Avvo’s Directory Akin to the Yellow Pages: Embedded Attorney Advertising Does Not Render a Profile Listing to be Commercial Speech

On September 12, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled in Vrdolyak v. Avvo, Inc. that Avvo’s publishing of online profiles of Illinois attorneys, which may contain advertisements for competing attorneys on the same page,  does not violate an individual attorney’s publicity rights. (Vrdolyak v. Avvo, Inc., 2016 BL 297789, N.D. Ill., No. 16 C 2833, 9/12/16).   Avvo Inc., maintains a website that publishes biographical information about every U.S. lawyer without seeking consent of the lawyers. A lawyer has the opportunity to claim his Avvo profile and customize his Avvo information. On an attorney’s profile page there may also be attorney advertisements for other attorneys.  Avvo provides information about lawyers for consumers in need of legal representation.

Avvo’s chief legal officer, Josh King, explained that the decision is the first to dismiss a complaint that sought to hold Avvo liable under a state law that prohibits using an individual’s identity for commercial purposes without that person’s consent. Avvo has previously been sued for claims including defamation, unfair trade practice, and inaccuracy of information just to name a few. Nevertheless, Avvo has prevailed in these cases.

The plaintiff, in this Illinois class action case, asserted that the publication of his biographical profile along with advertisements about competing attorneys that were published on the same page is impermissible and  constitutes “commercial speech, which does not receive full First Amendment protection.” Vrdolyak at 1. However, the court disagreed and found that the fact that another attorney’s advertisement was embedded on an attorney’s profile page did not render the entire page an advertisement.

Instead, the court found that Avvo’s listing of attorneys’ information is akin to a yellow pages directory, and therefore is protected by the First Amendment. Id. at 4.  For the full opinion, click here.

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