Failed TripAdvisor lawsuit illustrates challenges policing user reviews

DETROIT A withdrawn 2009 lawsuit against TripAdvisor highlights the challenges facing the hundreds of U.S. hotels that are poised to file legal action claiming defamation by the user-generated review site.

The restaurant 24Grille at The Westin Book Cadillac Detroit sued TripAdvisor last year in a Michigan court, claiming a negative review posted on the site amounted to libel and that TripAdvisor was negligent in allowing the “false” review to be published.

The April 2009 lawsuit, unearthed this week by the blog, was withdrawn by the restaurant after attorneys concluded it was unlikely to be successful. The hurdle that faced the restaurant—and which hoteliers planning to sue TripAdvisor may have to overcome—is a U.S. federal law called the Communications Decency Act of 1996 which “provides immunity from liability for providers and users of an ‘interactive computer service’ who publish information provided by others,” as long as the defendant is not the original creator of the information. In other words, if TripAdvisor does not write the review, it is not responsible for its content under the law.

The ongoing hotelier uprising against TripAdvisor is being led by Kwikchex, a UK-based online reputation-management firm. Chris Emmins, the cofounder of Kwikchex, tells that the 1996 law was intended to cover Internet service providers, not individual websites, and he notes that the law was written before the advent of social media.