Billion Dollar Bully

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Billion Dollar Bully
Directed byKaylie Milliken
Produced byKaylie Milliken
Mellissa Wood
CinematographyJon Ingalls
Edited bySteven Sandhu
Distributed byProst Productions
Release date
May 21, 2019
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish

Billion Dollar Bully is a documentary film about Yelp and its alleged business practices. The film is directed by Kaylie Milliken and produced by Prost Productions.[1][2] The film was released on May 21, 2019.[3]

Production background[edit]

Milliken said that she decided to take on the project when her doctor told her that she had begun seeing negative Yelp reviews for her practice that she was unable to reconcile with actual patient visits, and that she had become convinced that some of the reviews were fictitious when a complaint was posted describing symptoms she had never seen in her practice.[4]

Business Insider reported that on the day following the film's initial press release and Kickstarter campaign, Yelp stock declined by 4% in afternoon trading.[5]

The Hollywood Reporter announced on August 12, 2015, that public relations specialist Michael Levine, would become the executive producer for Billion Dollar Bully. Levine has represented 58 Academy Award winners, most notably including Charlton Heston. The film has an unspecified budget, and some backers were requesting that they remain unnamed.[6]

Yelp response[edit]

An unnamed spokesperson for Yelp, commented to Business Insider, "The director has a conflict of interest, as she has a history of trying to mislead consumers on Yelp. There is no merit to the claims they appear to highlight, which have been repeatedly dismissed by courts of law, investigated by government regulators, including the FTC,[7] and disproven by academic study."[5] Milliken, however, has since responded to Yelp's allegations, citing the fact that the reviews in question had appeared before she and her husband were married and that repeated reviews were submitted due to a misunderstanding.[8]

Legal background[edit]

In Levitt v. Yelp! Inc. (2011), Judge Edward Chen, found that removal of positive reviews, or re-ordering of reviews, fell within the Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act's "traditional editorial functions." Additionally, the firm's motive and ethical underpinnings are irrelevant under Section 230's editorializing allowance. Judge Chen concluded: "The Ninth Circuit has made it clear that the need to defend against a proliferation of lawsuits, regardless of whether the provider ultimately prevails, undermines the purpose of section 230."[9]

This judgment was appealed, and in 2014 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that businesses do not have a pre-existing right to have positive reviews, and that "threatening economic harm to induce a person to pay" therefore was not extortion under California law. In its primary ruling, the court held that, "We conclude, first, that Yelp’s manipulation of user reviews was not wrongful use of economic fear, and, second, that the business owners pled insufficient facts to make out a plausible claim that Yelp authored negative reviews of their businesses. Accordingly, we agree with the district court that these allegations do not support a claim for extortion."[10](p. 12) Secondarily, "In sum, to state a claim of economic extortion under both federal and California law, a litigant must demonstrate either that he had a pre-existing right to be free from the threatened harm, or that the defendant had no right to seek payment for the service offered. Any less stringent standard would transform a wide variety of legally acceptable business dealings into extortion."[10](p. 18)

Eric Goldman, writing for Forbes Magazine, explains that extortion by economic threat is a narrow construct and that this ruling only addresses extortion.[11] Other 2014 pending cases against Yelp included false advertisement,[12] and securities fraud.[13]

After the Federal Trade Commission revealed a number of complaints, shareholders are taking Yelp to court, claiming Yelp artificially inflated the price of stock for its executive's benefit.

The Class Action lawsuit,[14] being led by investor Joseph Curry, focuses on Yelp's "first-hand" reviews. The suit says Yelp required businesses "to pay to suppress negative reviews," and then lied about the practice.

Crowdfunding campaigns[edit]

Billion Dollar Bully surpassed its initial Kickstarter funding goal of $60,000 by 150%.[15] Subsequent campaigns were held during the production phase, including an Indiegogo campaign.[16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Tiffany Wilson, ABC7 News (March 20, 2015)
  2. ^ "Yelp falls after plans for critical documentary announced". The Fly. 19 March 2015. Archived from the original on 14 April 2015. Retrieved 14 April 2015. According to the film's Director/producer Kaylie Milliken, "business owners from across a broad spectrum who have stepped up and agreed to tell their personal stories of Yelp's questionable business dealings, all of which are vehemently denied by Yelp." Yelp shares slid 2% to $45.88 in early trading this morning after Prost Productions issued a press release about the film last night.
  3. ^ https://www.prostfilms.com/blog/the-news-weve-been-waiting-to-deliver/
  4. ^ ZARA, CHRISTOPHER (11 March 2015). "Filmmaker interviews businesses who say Yelp blackmailed them". Business Insider. Archived from the original on 14 April 2015. Retrieved 14 April 2015. Kaylie Milliken: I was at a doctor about a year ago, and she started telling me about her experiences with Yelp. The more she talked about it, the more my jaw just kind of dropped. I knew that they had aggressive sales people -- my husband is a small-business owner and he’s complained before about how pushy they can be. But then she started telling me about receiving reviews, really negative reviews by clients, and she couldn’t figure out who these clients were.
  5. ^ a b UDLAND, MYLES (19 March 2015). "Yelp shares are getting whacked and traders are pointing to this documentary project on Kickstarter". Business Insider. Archived from the original on 14 April 2015. Retrieved 14 April 2015. Yelp shares were down as much as 4% in afternoon trade on Thursday, and traders are pointing to this Kickstarter project seeking to fund a documentary showing alleged abuses by the customer review service.
  6. ^ Bond, Paul (12 August 2015). "Yelp Accused of Mob-Like Behavior in Upcoming Documentary". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 14 August 2015. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  7. ^ FTC Document - 5,392 Complaints against Yelp / Extortion / Libel / Unfair Business ... https://www.muckrock.com/foi/united-states-of-america-10/how-many-ftc-complaints-against-yelp-as-of-july-2016-26665/#file-103928
  8. ^ http://www.eater.com/2016/7/21/12248622/yelp-film-billion-dollar-bully
  9. ^ Neuburger, Jeff (10 November 2011). "Service Provider's Intent in Removing Positive Reviews Irrelevant in Assessing Availability of CDA Section 230 Protection". Proskauer Rose LLP. Archived from the original on 15 April 2015. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  10. ^ a b Levitt v. Yelp! Inc., 765 F.3d 1123 (9th Cir. 2014)
  11. ^ Goldman, Eric (3 September 2014). "Court Says Yelp Doesn't Extort Businesses". Forbes Magazine. Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  12. ^ Goldman, Eric (30 July 2014). "Does Yelp Have The 'Most Trusted Reviews'? A Court Wants To Know More". Forbes Magazine. Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  13. ^ PRESS RELEASE (6 August 2014). "Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP Files Class Action Suit against Yelp Inc". The Wall St. Journal. Archived from the original on August 8, 2014. Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  14. ^ Federal Trade Commission class action lawsuit
  15. ^ Crum, Chris (27 March 2015). "Yelp Documentary 'Billion Dollar Bully' Reaches Funding Goal". WebProNews. Archived from the original on 15 April 2015. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  16. ^ https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/billion-dollar-bully

External links[edit]