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Freedom of Speech Deserves Better Federal Protection

Businesses and powerful interest groups routinely threaten the rights of consumers who speak out on matters of public interest on sites like Yelp. Many of them try to pervert the legal system with Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) and bogus non-disparagement clauses in an effort to silence their critics.

In the United States, Yelpers enjoy broad protections based upon the First Amendment of the Constitution, but procedural legal protections are still regulated by individual states. Unfortunately, those protections are spotty at best. Almost half of our states have no protections at all against SLAPPs, and the states that do are constantly under attack by those with a vested interest in shutting down free speech. See: Steve Wynn’s attempt to gut Nevada’s anti-SLAPP law.

That’s why Yelp strongly supports the “SPEAK FREE Act of 2015” and the “Consumer Review Freedom Act of 2015,” recently introduced federal legislation that create efficient procedures to safeguard free speech for all Americans no matter what state they live in.

Whether people are expressing their opinions in the form of a consumer review, an editorial in a newspaper, or commentary on a blog, it's important that they not be bullied into retracting their criticism.

The SPEAK FREE Act will allow federal courts nationwide to determine whether a lawsuit targeting speech is a SLAPP. For those living in states still lacking an effective anti-SLAPP law this will provide a robust way to fight abusive litigation at the federal level. Plus, it will allow defendants who prevail on an anti-SLAPP motion to collect attorneys fees from the plaintiff to make up for the financial burden of having been targeted with a meritless lawsuit in the first place. Of course, the proposed law would still allow plaintiffs to move forward with valid defamation claims if they have them.

The Consumer Review Freedom Act of 2015 will outlaw non-disparagement clauses in consumer contracts nationwide. While these contracts would likely be unenforceable anyway (many businesses know this and hope the mere threat is enough to get their way), this law will both provide clear protection to consumers and establish penalties for businesses that try to push these unlawful provisions on their customers.  

Having both of these laws in place at the federal level will ensure that Yelpers, and all Americans who care about their freedom of speech, are protected from wealthy bullies and powerful special interest groups. While Steve Wynn and others like him might be trying to erode your free speech rights, Congress has a real opportunity to pass a law that will help protect the open speech platform that the Internet has come to be.  

Click here to find your member of Congress and tell them to co-sponsor these two important pieces of legislation.