California ' Yelp Law' Shields Online Reviewers

Under a new California law, companies could be slapped with thousands of dollars in fines for trying to punish consumers for writing negative online reviews.

The so-called Yelp Law makes it unlawful for a company to insert a provision into a consumer contract that waives the right to make "any statement" about the goods or services purchased. The statute makes it illegal to try to enforce such a provision or otherwise penalize a consumer for a review.

Companies that disobey the law could face fines of up to $5,000. The maximum penalty is $10,000 for willful, intentional, or reckless violations. The law doesn't prevent a company from bringing a defamation lawsuit accusing a consumer of lying about a company product or service.

Scott Michelman, a lawyer with Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer-advocacy firm, said he believed California was the first state with such a law. Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law Tuesday.

Yelp, which is urging states to pass similar consumer protections, praised its passage.

"From time to time we hear about businesses that are so afraid of what their customers might say about them that they sneak clauses into consumer contracts designed to forbid their customers from saying anything bad about them on sites like Yelp," Laurent Crenshaw, a lobbyist at Yelp Inc., wrote in a blog post.

Apple Watch Name Was No Secret—In Trinidad

For months, consumers and the media speculated on what Apple Inc. would call its new smartwatch.

Predictions that it would be dubbed iWatch were proved wrong Tuesday when the company lifted the curtain on the Apple Watch.

But Apple months earlier planted clues in a southern Caribbean trademark office, 4,000 miles from the company's Cupertino, Calif., home.

On March 11, the company submitted a trademark application for Apple Watch in Trinidad and Tobago, an archipelagic republic off the coast of Venezuela with a population just above one million people.

Trinidad and Tobago and the U.S. are signatories to an international treaty allowing applicants to secure rights in a foreign country and then transfer them to their home country. So if another company trying to acquire the same trademark filed its application after that date, it would take a back seat to Apple's.

A spokeswoman for Apple didn't respond to a request for comment.

Sotomayor Raises Alarm About Domestic Drones

Americans should be more concerned about the spread of drones, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said.

Speaking at Oklahoma City University's law school Thursday on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Justice Sotomayor said "frightening" changes in surveillance technology should encourage citizens to take a more active role in the privacy debate.

She said she was particularly troubled by the potential for commercial and government drones to compromise personal privacy. Technological advances make it possible for devices to "listen to your conversations from miles away and through your walls," Justice Sotomayor said. "We are in that brave new world, and we are capable of being in that Orwellian world, too."

Justice Sotomayor, the first Hispanic justice, also talked about diversity on the high-court bench, saying there was room for improvement beyond race, ethnicity and gender. "We don't have one criminal-defense lawyer on our court," she said. The high court also lacks justices with experience at big law firms or solo practices. "There's something not good about that."

—Jacob Gershman

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