Senate Committee Protecting Free Speech

UPDATE March 8, 2016: H.R. 2110 is languishing in committee.  No update.  

UPDATE December 15, 2015:  S. 2044 was amended by S.Amdt 2927 and passed the Senate by Unanimous Consent!  The Amendments were essentially small revisions to the text to make it consistent with other laws.  Now, it is up to the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade to take action on H.R. 2110.

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The Senate Commerce Committee approved the Consumer Review Freedom Act.  This Act prohibits businesses from restricting their customers from writing negative reviews.  It came about when companies starting requiring customers to sign non-negotiable contracts for services that included a clause prohibiting publication of negative reviews, and even imposing fines if the customer posted a negative review.

One of the witnesses at the Senate Committee hearing, Jen Palmer, posted a negative online review about a website [check out information at Public Citizen].  The website’s Terms of Service had a non-disparagment clause (actually, the clause was added after Ms. Palmer used the website) and when Ms. Palmer did not remove the negative review, the website demanded that she pay $3,500 in damages.  Ms. Palmer refused to pay and the website reported the $3,500 to credit reporting agencies as an unpaid debt, which Ms. Palmer contested but the debt remained on her husband’s credit report and negatively impacted loans and interest rates that they paid. With pro bono legal representation from Public Citizen, the Palmers were able to resolve their credit issues.

For those business owners who have fraudulent negative reviews, this Act does not limit the business owners right to fight such fraudulent behavior.  But, even with a non-disparagement clause, someone willing to write a fraudulent review would likely not be swayed to act differently if he/she signed a non-disparagement clause.

So, this bill bestows consumer rights without taking away tools available to businesses to protect their reputations.

The Senate bill (S. 2044) is now going to the full Senate.  Contact your Senators and urge approval of S. 2044.

The House companion bill (H.R. 2110) has been referred to the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade.  Let’s encourage the members of this House Committee to review and send to the full House.

If you interested, you can listen/see the Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

 

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