Where is the line drawn between user-generated content and professional writing? For some, there isn’t a line.

A group of Yelpers in California have filed a class action lawsuit against the website, claiming that they are being treated as unpaid employees, and deserve compensation for their reviews, as well as benefits and reimbursement for the reviews they’ve already published on the site. They argue that Yelp “could not exist, nor make its enormous returns, without its domination and control over non-wage writers.” Well, yeah, but that’s the point.

According to these enraged Yelpers, the website has “devised a system of cult-like rewards” like “trinkets, badges, titles, praise, social promotion, free liquor, free food, and free promotional Yelp attire” in order to motivate people to write.

Things do get a little fishy when sponsors are thrown into the argument. The writers claim that Yelp takes down or “punishes” its writers for bad reviews posted about sponsored restaurants. Conversely, “elite” writers are sometimes encouraged to write positive reviews of sponsored restaurants to “meet a quota of reviews that must be filed at each star level.”

Should users be compensated for creating content on Yelp? What does this mean for other sites that rely on a large network of people? Is Yelp really trying to exploit their fans? We’re interested to see how this case develops.

Read the full lawsuit here.

[via Eater, LA Weekly]