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Man Threatened With Defamation Lawsuit Over Negative Yelp Review

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Many people use Yelp to find out about a business before they give them their business, but one Midtown business owner threatened to sue over some bad reviews.

As CBS 2's Sonia Rincon reported Friday, Matthew Brand saw the great reviews on Yelp for Ron Gordon Watch Repair, at 280 Madison Ave. So he decided to take his watch there for repair.

But Brand was not thrilled with the service, and posted his own review on Yelp. In the April 2013 review, he gave the repair shop two stars, claiming that the staff at Gordon's shop said they could not repair his antique pocket watch, and would have to send an Ebel watch back to the manufacturer – and claiming further that a competing store was able to repair the two watches onsite.

But to Brand's surprise, he received a letter from Gordon's attorney last week, asking him to take down the review or face a defamation lawsuit.

The letter said Brand's review was "misleading and in certain respects false and defamatory of Ron Gordon in his profession, (and) has also appeared on Google and has detrimentally affected his business and sales."

"That's bullying. You know, that's saying: 'I have more money than you. Take down your post,'" Brand said. "It's being aggressive, and it's just not right."

But what if you are the small business owner and people don't love you on Yelp? Do you post a response, just ignore it, or call a lawyer?

Gordon said he called his lawyer because he believed what was in Brand's review, and a few others, was not true. He wanted the reviews gone.

"What Mr. Brand did write was defamatory, and it is a ground for a suit, because by implication, the statements would make Mr. Gordon appear incompetent as a businessman, which is hardly the case," said attorney Andrew Spinnell. "The man's been in business for 33 years and repairs high-end watches successfully. If you look on Yelp, he has many 5-star reviews."

But now, Gordon is getting scathing reviews, over the threatened lawsuit -- getting called a bully, and worse.

"I don't even know who these people are," Gordon said. "They're not even about my business."

Law professor Leon Friedman said libel cases are really hard to win – a plaintiff has to prove something was both false and ruined someone's reputation.

"Reviews are protected speech. If you simply make your opinion, 'This is terrible, this is awful' -- you use adjectives to describe it – (it's) not libelous," said Friedman, of Hofstra University.

So what's a small businessman to do?

"Respond to it," Friedman said. "When someone says something bad, you put a comment on it and tell your side of the story."

And if you're a reviewer posting an honest experience or opinion, Freeman said, you've got nothing to worry about.

Spinnell said that Gordon has no plans to go ahead with any of the threatened lawsuits.

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