As consumers, we frequently visit popular food and accommodation review websites, such as Urbanspoon, Taste and Trip Advisor. We resort to these sites both to read reviews and to write reviews. These websites are constantly receiving reviews about businesses on their website, and these reviews are not always positive. In fact, many of the reviews are of experiences which can reflect badly on the business owner and ultimately the business’ bottom line. This poses the question as to how defamation law applies, if at all, to authors of these reviews.

Can these businesses take action against the reviewer?

In short, under current Australian law, businesses with fewer than 10 employees may take action in defamation against the author of material posted on these online review websites.

When is a review defamatory?

Consumers of products or services that go out of their way to publish harmful or negative reviews with the purpose of damaging a business may find themselves liable to pay huge penalties. Each case will be different and will depend on the facts.

How do you prove defamation?

It needs to be shown that the review did not reflect the true opinion of its author, but rather was aimed at damaging the reputation of the business. In other words, it must be shown that there existed some malice in writing the review, with the purpose of deterring others from using the service or buying the products.

In New South Wales, for example, a well-known food critic was made to pay $600,000 because of a restaurant review. Although the review appeared in a major print media outlet and not in the online space, it provides food for thought on the kinds of civil penalties those found liable could end up paying.

What to consider when writing an online review?

There are a number of important things to remember when writing an online review about a business:

  • The review is being made available to the world at large, the wording of which should be carefully considered;
  • Make sure it is not published for some hidden agenda;
  • It must accurately reflect the real experience of its author, although this does not mean that comedic relief and expression must be avoided;
  • The consequences, as illustrated above, can be very expensive, depending on the amount of damage the defamed business can prove as a result of the review.

Conclusion

Are you operating a business that has recently been reviewed?

Was this review completely false?

Has your business suffered as a result?

If, after requesting the removal of the review, you have no luck resolving the matter, you should seek legal advice from a business lawyer.

For those reviews that are true and reflect badly on the business, the best advice we could give is to take the criticism on board and take steps to rectify whatever shortcomings the reviewer complained about. If you’d like a free quote for advice, contact LegalVision on 1300 544 755.

 

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