A law that would provide some protection from companies that try to demand cash from you for posting a bad Yelp review about them is one step closer to reality.

L.A.-based Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez's AB 2365 would make it unlawful to sue or penalize consumers for “for making any statement regarding the consumer's experience,” according to the language.

However, there are still ways companies can get you to halt negative reviews:
The bill says retailers can't sue or threaten you over negative reviews on Yelp and other sites unless you “knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived his or her right to do so.”

It's clear the legislation is going after tricky attempts to thwart your rights – fine print that's endorsed with the click of a button. What's not clear to us is how you would otherwise “knowingly” sign away these rights.

Perez spokesman John Vigna said the idea was to prevent retailers from retaliating when all you've done is click “accept” on “terms of use” contracts that nobody ever reads. Vigna told us:

It is aimed essentially at the language that's burried in terms of use agreements that most people would just click everyday. We all do that, essentially. But these are potentially unenforceable. This bill clarifies state law and says, 'No, you can't do that.'

… An actual contract that was negotiated would be considered fair game under this legislation, but it goes beyond that. Simply adding a provision into the terms of use wouldn't satisfy the standard in this bill …

The lawmaker's office adds:

Credit: Office of John A. Perez

Credit: Office of John A. Perez

Speaker Pérez' bill makes it clear that these agreements must be openly negotiated and if they are not, allows not only the consumer but also the Attorney General, a district attorney or city attorney to protect these free speech rights.

The bill passed the California Assembly Judiciary Committee on a 10-0 vote last week. We reached out to Consumer Watchdog's Jamie Court, who indicated the legislation sounded good on the surface. But he said he would withhold judgement until reading the fine print.

Perez says he was inspired to introduce the bill after learning of a Utah couple that was hit with a $3,500 penalty demand by an online retailer that claimed the pair violated a “non-disparagement” clause in its terms of sale.

The pair claimed they never received what they paid for, and the duo let that be known for the online world to see.

The meat of the proposal says:

It shall be unlawful to threaten or seek to enforce a provision made unlawful under this section, or to otherwise penalize a consumer for making any statement regarding the consumer's experience with a seller or lessor, or its employees or agent, unless the consumer has knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived his or her right to do so.

Companies who go after consumers for violating tricky terms of agreement would face $2,500 to $10,000 fines, depending on how reckless the violation is or whether it's a first or second-time incident. Perez:

Most of us assume we have just as many rights after making a purchase as we did before. If a merchant thinks our First Amendment free speech rights need to be curtailed, they should say so, up front, and in plain language.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow LA Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.

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