Chicago violin shop owner Chunyee Lu is suing an anonymous commenter who posted negative reviews of his shop on consumer sites like Yelp.com, Citysearch.com, and Kudzu.com.
The disparaging reviews appear to be aggravated by the sale of a unique violin bow. One post on Yelp by "TruthT" sarcastically asks, "Would you like to buy a gold mounted tortoise shell bow for $4,500 that is actually worth $800 and is, in fact, made of gold-colored metal and faux-plastic shell? Then please go to this shop!”
Similarly disparaging comments characterizing Lu as a "ripoff artist" were posted under the pseudonyms "Truthteller1790" and "Truth Teller." The not-so-coincident pseudonyms were traced by Lu’s lawyer to the same IP address. The documents of the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Cook County Court, identify the defendant by the pseudonyms alone. Lu is seeking $50,000 in damages.
Lu declined to comment. His lawyer clarified that “the same person on the same day from the same computer” created the negative comments, which “subjects them to liability” under civil law.
Lu emigrated to the US from China, where his father was a violinist in the Shanghai Philharmonic. Lu became the owner of Guadagnini Violin Shop in downtown Chicago in 2001. According to Lu’s Web site, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and Aaron Rosand are past clients.
The market for high-end and specialty string instruments is largely unregulated.
In an e-mail, Chantelle Karl, a spokesperson from Yelp, said the review in question was removed by the company's customer support staff several months ago. She also referred to the company's business support pages, which advise business owners on how to respond either privately or publicly to users. "The handful of business owners who have pursued the ‘nuclear option’ of suing someone over a negative review have met with little success, high legal bills, and a lot more attention focused on the negative review than they originally bargained for," reads one entry. "When that happens, we make it a point to involve ourselves early on to protect the rights of legitimate reviewers."
Yelp.com, perhaps the best-known site for consumer-generated reviews, notes on its support pages that "the vast majority of reviews range from neutral to positively glowing."