January 18, 2022

Volume XII, Number 18

Advertisement
Advertisement

January 15, 2022

Subscribe to Latest Legal News and Analysis

Court Validates Angie’s List Business Model of Consumer Protection Under the Communications Decency Act

Angie's List and its members can celebrate a victory at the hands of a contractor who sued Angie’s List several years ago. The lawsuit was triggered by the contractor’s disagreement about certain postings by Angie's List members on the Angie’s List Web site, www.angieslist.com, concerning work performed by the contractor. The decision issued by a District of Columbia Court came after years of contentious litigation in which the contractor, Stephen Sieber, and his business, SCS Contracting Group, complained that Angie’s List, some of Angie's List’s members and the Washington Post financially ruined SCS and Sieber. The Washington Post had published articles about Sieber’s dispute with Angie’s List and its members. Sieber claimed damages in excess of $60 million. The Court exonerated Angie's List, its members and the Washington Post on all issues. A copy of the decision can be accessed here.

Angie's List was one of the first Internet sites to afford protection to consumers via online Internet ratings from other consumers. In holding that Angie's List was immune from defamation suits based on the postings of third parties on its interactive Internet site, the Court validated Angie's List's business model, which is a cornerstone of consumer protection on the Internet.
           
For nearly 15 years, Angie’s List has helped millions of consumers make informed decisions as to whom they should hire for various services (from plumbers and painters to dentists and dermatologists). Today, Angie’s List members can research, rate and review service providers across 450 different categories in more than 120 cities around the United States. Angie's List encourages honest assessment of service providers, so with more than 40,000 reports being submitted each month, not all of the comments contain positive comments about service providers. The fact is, Angie’s List’s members rely on each other to provide unbiased and reliable reviews (good or bad). It is this type of assessment by Angie's List members that adds the real value to the site for other Angie's List members.
           
Angie’s List has developed numerous mechanisms to promote honest, reliable and valuable feedback. For example, Angie’s List prohibits service providers from submitting reports about themselves or their competitors. It also allows service providers to register with the Web site so they are notified when a report about them is submitted, and it gives the service provider an opportunity to respond, as long as the service provider follows an established protocol. The result has been a Web site that allows consumers to make more informed decisions about who they hire and allows service providers the opportunity to monitor customers' comments.
           
It is not surprising that some service providers disagree with comments by their customers.  In Sieber's case, he charged (among many other things) that Angie’s List should be held liable for postings by its members about his business and also for refusing to publish his responses. In rejecting those claims, the Court stated that:
 
It is important to specify that Angie’s List is immune from defamation suits based on the postings of third parties on its interactive Internet site, according to the federal law known as the Communications Decency Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. §230 (c) (1). This is why the plaintiffs have no basis for suing based upon anything posted on Angie’s List.
 
The federal law commonly known as the Communications Decency Act provides that a Web site operator is not considered the “speaker” of any information placed on its Web site by another person, assuming the Internet operator complies with the definitions and requirements of the Act. Here, the content was on Angie's List, but was provided by Angie's List members. 
 
It is also important to Angie's List that its members know that they are protected by the law for making truthful statements on the Angie's List Web site. Angie's List believes that its members should feel vindicated in this multi-year struggle that Angie's List protected their opinions as expressed on the Web site.
 
The Court also rejected Sieber's claims that Angie’s List wrongfully denied him the “right” to publish a response. The Court clarified that legally Sieber had no legal "right" to a response, even if he conformed with applicable Angie’s List’s policies concerning responses by contractors. In this instance, Sieber failed to comply with Angie's List policies and therefore his response was not posted. Angie's List did send a notice to its members about Sieber's company and published an article in its member's magazine that included some of Sieber's comments, but the Court found that these comments were also not defamatory. 
 
In today’s Internet marketplace, an increasing number of companies are providing a Web site forum where customers or members can post information and share their thoughts or experiences. This recent ruling validates that the Communications Decency Act provides immunity to Web site operators who operate within the requirements of the Act.
© 2003-2022, Ice Miller LLP National Law Review, Volume , Number 35
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

About this Author

Melanie E. Harris, Litigation Attorney, Ice Miller Law Firm

Melanie Harris is a partner at Ice Miller, and is a member of Ice Miller's Business Litigation Group. She focuses on litigating business disputes, and drafting and enforcing restrictive covenants and confidentiality agreements in the employment, sale of business and business-to-business contexts.  She also advises clients on litigation avoidance, competitive business issues and strategies to protect their business interests.  For example, Ms. Harris's experience includes the following:

  • Representing clients in litigated business disputes,...
317-236-5996
Michael Wukmer, Litigation Attorney, Ice Miller Law Firm
Partner

Michael Wukmer is a partner in Ice Miller's Litigation Group. He advises clients concerning simple and complex disputes of all types and handles arbitration and court proceedings including trials and appeals.

Michael also works closely with attorneys in other Ice Miller practice groups such as Corporate and Private Equity, Data Security and Privacy, Food and Agribusiness, Public Affairs, Intellectual Property, Municipal Finance and Real Estate.

Michael is best described as a no-nonsense litigator who helps clients work...

317-236-2439
George Gasper, Ice Miller, Litigation lawyer
Partner

George Gasper is a partner in Ice Miller's Business Litigation Group and a member of the Firm’s Internet of Things industry group. He is an experienced litigator focused on resolving disputes to help clients achieve strategic objectives and gain a competitive advantage. His practice focuses on antitrust law, advertising and other unfair competition issues, securities law, trademark enforcement, franchise disputes, and products liability. He also counsels clients on several aspects of developing government regulations, including those impacting the Internet of Things....

317-236-2275
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement