Congress Passes Bill Protecting Consumer Reviews

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A bill protecting US customers' right to post negative online reviews is awaiting the President's signature.

The Senate this week unanimously passed legislation that will outlaw the use of "gag clauses" by businesses trying to silence criticism of products and services.

Following its introduction in the fall of 2015, the Consumer Review Fairness Act gained House approval in September and proceeded through the Senate on Monday.

"By ending gag clauses, this legislation supports consumer rights and the integrity of critical feedback about products and services sold online," John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, said in a statement.

The commission last year held a hearing on gag clauses, featuring testimony from a plaintiff in the 2013 case of Palmer v. KlearGear. The Internet retailer was sued by John and Jen Palmer after billing the customers $3,500 for a negative review. The charge, according to the Commerce Committee, was based on a non-disparagement clause in the site's terms and conditions.

That sort of fine print, however, will soon be illegal.

The Consumer Review Fairness Act voids any provision of a form contract that prohibits or restricts individuals from posting written, oral, or pictorial reviews about the goods, services, or conduct of a company.

"Reviews on where to shop, eat, or stay on websites like Yelp or TripAdvisor help consumers make informed choices about where to spend their money," Internet subcommittee ranking member Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said in a statement.

According to Ars Technica, the bill also protects reviews that aren't available via the Internet.

"Every consumer has the right to share their honest experiences and opinions of any business without the fear of legal retaliation, and the passage of our bill brings us one step closer to protecting that right," Schatz said.

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