The lawsuit [PDF], filed last in a federal court in California, accuses the people behind at least three sites — YelpDirector, Revpley, and Revleap.me — of trademark infringement, unfair competition, cybersquatting, contract interference, along with a state-level claim of false advertising.
Yelp says these sites “try to game the system” and undermine Yelp users’ trust in reviews by using “fraudulent reviews” and “invasive spam.”
According to the complaint, pitch e-mails sent by YelpDirector’s operators to potential clients explained the company had “invented a software that allows you to proactively generate a large number of 4 and 5 star reviews from your customers in a way that makes them stick to the front page of Yelp.”
Additionally, YelpDirector claimed that “All reviews 3 star and below are filtered by the system and never posted online.”
Other e-mails cited in the lawsuit makes the extraordinary claim that using the YelpDirector software would somehow result in 1-3 star reviews being sent to “your e-mail for quality control,” and that the company could “remove bad reviews” from Yelp.
Except, as Yelp points out in the complaint, the defendants have no ability to do any of the things they promise.
After receiving a cease-and-desist notice from Yelp asking YelpDirector to stop using the Yelp name and trademark in its marketing and name, stop spamming Yelp-listed businesses, and stop promising to “alter, filter, post or sell Yelp reviews,” YelpDirector said it would oblige.
But the complaint states that the company merely started making similar promises to Yelp-listed businesses through the Revpley and Revleap.me websites.
“Our software posts a large amount of 4 and 5 star reviews to your profile in a way that makes them stay in the recommended section, while getting rid of negative reviews” reads the sales pitch from the new sites. “We enable [customers] to review you in a new way, and filter out the ones you would like.”
Again, the company made promises that it could remove or filter out bad reviews for subscribers.
“All reviews are gathered, 4 & 5 Star are posted to review platforms you designate,” reads material from the defendants’ site. “3 Star and below are withheld in the Control Center for your quality control.”
The defendants are also accused of using gift cards as an enticement for positive reviews. The sites would send out e-mail surveys on behalf of their subscribers. Users who filled out a positive review were then directed to write reviews on Yelp in exchange for being entered into a raffle to win a $100 gift card.
But even this didn’t appear to work. As noted in the complaint, one maid service business that used Revleap to solicit reviews still has only a 1.5-star rating on Yelp.
Yelp’s trademark infringement and dilution claims against Revleap, et al, are based upon the sites’ continued use of the Yelp name and logo in marketing its services. Yelp believes this gives consumers the false notion of an affiliation with these sites when in fact no such arrangement exists.
The complaint also accuses the defendants of interfering with Yelp’s contractual agreements “by inducing certain Yelp users to violate” the Yelp Terms of Service.
In a blog post, Yelp’s VP of Communications and Public Affairs Vince Sollitto says that Yelp-listed companies that get involved with services that promise to game the review system are at risk with regard to the site’s “Consumer Alert” program, which flags businesses believed to be manipulating their reviews.
“We hope that taking action against Revleap will put a stop to their misleading practices,” writes Sollitto, “and also help businesses distinguish between companies that are playing by the rules and those that are using Yelp’s name to make a dollar by taking advantage of unsuspecting small businesses.”