With little fanfare and even less dissent, Congress has passed a bill that protects consumers' right to post reviews of businesses. The measure now awaits President Obama's signature.
The Consumer Review Fairness Act sailed through the House in September and was unanimously passed by the Senate last week. It outlaws the use of "gag clauses" by businesses trying to silence criticism of products and services.
"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 Commerce Committee held a hearing on gag clauses on November 4, 2015, featuring testimony from Ms. Jen Palmer, a plaintiff in Palmer v. KlearGear, where a company demanded the removal of a negative online review or payment of $3,500 in fines because the online merchant’s terms of service included a non-disparagement clause.
When the review was not taken down, the company reported the unpaid $3,500 to a credit reporting agency as an outstanding debt, which negatively impacted the Palmers’ credit.
The charge was based on a non-disparagement clause in the site's terms and conditions. It's that kind of fine print the bill outlaws.
The measure 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.