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On December 14, 2016 the United States Congress passed an act known as the “Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016” (“CRFA”)[1]. The stated goal of this new legislation is “to prohibit the use of certain clauses in form contracts that restrict the ability of consumers to communicate regarding the goods or services offered in interstate commerce that were the subject of the contract.” The reach of the legislation’s protection of honest consumer reviews and opinions extends beyond content that may be posted on a company’s own website, as the Federal Trade Commission has clarified that the CRFA “protects people’s ability to share their honest opinions about a business’s products, services, or conduct, in any forum, including social media.”[2] Subject to certain exceptions under the CRFA relating to content that a company may be able to remove, edit, or suppress, CRFA generally provides that a provision contained in a form contract is void at inception if the provision: (i) “prohibits or restricts the ability of an individual who is a party to the form contract to engage in a covered communication;” (ii) “imposes a penalty or fee against an individual who is a party to the form contract for engaging in a covered communication; or;” or (iii) “transfers or requires an individual who is a party to the form contract to transfer to any person any intellectual property rights in review or feedback content, with the exception of a non-exclusive license to use the content, that the individual may have in any otherwise lawful covered communication about such person or the goods or services provided by such person.” Sections of the CRFA prohibiting and invalidating covered contract clauses became effective as of March 14, 2017, while sections providing for Federal Trade Commission and State enforcement become effective as of December 14, 2017.
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