you all for taking a look at my question! One thing I forgot to say in my the post : If you know of any lawyers who are experienced in this area, please feel free to recommend them to me either here or over MefiMail. I'm located in New York, if that makes any difference. Thanks!)
posted by when it rains it snows at 8:50 AM on June 14, 2016


Assume you will be sued and consider if you have the finances, and will, to deal with that, even if you come out on the winning side.
posted by justcorbly at 8:58 AM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Definitely worth talking to a lawyer, but Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act offers host sites a very high level of protection against lawsuits based on content posted by others.
posted by Emera Gratia at 9:06 AM on June 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


The issue with Section 230 is that a lot of the interpretation of it is very unsettled. When lawyers and legal writers say things like:

"The courts have not clarified the line"
"you may still be held responsible"
"Section 230 protects actions taken in good faith, and you may be liable"

...they are not fucking around. In other words, you should go into this with a strong sense that you do not actually know how "safe" or "protected" you are, because the law is not well-settled or clear.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:01 AM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


(Not meaning to disagree with the above comment, just wanted to add some context.)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:01 AM on June 14, 2016


If X_PROFESSION = lawyer, expect your first suit five nanoseconds after google indexs your first negative review.
posted by zippy at 11:00 PM on June 14, 2016


Thank you all for the input. Yeah, sounds like I'd definitely want to consult a lawyer before embarking on this venture. If anybody can recommend one, please feel free to send me a MeMail.
posted by when it rains it snows at 6:08 AM on June 15, 2016


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