Saturday, August 22, 2015

Are Yelp Reviewers "Employees"?

In an interesting decision, the Northern District of California (where the Uber and Lyft cases both arose) recently ruled that Yelp reviewers are not employees.  This is true despite the allegations that the individuals were purportedly told to write the reviews, and did so under the control and at the direction of the company.  In the case, Jeung v. Yelp, Judge Seeborg writes that a "reasonable inference is that plaintiffs and the putative class members may contribute reviews under circumstances that either cannot be reasonably characterized as performing a service to Yelp at all  or that at most would constitute acts of volunteerism."  An interesting article on the case over at points out a "core weakness of the plaintiffs’ case" is that "they apparently seek to impose an employment relationship because website users provide value to a user-generated content website, but many value exchanges between businesses and vendors/customers are well outside of employment law."

This case -- like Uber and Lyft -- points out the difficulty with trying to fit modern businesses under the current employment law rubric.  The issue has obviously captured the attention of the legal community, and the broader public as well.

-- Joe Seiner

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I'm not quite sure how the Courts found that these authors were not employed, if Yelp directed their work flows to that extent. I have and do post on Yelp sometimes, but they never have tried to tell me I must write, demand to control the subject of a review, or even ask me to write. However, if they did.... You bet I'd expect to get paid. Which brings me to my point, which is that these Yelp authors should be suing on intellectual property, copyright licensing, right to reproduce and distribute, as well as royalties. Employment law seems like an over complicated way to attack the issue, and get done what the authors want done. They should re-constitute the class as intellectual property right and royalty holders, seeking compensation for unlawfully used and unauthorized use of their property.

Posted by: Joel Drotts | Sep 21, 2015 2:29:45 AM

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