A group of four Yelpers has filed a class action lawsuit in California against the crowdsourced review site, on the grounds that they are unpaid employees who haven't been properly compensated for their work. As Eater and TechDirt report, the plaintiffs are seeking compensation for the reviews they've provided to Yelp over the years, claiming that Yelp makes money on advertising and that the plaintiffs were "an indispensable and integral part of the success of the Defendant's business."
From the lawsuit:
"The named plaintiffs, and persons similarly situated, are persons who each worked a substantial number of hours for the Defendant over a number of years, and were not paid a single cent for their work. The work they performed -- writing, researching, editing, lodging reviews, upgrading prior reviews, and generally promoting the site -- is central to the Defendant's business model as a publisher."
The plantiffs are asking for "just compensation of wages, benefits, and reimbursement for reviews they created."
For its part, Yelp points out that the site is a free service and its users submit reviews voluntarily. Here's the official statement:
"This is a textbook example of a frivolous lawsuit; it is unfortunate the court has to waste its time adjudicating it and we will seek to have it dismissed. The argument that voluntarily using a free service equates to an employment relationship is completely without merit, unsupported by law and contradicted by the dozens of websites like Yelp that consumers use to help one another."
But in an era where more writers are fighting against being asked to write for exposure, aka for free, the lawsuit -- frivolous as it may be -- brings up an interesting debate. Professional writers deserve to be paid for their work, but does the average Yelper, or even a Yelp Elite with more responsibility and visibility, qualify as a professional writer with the commensurate level of experience and training that comes with the designation? Or do you become a professional writer when you stop voluntarily writing for free?