Issa, Swallell, Farenthold, Sherman Introduce Consumer Review Freedom Act Addressing Penalties for Negative Online ReviewsApril 29, 2015
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Representatives Darrell Issa (R-CA), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Blake Farenthold (R-TX), and Brad Sherman (D-CA) today introduced the Consumer Review Freedom Act to make it illegal for businesses to penalize customers who write negative reviews on online review sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor. The bill was motivated by several examples of companies attempting to dissuade people from writing honest reviews by slipping non-disparagement clauses into their consumer contracts.
Representative Darrell Issa:
“The Internet is a critical economic engine, increasingly used for all types of commerce and communication, including for consumer reviews. Some organizations have sought to stifle customers’ abilities to express their opinions online by threatening punitive action if a customer leaves a negative review. The mere threat of monetary penalties or fines for writing honest reviews would chill the free exchange of opinions we expect to find on the Internet. The Consumer Review Freedom Act would put a stop to these outrageous attempts to silence free speech online.”
Representative Eric Swallwell:
“Consumers shouldn’t have to worry about being punished for posting an honest review. This is commonsense legislation to ensure the rights of consumers are protected and penalize businesses attempting to silence fair criticism. I thank Congressman Issa for joining me to re-introduce this bill and safeguard free speech.”
Representative Blake Farenthold:
“The modern information economy is driven by an open and robust public dialogue. Unfortunately, some bad actors are trying to undermine free speech by threatening to sue folks who voice their honest opinions in reviews. We cannot allow this attack on our First Amendment rights to continue for the sake of both our liberty and the continued expansion of information-driven businesses on the Internet. I applaud Congressman Issa and Congressman Swalwell for standing up for free speech and am pleased to join them as an original cosponsor of the Consumer Review Freedom Act.”
Representative Brad Sherman:
“As a country that prides itself on free speech as a tenet of our constitution, I felt this sneaky tactic of limiting it as purely wrong. We think this represents a very effective piece of legislation that will allow consumers the freedom to continue doing what they thought they could all along – offer up opinions on products and services consumed to enable the marketplace to make more informed decisions.”
This legislation would declare such non-disparagement clauses in consumer contracts unenforceable, in addition to providing authority to the Department of Justice and state attorneys general to take action against businesses that include them. California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill making non-disparagement clauses illegal in the state last year.
The Palmers, a couple from Utah, were fined $3,500 by KlearGear for violation of a non-disparagement clause after they posted a negative review online about their experience with the company. When they refused to pay the company in turn reported their debt to the credit bureaus, which damaged their credit rating.
Supporters of the bill include Public Participation Project, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), Consumer Federation of America, and Public Citizen.