On Monday, Congress unanimously voted to pass a law that will prevent companies from going after consumers who give them bad reviews online.
Dubbed the "Consumer Review Freedom Act," the legislation was introduced to the Senate in 2015 by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and specifically bans businesses from including gag or non-disparaging clauses in non-negotiable contracts.
In 2014, California state legislators voted to pass a similar law.
"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," Rep. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said in a statement published on the Senate Commerce Committee website. "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 bills brings us one step closer to protecting that right."
Prior to passage of the law, the Commerce Committee heard testimony from Utah couple Jen and John Palmer, who entered a longstanding legal dispute with geek-centric online commerce company Kleargear after the Palmers left a negative review online. Citing an obscure anti-disparagement clause in their terms of service, Kleargear fined the couple $3,500. The Palmers didn't pay, so Kleargear sent their outstanding bill to a collections agency, ruining their credit in the process. The Palmers sued Kleargear with the help of a consumer advocacy group, and eventually won a judgment for $306,750.
The approved bill will now be sent to President Barack Obama so that it can be signed into law.