The information currently provided on this page applies to rating and review sites operated by companies in the United States. We hope to add information on the legal status of these sites in other countries in the future.
In most cases, rating and review websites operate as "interactive computer services" who publish information provided by others. In the United States, these sites are protected from legal liability by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.
There have been several high profile court cases that have upheld the "Section 230" protections.
There is additional information, and an archive of relevant cases, on the Electronic Frontier Foundation website.
This law, enacted in late 2016, precludes contracts that would prevent consumers from posting reviews of the company or services provided. It also prevents companies from claiming a copyright interest in reviews (a tool that was used to prevent reviews from being posted and shared).
Rating sites, and individuals who post ratings, are sometimes sued by businesses or individuals who oppose their rights to freely express their opinions. These suits are called "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation," or SLAPPs.
Many states offer legal protections against SLAPPs, allowing the defendants to counter-sue and collect substantial damages. For broad information on SLAPPs and anit-SLAPP protection, see Wikipedia.
There is more detailed information about defending against a SLAPP at thefirstamendment.org.
At least one rating and review site, assisted by the ACLU, has used anti-SLAPP protections to block a lawsuit by professors suing a website where students posted critiques of their teachers.
Several prominent organizations have recognized the importance of our right to freedom of expression on the Internet, and have given valuable assistance and defense to websites threatened by lawsuits. These organizations include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and the California Anti-SLAPP Project (CASP).
For additional information on attempts to suppress free speech on the Internet, visit the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse at ChillingEffects.com, a project of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in cooperation with clinics and several law schools.
Members of the Rating and Review Professional Association can discuss recent court cases and precedents in the Member Forum.