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French Blogger Fined For Negative Restaurant Review 424

An anonymous reader sends an article about another case in which a business who received a negative review online decided to retaliate with legal complaints. In August of last year, a French food blogger posted a review of an Italian restaurant called Il Giardino. The restaurant owners responded with legal threats based on the claim that they lost business from search results which included the review. The blogger deleted the post, but that wasn't enough. She was brought to court, and a fine of €1,500 ($2,040) was imposed. She also had to pay court costs, which added another €1,000 ($1,360). The blogger said, "Recently several writers in France were sentenced in similar proceedings for defamation, invasion of privacy, and so on. ... I don't see the point of criticism if it's only positive. It's clear that online, people are suspicious of places that only get positive reviews."
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French Blogger Fined For Negative Restaurant Review

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  • by ocsibrm ( 3588573 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @02:11AM (#47464281)
    When are these businesses going to learn that when you lawyer up against negative reviews, it suddenly becomes *newsworthy* and only makes the situation that much worse. Maybe if they spent their legal fees on training for their waitstaff, they wouldn't get those negative reviews to start with. Crazy thought, I know.
    • by satuon ( 1822492 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @02:37AM (#47464389)

      Agreed, I was totally planning to take a plane to France to go dine in that restaurant, but now they've lost my business.

    • by jones_supa ( 887896 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @02:40AM (#47464405)

      When are these businesses going to learn that when you lawyer up against negative reviews, it suddenly becomes *newsworthy* and only makes the situation that much worse.

      How do you know? Maybe this is actually rare occurrence. Maybe there has been many other cases like this but the blog owner never brought the issue public.

    • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @03:07AM (#47464469)
      They won't. A single person always does, but in the real world, teaching one idiot a lesson doesn't mean that the millions of others will be telepathically notified of it.
    • by Racemaniac ( 1099281 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @03:46AM (#47464599)

      It seems they're going full blown Barbara Streisand. When googling the name of the blogger, i got a google notice that not all search results may be returned since a request was made to make certain information not available.

      So probably the people from the restaurant now also made a request to google to make sure this entire thing can't be googled....

    • by rvw ( 755107 )

      When are these businesses going to learn that when you lawyer up against negative reviews, it suddenly becomes *newsworthy* and only makes the situation that much worse. Maybe if they spent their legal fees on training for their waitstaff, they wouldn't get those negative reviews to start with. Crazy thought, I know.

      What you can do is write a review that is so incredible positive, that the irony is so obvious that nobody will miss it. I don't have the time, and don't have the inspiration and my ironic food dictionary is offline at the moment. So if anyone can think of a review of Il Giardino [tripadvisor.fr] that will make me really curious - go ahead and make my day! ;-)

      • What you can do is write a review that is so incredible positive, that the irony is so obvious that nobody will miss it. I don't have the time, and don't have the inspiration and my ironic food dictionary is offline at the moment. So if anyone can think of a review of Il Giardino [tripadvisor.fr] that will make me really curious - go ahead and make my day! ;-)

        Uh, this is the interwebs where there exists a near-singularity composed entirely of missed obvious sarcasm & irony. It's similar to Relativity theory regarding the increase of energy required as a mass is accelerated to a significant fraction of C. The amount of irony and obviousness required would approach infinity and might even cause a tear in the very fabric of the Multiverse itself.

        Besides, this is France we're discussing. If the review causes the French restaurant to be swamped with too many cust

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        What you can do is write a review that is so incredible positive, that the irony is so obvious that nobody will miss it.

        What an astonishingly good idea! Timely, witty and absolutely certain to ensure everyone who attends the offending restaurant will have a great experience. Problem completely solved right here!

        I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and insist that every Slashdotter also thank you, preferably with their precious moderation points.

        Well done!

  • Vicious cycle (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The more seriously slander and libel are punished, the more damage a single act of slander or libel can do. Things are so bad these days that most people are inclined to believe practically everything they read/hear and even fair criticism is subject to legal action.

    Wouldn't it be nice to have some form of "free speech" which, if guarded carefully, would require people to actually think for themselves and always consider the reputation of a source alongside its content.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @02:22AM (#47464333)

    But my mom said "if you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all". And it seems the courts agree with her.

    So I want to stress that the road in front of their entrance is really tidy.

    • by meerling ( 1487879 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @02:38AM (#47464401)
      That's nice, but it really doesn't apply to reviews of any kind. After all, if you can't talk about the problems, screwups, and deficiencies, you'll never be able to improve, and there's a high probability that things will just get worse.
      • by ruir ( 2709173 )
        He is being sarcastic. The road in front of their entrance is really tidy in comparison with "something else".
        • Some readers may get the hint (especially those working in recruitment...) that something is off with the restaurant. But unfortunately it still doesn't communicate what exactly is off. Is the service bad (as was the case)? Is the food bad? Do they try to screw you with the bill? Are other patrons too loud? Is the place dirty (inside)?

          Some patrons might not care (or care less) about some bad points, so it still helps to know what exactly is wrong, in order to know whether it would matter to them. The origi

      • by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @04:13AM (#47464689) Homepage Journal

        You can, you just need to phrase it right -

        "I love how you can always find a table there!"

        "You never need to tip the servers!"

        "The bartender was at his best when serving Bud Light!"

        • "The bartender was at his best when finally serving Bud Light!"

          FTFY :-)

        • Do they do tipping in France. I'm not sure tipping as a concept really makes sense anyway. Why do I pay the restaurant for the food and separately an essentially independent contractor (can I bring my own, then...) to deliver it, and the contractor's fee is completely at my discretion after the fact?

    • No effort... and remarkably eloquent; perhaps with a link to the court case...
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @02:30AM (#47464361)

    I don't know about your country, in mine a boss is not allowed to say anything bad about you in a job reference. He can't say you're a drunkard. So he'll write "he was working hard to keep the spirits up". Too stupid to get anything accomplished? "He was very good at trying to get his assignments done". Didn't do ANYTHING? "He was known to be very punctual."

    Euphemism and "secret" code has developed due to a culture that disallows bad reviews. I guess the same will happen here sooner or later. We'll just have to be able to understand idioms like "The service was one of a kind" (read: no other restaurant that is still in business has that kind of crappy service). "The food was something we remembered for a long time" (read: We spent a long time on the can with diarrhea). Or how about "Every time we discover something new" (read: No matter what you order, you'll certainly get whatever they have to get rid of quickly).

    • Too true... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by bradley13 ( 1118935 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @02:41AM (#47464407) Homepage

      We once received an application that included a reference letter with only one substantive comment: "She always keeps her desk neat and tidy". But really, that's not a secret code or anything, it is entirely clear: do not expect this person to do any work. The fact that the person actually included this letter of reference with her application made it doubly damning, because she apparently did not understand what it said.

      On the subject of TFA: I do hope some French /.ers will chime in with the local interpretation of this ruling...

      • by ruir ( 2709173 )
        Great story you have. Was she applying for HR?
      • Re:Too true... (Score:4, Informative)

        by oobayly ( 1056050 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @03:27AM (#47464529)

        One of my mum's colleagues was applying for a job in a different part of the civil service, so she was asked to provide a reference. My mum didn't want to be responsible for this person getting a job where they could possibly do some real damage, but at the same time couldn't give a negative reference. So she ended up giving the following:

        Works well under direct supervision

        Compare this to the UK Ordnance Survey where I temped for a year - there were permanent member of staff with 20 years of production experience who still couldn't read a map. One guy was proud of the fact that he came "highly recommended" when he got passed from department to department. Not only was he completely useless, but incredibly sleazy - no wonder they wanted shot of him.

      • Re:Too true... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Pieroxy ( 222434 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @05:29AM (#47464935) Homepage

        French here. The lady owner of the blog did not choose to lawyer up and went there to defend herself. The restaurant just wanted her to change the title of the blog post which was along the line of "The place to avoid at Cap-Ferret: Il Giardino" (where Cap-Ferret is the name of the town the restaurant is in). They just wanted the name of the restaurant removed from the title because it was 2nd place on Google and was starting to be detrimental to their business. She removed the blog post entirely on her own. It appears she doesn't intend to counter sue.

        It pretty much looks like something that would not have happened if the defendant was properly represented.

        • Re:Too true... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by countach ( 534280 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @07:37AM (#47465329)

          Properly represented? You shouldn't even be in court in the first place to need representation just because you made a comment about a restaurant.

          And if this blog article comes up "too high" in Google's search for the town, can you seriously blame the blogger? Blame Google if you want to blame anyone, but don't blame the blogger because of Google's page rank algorithms.

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      The worst you can say about someone is "I can confirm their dates of employment and that they are not eligible for rehire.
    • by mark-t ( 151149 )
      If the law prevents him from saying anything bad, then certainly he could just say that the law prevents him from saying anything bad, and leave it at that.... The former boss hasn't said anything bad at all about the employee and has only expressed (completely truthfully) that the law in that jurisdiction prevents him from being able to do so, and advise the caller that they will have to form their own opinion.
    • [citation needed] because I would like to keep my faith in humanity and don't want to believe this. Please.

    • Secret code is forbidden since decades, too.
      Most employers write their own job references and let it simply sign by the future ex employer.
      If you need 'hard infos' about a potential future employee you call his ex boss and simply ask!

  • Does France have anything analogous to the Fair Comment [wikipedia.org] defense found in Commonwealth countries? I see it apparently still occasionally works in Canada [kellywarnerlaw.com] and the UK [theguardian.com].
    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      well.. they do have some freedom.

      the michelin stars don't just go up and up every year you know, but maybe you have to be a professional drun... eater to be taken seriously with your criticisms.

      don't know what the original review was like, but if it's french and they were angry they probably wrote something like "there was dogshit in the sauce".

      • probably wrote something like "there was dogshit in the sauce".

        I think it would be hard, having written that, to claim afterwards that your words were not malicious.

      • Actually she was not vulgar or malicious at all, didn't mention anything that stands out as mean even.. just descriptive of mostly extremely poor service and mediocre food. You can read her (french) blog post here:

        http://web.archive.org/web/201... [archive.org]

  • TripAdvisor (Score:5, Informative)

    by jones_supa ( 887896 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @02:44AM (#47464417)
    Here's some TripAdvisor's reviews [tripadvisor.com] on that particular restaurant.
    • This one is my favourite - somebody complaining that staff in a restaurant in Bordeaux don't speak English, while butchering the language themselves:

      I went there last holidays, waiters were very rude, barley understanding english and not really helpfull. The food is alright, but overpriced.

      It's quite amusing to see that this court case has spectacularly backfired, but does anyone really take TripAdvisor's reviews seriously?

      • I use tripadvisor all the time and generally find the review to good. You do get the standard,"loud birthday party next door, 1 star place sucked", which can be easily ignored. If you look at most of the reviews of this place they are mostly first review, or all reviews are only from that city, all of those can be ignored.
        Also because of the nature of the people, and because it is more travel based reviews tend to be older, putting reviews up there you don't run into the Yelp problems.
    • by slew ( 2918 )

      Of course 80% of the reviews suspiciously appeared after the lawsuit was publicized (10% of the most recent reviews are in English instead of French is another clue). The old ones are mostly mediocre, but as you might expect the recent ones are mostly complaining about the lawsuit (and the recent ones posted after the lawsuit publicity appear to be perhaps a bit reality-challenged). Me thinks there might be more lawsuits on the way ;^)

      There appears to be only 1/7 reviews on yelp [yelp.com] that predate this event a

  • How about leaving a review which essentially only states: "I cannot complain about the service nor the food."

  • So... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @03:03AM (#47464459)

    Reading few analysis about the judgement : the court did not make the condemnation for the article but only for the title ("A place to avoid in Cap-Ferret : Il Giardino"). The court did not order a single modification to the article content, only of its title (plus the fine). The author of the post also decided to not be defended by a lawyer during the court audition (which would have probably changed the outcome of the judgement according to other specialized lawyers). Also, this decision could have been broken in a second court if the author made the decision. Instead she voluntarily removed the article from her blog. Finally, this decision can not be referred to for future cases in France (do to the nature of the case).

    So yes, of course, seemingly against free-speech decision but not really as dramatic as many of you try to depict it.

    • So... (Score:2, Informative)

      Mod parent up. Still I think the judge an idiot for ruling like he did. The reason for not having a lawyer and just paying whatever fine would apparently be the blogger was scared of any extra costs the lawyer would have brought in face of the non-certainty of winning (which still might have been more expensive than what she paid now if the procedure was lengthier but in the end still not in her favour). The restaurant owner was trolling, there's just no better word for it. By awarding even this tiny win t
    • by ruir ( 2709173 )
      Judges neither take lightly you not taking a lawyer, nor take you seriously. My father lost a very clear cut case because of this once, despite having worked as a paralegal a couple of decades before.
  • Nous condamnons par faible éloge.

  • The problem with criticism in general, both positive and negative, is: how does anyone know if it's truthful?

    It's easy to make up a story about going to some restaurant, and maybe you even actually went there, and if you did, who knows if you had a great service or not, maybe you were off your meds, and then for the hell of it, you write a scathing review. Or a great one as a prank for your friends.

    On the internet, anybody can be a blogger and there's no quality control, just look at the kind of commen

  • How stupid does ANYONE have to be to believe a positive (or, for that matter, negative) review online?

    There's an ad on TV for a referral site for various services that claims that only "members" can post reviews. How many of the "members" are paid shills?

  • by Rashdot ( 845549 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @04:13AM (#47464693)

    Don't write a court review.

  • :) Here goes for French and there so called freedom of speech. hAh, people having fought for liberty, fraternity and equality, now they can't even "rate" or 'criticise" a restaurant. That Judge is a dick head. :) Yeah, I challenge him to sue me now for saying that his decision is like that of a child.

    A blog is a personal space. You are free to read it, or ignore it.

    Anyways, here's an archive of the Article in question: http://web.archive.org/web/201... [archive.org]

    Use google translate if you don't understand F
  • "Within the French judicial system, personal and honest reviews have been sued by the restaurant owners - as such I am unable to leave an honest review of this establishment without risking legal action."

    "Unable to leave an honest review"

    You're not saying the restaurant is bad, just that you're unable to leave a review.

  • One thing to know is that she thought she could defend herself without an attorney. If she had one, she probably would have win the case... For those speaking french : http://www.lexpress.fr/styles/... [lexpress.fr]
  • by lazy_arabica ( 750133 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @05:20AM (#47464897) Homepage

    As quick as slashdotters are to point out the France's "lack of freedom expression", the situation is a bit more subtle than this. The blogger was not fined for of a negative restaurant review. She was fined for saying that people should avoid that place, which is slightly different. According to french law, you may say that you did not like the service or the food, which may be indirectly detrimental to the restaurant's reputation and success. However, you may not directly call for people to boycott a place.

    Call it stupid if you want, that's how it is. Never ever have negative reviews been forbidden (unless outright slanderous). Directly attacking some shop's reputation is.

  • If you go thru the links you will find the following :

    Roughly translated : 1) the blogger was not asked to change the negative content or even remove it, but the title of her blog simply
    2) the blgoger went to the court and defended herself. One things valid in probably msot court of the world, is that if you want to lose, defend yourself. Even in the US it is dimly viewed really.

    So as usua
  • by taikedz ( 2782065 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2014 @08:52AM (#47465741) Homepage Journal

    In the original article an ArretSurImages.fr, the blogger details in her interview that she decided not to hire a lawyer, instead simply complied immediately and did not defend her position. She was not required by the court to remove her post, but she did so of her own accord.

    A commenting lawyer interviewed for the article indicated that the case shows more the necessity of getting legal advice, rather than any evolution of rights on the Internet.

    Yes it's sad that she was attacked for her criticisms, but it's sadder that she did not take responsibility, or stand her ground.

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.