Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Yelp, Inc. – The Online Review Saga Continues

I found this summary of a local northern Virginia business suing Yelp for leaving up false and damaging user reviews to be fascinating and I would love to see what the outcome is.  It has big implications for the whole online review process.  I'd like to see "trolls" get their come-uppance.

Yelp, Inc. – The Online Review Saga Continues
(By Matthew A. Lafferman, Alexandria Chamber Of Commerce newsletter)

In our March issue, we reported on two recent Virginia court cases dealing with false and damaging online reviews. There has been an important development in one of these cases, as of the parties, the online review website Yelp, has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Hadeed’s Defamation Suit
In Yelp, Inc. v. Hadeed Carpet Cleaning Inc., a carpet cleaning business based in Alexandria, Virginia, Hadeed Carpet Cleaning (“Hadeed”), filed a defamation lawsuit against seven anonymous individuals who posted on Yelp negative reviews about Hadeed. A day after filing suit, Hadeed issued a subpoena to Yelp to require it to identify those persons who posted the allegedly false statements. After Yelp refused, the trial court ordered Yelp to identify the individuals.

Court of Appeals Decision
Subsequently, Yelp appealed the ruling to the Virginia Court of Appeals on the grounds that permitting subpoenas requesting the identity of anonymous online posters violated the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In January 2014, however, the appeals court upheld the trial court and ordered Yelp to identify the individuals to Hadeed. In doing so, the court explained that anonymous speech is not entitled to First Amendment protection when the speech is false or defamatory.  

Furthermore, the court of appeals found that Hadeed had met the standard for issuing the subpoena by showing it had a legitimate, good faith basis for believing that the reviews were false. The court relied upon the fact that Hadeed had submitted evidence to the court that the persons who had posted the reviews had not even been Hadeed’s customers. 

Appeal to Virginia Supreme Court 
Yelp has now filed a petition for appeal with the Supreme Court of Virginia, asking the Supreme Court to overturn the Court of Appeals’ order. Yelp contends that allowing the appellate court’s order to stand would allow a company to discover an anonymous online poster merely by telling a court that the business’ “critics are not customers.” Yelp further argues that in many other states where courts have considered the issue, the state courts have protected the identity of anonymous posters unless the party seeking the information can produce evidence that the online posting is false, which Hadeed has failed to satisfy.

In opposing Yelp’s appeal, Hadeed argues that Virginia law correctly balances the interests of anonymous speakers with the interests of a person or business responding to false online postings.  Requiring a party to prove falsity before learning the identity of those who posted the reviews, Hadeed argues, would give anonymous online posters a “license to defame.”

Impact of the Appeal
Either way, a Supreme Court decision will shape how businesses keep customer records and utilize online review platforms. If the Supreme Court overturns the Court of Appeals’ decision and requires greater proof of falsity before a business can learn the identity of online posters, many businesses may require more detailed information from customers in an effort to more effectively identify and respond to false reviews. On the other hand, if the court upholds the decision, some former customers may be discouraged from posting negative reviews on websites out of fear of potential lawsuits. This could substantially reduce the usefulness of these online review websites for businesses to promote their products and services. Accordingly, all Virginia businesses need to keep abreast of further developments in the case.

Matthew Lafferman is an associate attorney in the Alexandria law firm of DiMuroGinsberg, P.C. 


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Book Quiz

Bookday Quiz Inspired By The Borough Press But With Major Alterations By Me
What book have you read that that fits each of these descriptions?

1.       Favorite Book From Childhood- The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.  Adventure, romance, intrigue, and swordfights.  What boy doesn’t love the Musketeers? 

2.       Favorite Series From Childhood- Tie: The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner, The Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon, The Three Investigators by Robert Arthur, Jr.  Long before binge-TV-watching came long, there were binge-reading sessions and these are the top series that I did that with.

3.       Favorite Children’s or Young Adult Book/Series Read As An Adult- Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.  I would have said Harry Potter but there were enough things that bugged me in that series that I can’t put it first.  I hated the death of Dumbledore, the overall lack of extended battle scenes and confrontations, how petulant Harry was at times and the excruciating first half of the “Order Of the Phoenix” book where Harry was a whiny teenager.  I think I was also influenced by how mediocre some of the Harry Potter movies were, while the first two Hunger Games movies have been very good.

4.       One With A Blue Cover- Tie: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins and A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle

5.       Least Favorite Book By A Favorite Author- Tie: Desperation or Tommyknockers by Stephen King

6.       The One I Always Give People To Read- On A Pale Horse by Piers Anthony.  Wildly inventive and emotional science fiction.

7.       It Changed My Way Of Thinking- A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving.  Self-sacrifice, compassion, humility, straight-forwardness and an absolute lack of cynicism.  Owen Meany is a much better person than I am and I should learn more from him.

8.       Own More Than One Edition- Every book in the Modesty Blaise series.  I got into this series way before e-Bay or Kindle, back when out of print books were hard to come by, so every time I saw a copy of a book in this series, I bought it.  Plus, I got to see different covers on the different editions and sometimes that along was worth the purchase.  I did the same thing with the James Bond series.

9.       Film Or TV Tie-In- Mr. Monk And The Two Assistants by Lee Goldberg.  While watching the Monk television series, I always wondered which assistant Monk would pick as his favorite and this book answered the question perfectly.

10.   Favorite Film Adapted From A Book- Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.  The movie is different enough that it’s almost like there are two versions of this story to enjoy. The movie not only did it right, they might even have done it better than the book.

11.   Reminds Me Of Someone I Love- A Taste For Death by Peter Collins.  Willie’s attitude toward Modesty Blaise is one that I sometimes feel for Julie.  I worship her at the same time as I try to be worthy of her.

12.   Second Hand Bookshop Gem- The Beatles Forever by Nicholas Schaffner.  I really got into the
Beatles in high school and read lots of Beatles books.  This was the most fascinating, informative one.

13.   I Pretend To Have Read It- The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.  I’ll get to it one day but it isn’t high on my list. When people reference it, I don’t offer up that I haven’t read it.  I just nod knowingly.

14.   Couldn’t Make Myself Finish It- Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  After my high school English teacher chewed out the entire class for not doing the reading assignment for that day (and we hadn’t), I just figured I might as well read the Cliff’s Notes instead and not bother with the book since I’d already got the stern lecture.  For a different reason, I also couldn’t finish The Bachman Books by Stephen King.  I loved the stories so much, I didn’t want the book to be over so 20 years ago I stopped halfway through reading the last story in the collection (“The Running Man”).

15.   Makes Me Laugh- Pure Drivel by Steve Martin

16.   Make Me Cry Every Time I Read It- Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants by Ann Brashares.  There are four characters and four different storylines.  Some are fun fluff but then there’s the one that involves Bailey.  I think the more you like a character, the more they can affect you, and I really liked Bailey.

17.   It Inspires Me- Pure Drivel by Steve Martin.  Every story in this collection is clever, intelligent, funny and slightly absurd or offbeat.  It’s the way I think when I write even though I am nowhere close to matching the quality of Steve Martin’s writing.

18.   Favorite Fictional Father or Mother- Keith Mars in Veronica Mars: Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas.  Yes, this is a bit of a stretch but it is a book.  The author wrote it as a folowup to the Veronica Mars movie because he had more ideas to explore.  Since Keith Mars is one of my favorite television fathers, I picked him for the book version too.  Plus, I am at a loss to think of many more literary parents.  Most books seem to have either absent or despicable parents so I don’t have many options to sift through. 

19.   Can’t Believe More People Haven’t Read This- Where The Truth Lies by Rupert Holmes.  This is written by the same guy who wrote and performed the song “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” and is every bit as intricate and touching as the song is.

20.   Future Classic- The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  This is what my teen-hood was like.  It wasn’t “Sweet Valley High” or “Catcher In The Rye”.

21.   Bought On A Personal Recommendation- I don’t think I have ever bought something solely because it was recommended to me.  Also, there are not that many people I know who have similar enough taste to mine that I would buy a book “blind” just because they suggested it.  For example, John reads lots of “urban fiction”, i.e. vampire/werewolf characters and those mostly leave me cold.  If I want fantasy, I want it to be science fiction or alternate realm fantasy but not the kind where every person and locations has some ridiculous name and I have to spend the whole book keeping track of what’s what.  (Which is why I don’t think I’ll read any Games Of Thrones books.) The Thomas Covenant series or the Hobbit or the Childe Cycle are the types of books that appeal to me in that genre.  Now, back in junior high school, John did loan me Superfolks by Robert Mayer and I liked that.  It had superheroes and sex so that made it a perfect book for a junior high school kid.  Years later, the book came back into print and I bought it for the sake of nostalgia.

22.   Still Can’t Stop Talking About It- Pure Drivel by Steve Martin.  C’mon folks, this is genius work here.  I’ve never read a better collection of short works.

23.   Favorite Cover- Man Of Bronze by Kenneth Robeson.  The James Bama cover summed up everything that was awesome about the Doc Savage stories.

24.   Favorite Illustrated Edition- The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, illustrated by Norman Price

25.   Current Summer Read- The Death Cure by James Dashner.  The third book in the Maze Runner trilogy.

26.   Favorite Love Story- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.  It captures the frustration, torment, joy and  heartbreak that is possible when you find your true love and try to win her heart.

27.   Favorite Sexy Book-  Tie: Emmanuelle by Emmanuelle Arsan and The Coffee Tea Or Me Girls by Trudy Baker and Rachel Jones.  Serious, meaningful/meaningless sex balanced by lighthearted, mostly “off-camera” sex.  Both have their virtues.

28.   Unfortunately Out Of Print- Just Another Day In Paradise by A.E. Maxwell.  One of my favorite mystery series.  I’m so sad that the series is over even though the writer (Ann Maxwell / Elizabeth Lowell and her husband Evan) is still writing to this day.  This was a sort of hardboiled, sort of romantic, sort of thriller hybrid.

29.   Had To Read It At School- Least Favorite- Light In August by William Faulkner.  Ugh, I don’t care what it “means”.

30.   Had To Read It At School- Most Favorite- The Crying Of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon.  I want to know what it means but the author won’t tell me, not even after repeated readings.  Worse, that’s what he intended to do.

31.   Got Me To Start Reading- Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss.  My dad read this to me as a kid and I was hooked on books.  I wanted to hear stories for more than 15 minutes a night so I learned to read. 

32.   Want To Be One Of The Characters (& Which One)- Melrose Plant in The Old Silent by Martha Grimes.  He’s just so laid back, unknowingly charming and slightly sarcastic and he helps the main character solve mysteries in his free time.

33.   Favorite I Received As A Gift- Phil Gordon’s Little Green Book by Phil Gordon.  It’s a poker book that Mike gave me and several of the tips and lessons have been invaluable.  The rule of 4 and 2 have guided me through a countless number of deliberations when playing poker.

34.   The One I Have Re-Read Most Often- The Count Of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  Everything I said about The Three Musketeers has been magnified here.  This isn’t really about adventure and swashbuckling, it’s about life choices and the consequences of one’s actions.

35.   Would Save If My House Was Burning Down- Picture Of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde.  Because of how I acquired it and where it came from:  http://richardsrantingandramblings.blogspot.com/2008/12/no-fate-but-what-we-make.html

36.   Wished I Had Written It- The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. I enjoyed the story and I would be mega-rich if I was the author.  Plus, Brown had already written several books by then and wasn’t overwhelmed by the fame.  Unfortunately, he seems to have gotten into a rut.  His latest, Inferno, was a bit lame.  At least he is still rich.

37.   I Don’t Understand The Hype- 50 Shades Of Grey by E.L. James.  The protagonist is a sadistic, right?  The sex is steamy but there is no real love to be found, is there?  Why does everyone read this book?

38.   Traumatized Me As A Child- The Voyages Of Dr. Doolittle by Hugh Lofting.  When Dr. Doolittle travelled under the sea inside a giant snail’s shell and discussed with him the great flood that God sent down on earth, killing almost everyone on earth, I felt a massive existential angst.  I became aware of death and sorrow and helplessness in the face of the universe.  I couldn’t believe a kid’s book would put these ideas and feelings in my heart.  To this day, it still crushes me when I contemplate this storyline.

39.   Favorite Science Fiction Book- Adventures Of The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison.  Like the three Musketeers meets Star Wars but the protagonist is not virtuous.  He’s a thief and a rebel.  This is the “heist movie” of the book world.  Anarchy is the main subtext.

40.   Favorite Historical Fiction- Lincoln by Gore Vidal.  Shows why Lincoln is a titan in American history.

41.   Favorite Non-Fiction- Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.  You are there and scared to death.

42.   Favorite Classic Book- Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen.  So much fun to read, unlike Art Of War by Sun Tzo or Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton or Moby Dick by Herman Melville.  Now Dracula by Bram Stoker would make a good second choice.

43.   Favorite Modern Classic- Tie: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby and World According To Garp by John Irving,  Both will break your heart and put them back together again in an entirely new configuration.

44.   Book Written By Someone You Know- Pillow Stalk by Diane Vallere.  Someone I went to college with has written a mystery.  Several of them in fact, and they are all fun reads.  I picked this one because I was actually made into a minor character in the story.   

45.   Favorite Memoir/Autobiography- Tie: Life Is A Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield and Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman.  They both show how music and love seem to go together so naturally.

46.   Favorite Non-Memoir Book By A Celebrity- Dating Dead Men by Harley Jane Kozak. 

47.   Your Recommendation That No One Appreciates- The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams by Laurence Block.  One person liked this book and read more in the series, one person never read it and a third gave me back the book I loaned them and said “I didn’t like it and stopped halfway through.” I give up.

48.   Favorite Collection Of Poetry- William Shakespeare’s Sonnets.  Everything poets try to say, Shakespeare already said hundreds of years ago.

49.   Favorite Genre Defying Book- A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle.  Young Adult?  Sci-fi?  Family drama?  Pseudo-religion?  I don’t know but it is so good that it doesn’t matter that it is unclassifiable.

50.   Favorite Collection Of Comic Strips Or Comics- The Essential Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson.  The best comic strip ever created.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Local Transportation

Megabus Seat Reservations
(By Becky Krystal, Washington Post, May 24, 2014)

Bus riders may be familiar with the jockeying and nerves that go along with trying to secure the best seat or a seat next to your traveling companion. Starting May 28, Megabus will offer seat reservations on some of its routes, including New York City-Baltimore-Washington and Philadelphia-Washington (select trips). Only 10 seats per bus will be available for reserving, which will set you back an extra $3 to $7 depending on the seat. For more information, visit https://us.megabus.com/Default.aspx .