Local State Delegate Introduces ‘Right to Yelp’ Law in Annapolis

Law would make it illegal for businesses to ban customers from posting negative reviews online


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Screenshot via Yelp

It could soon be illegal for businesses in Maryland to use the fine print of contracts to ban customers from posting negative reviews online.

District 18 Del. Jeff Waldstreicher, who represents Chevy Chase, Kensington and parts of Bethesda and Silver Spring, introduced a bill that would prohibit businesses from using non-disparagement clauses to keep customers from posting negative reviews on sites such as Yelp, Amazon and eBay.

The bill is virtually identical to legislation passed in 2014 in California that became known as the “Right to Yelp” law.

Waldstreicher said Wednesday the California law drew his attention to the issue.

While there are no known examples of a non-disparagement clause being used against a customer in Maryland, Waldstreicher pointed to a hotel in New York that included terms in its wedding contracts that a wedding couple could be fined $500 if any of its guests left a negative review.

In 2012, an online retailer called KlearGear.com invoked a non-disparagement clause to try to fine a Utah couple $3,500 for a critical online review posted in 2009.

In another well-known example, a New York dentist’s service contract said that each patient gave up the right to criticize the dentist publicly. In 2010, the dentist demanded that one patient who posted critical reviews to Yelp pay $100 per day for copyright damages.

Waldstreicher worked on a Maryland version with District 20 Del. David Moon. In a hearing on the bill Wednesday in Annapolis, there was no opposition. Waldstreicher expects the bill to get backing at the committee level and head to the full House of Delegates by the end of the session.

“My hope is that this bill will pass easily and on a bipartisan basis,” said Waldstreicher, who pointed to support for the bill from the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition and Attorney General Brian Frosh.

“Nothing in the bill prevents a vendor of goods or services from suing a consumer for defamation,” Waldstreicher said. “If the consumer is untruthful in any way, the vendor still has a right to sue.”

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