Court Fines French Blogger $3,400 For Her Negative Review Of Local Italian Restaurant, Il Giardino

from the enjoy-your-cash,-idiots...-and-your-demolished-reputation dept

Here’s yet another business that, when confronted with a negative review, thought to itself, “Why not deter EVEN MORE potential patrons from ever considering setting foot in our establishment?” There are many ways to react to criticism, and Il Giardino, an Italian restaurant located in France, opted for “catastrophic.”

A food blogger in France has been fined 1500 euros ($2,040 USD) for writing a negative review of a restaurant. According to Arret Sur Images (translated), Caroline Doudet wrote an unflattering review of Il Giardino, an Italian restaurant in Cap-Ferret, France in August of 2013 on her blog Les Chroniques Culturelles. She was brought to court six months later by the restaurant.

Doudet’s review is actually a blog post, one that would require readers to do a little digging to get past the normal review sites. As far as I can tell from the translation, Doudet portrayed the lousy service she encountered in a far more humorous fashion than most negative reviews, all the while clearly pointing out the deficiencies she encountered.

So, rather than address the issues, or simply disregard the single voice complaining about the three waitpersons apparently needed to acquire a single round of beverages (not to mention quality issues with the food [and service] past that point), Il Giardino decided to make its mégot mal a full-blown legal affair.

It all comes back to European supervillain The Google.

Sud Ouest reports (translated) that the lawyer for the restaurant claims that the post caused “great harm” to his client because when the restaurant was Googled, the negative review was one of the first results.

Ah, yes. SEO uber alles (he said, fearlessly mixing European dialects like a trainspotting linguist). Great harm was apparently suffered and, therefore, the person who received lousy service from the aggrieved entity must pay. The court apparently agreed with this faulty line of logic (possibly due to Google’s name being raised [and presumably greeted with involuntary hisses by attending countrymen]) and slapped the blogger with a hefty fine and a request that she “change the title” of the offending post.

Doudet did them all one better. She deleted it. It lives on at the Internet Archive, but won’t be troubling search engine results to the extent it once did. Not that it matters. Il Giardino’s decision to sue is hurting it far more than Doudet’s post did.



Doudet was also charged $1,360 in court costs, bringing her total fines to a positively KlearGearian level of vindictive ridiculousness ($3,400).

There are too many things wrong with this court decision to enumerate, but Doudet’s take on the fiasco sums it up beautifully.

“If bloggers do not have the freedom to write negative reviews, positive reviews make no sense either.”

If businesses like Il Giardino want to continue living a “hear no evil” existence, that’s fine. But no one should believe anything positive posted about the restaurant anywhere — not if this is how the business reacts when it’s criticized. Every so often, something truly defamatory should be addressed in this fashion, but just being criticized shouldn’t trigger this sort of reaction. If the restaurant’s Google juice is so diluted it can’t outweigh a blogger, the problem lies with the restaurant, not the critic. Now that it’s punished a critic, its reputation has gone completely south, something that wouldn’t have happened if it had just accepted the fact that bad reviews happen and moved on.

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Comments on “Court Fines French Blogger $3,400 For Her Negative Review Of Local Italian Restaurant, Il Giardino”

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55 Comments
David Cortrightsays:

Where does it end?

I notice that Yelp’s rating for this restaurant is 2-star: 6 reviews, 4 of which are 1-star.
http://www.yelp.com/biz/il-giardino-l%C3%A8ge-cap-ferret-2

I wonder if management will go after those reviewers too? And how can they if those people don’t even live in France?

Tell you what, if I’m ever in Cap Ferret, I’m going to go there just so I can have personal experience to leave a bad review.

JBDragonsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Where does it end?

So a Restaurant Reviewer can only give out all Positive or All Negative Reviews according to you!!!! God forbid if he/she gave out reviews based on real facts!!! As they saw it at that time.

Lots of positive Reviews will cancel out a few bad reviews!!! If you had good food and service, you should have lots of Positive reviews!!!

For example, I look at the reviews at Amazon, and the first ones I generally go to are the 1 Star reviews. When I read them and they are just a idiot and really their fault, and the 1 star is just crap. I can clearly see that!!! So many times 1 star on the most stupid thing that should have been a 4 star at worse, but should have really been a 5 star because the person expected something that wasn’t even listed!!!!

After I find what few legit complaints there are, I go look at the 5 star ones and some of the 3 star, etc and can really get a real picture. Then I end up buying it!!! It’s always turned out like I expected, Good!!! Just as Advertised!!!

If all you have is a couple Negative reviews and no Positive reviews, that’s also pretty telling. It really just means at BEST, it’s just OK, and nothing to write home about!!! Not worth your time to write anything Pro or Neg. When you start out that low, it doesn’t take much to get someone that had Bad service/food!!! Generally people will complain more then writing a Positive review. If you have great food and great service, etc, people are going to write Positive reviews and those positive reviews will over shadow those few Negative reviews. No one can be 100% perfect.

If you get 99% happy customers, you’re doing really good. But that 1% adds up with more and more people. Still if.5% write the Negative reviews out of that 1% group, and 10% write a Positive review from that 99% group, You’re doing really good. Those few Negative reviews will end up canceled out. Now if you go suing those few people, you’re going to get a hit from everyone. I sure wouldn’t go there. I could no longer trust anything I could read about the place being all Positive!!! There’s nothing that’s 100% perfect!!! Even the BEST 5 star place is going to get a few Negative reviews!!!

Re: Re: Where does it end?

I’m surprised that no one’s railing at the courts about this. That’s not going to do the French tourism industry any favors.

Travelers should just start writing harsh reviews of French business and staying away from france. Fortunately, there are a lot of beautiful places in the world to visit, so avoiding France won’t be particularly difficult.

Ninjasays:

“If bloggers do not have the freedom to write negative reviews, positive reviews make no sense either.”

This is simply too damn insightful. Reviews are supposed to be some sort of guide to help the reader decide if he/she will go for it or not.

And even if the product got generally bad reviews it may not be bad for you. It’s interesting for instance that Booking.com changes rates based on the audience. If you want to know how the young couples rated the place you can choose so and you’d be impressed how some rates completely change once you select the proper demography.

As for the case, the court is clearly confused (French courts confused? You don’t say). I’m sure the judge love to be forced to experience a place to find out it’s a crap just because his decision killed all bad reviews…

Maurice Dupontsays:

Re: Re: It's France...

Obviously, you never heard of ‘resistance’ in France during this period…

Allow me to remind you that if, in The American Revolutionary War, France didn’t fought for you and didn’t spend 13 billion dollars to support your country’s effort, you would be an english citizen, my dear!

amoshiassays:

I hadn't heard of the resistance...

just some guy named “Vichy”. But, I’m an American, so I’m not really sure who he was. Have you ever heard the name?

And that whole France – England – USA thing is kind of silly now. Let’s put it this way:

“Allow me to remind you, my dear Afghani friend, that if not for the US, you would be a Russian citizen today! Think about that before you criticize America and its wartime actions.”

Now, that sounds ridiculous NOW, and these events AREN’T hundreds of years stale.

W Klinksays:

Why not demand a positive review

Think of how much business they lost because they didn’t get a positive review. Sure, the negative review may have kept some customers away, but a positive review would have actually brought in additional customers. I don’t understand why these missing customers weren’t included in the calculation of lost (potential) revenue.

If anyone can claim that a negative review cost them money, then clearly a lack of positive reviews is also costing money.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Europe

The problem is European and in this case French defamation law.

In the US, if the matter is of public concern the burden of proving falsity is on the plaintiff.

If the statement is not capable of being proven false, it’s a value judgment and absolutely protected as free speech.

Not so in Europe, where insulting or denigrating speech is punishable independently of its truth or falsity, and the law even where recognizing truth as a defense puts the burden on the speaker.

The US constitutional approach to free speech is really unique.

France also have laws protecting the flag, anthem and public institutions against insult something that would be unthinkable in the US.

And don’t mention France’s totalitarian laws against denying or trivializing war crimes and genocide.

Gerardsays:

Re: Re: Re: Europe

If the US had punishments in law for offending the flag then a LOT of politicians, athletes and citizens in general would be in jail or paying hefty fines on a daily basis.
Flag pins, flag license plates, flag clothes… all are illegal and insulting to the Flag according to US law.

bertsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Europe

Flag pins, flag license plates, flag clothes… all are illegal and insulting to the Flag according to US law.

Not entirely true. Lapel pins are considered replicas and are OK within the US Flag Code.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Flag_Code

And no punishments are ever made, since it would conflict with the 1st Amendment.

OolongKaloofidsays:

Guillotine

I think the French court was too lenient. I Think they should have made here an example with a public execution. My GOD, how dare she complain about the Almighty Culinary Elite. They invented food, eating, and certainly Gastronomy, and she dare to question them. They also invented table service so they would most assuredly know good service from bad service. Besides, what business does the customer have interrupting the service staff while the waiters are sending text messages and ignoring the customers. We are an obvious inconvenience to them. Off with her head!

That One Guysays:

Now That is how you do it

With a single lawsuit they have completely and utterly destroyed any value or worth of positive reviews about their restaurant, because if this is what happens when someone posts a negative review, then it immediately brings into question whether someone gave them a positive review because they had a positive experience, or because they worried they’d get sued if they didn’t.

You also have to wonder how many negative reviews were removed or never written, over fears or due to threats of being sued.

Really, most restaurants would have to knowingly poison their customers to make their reputation this toxic, this one did it with a single lawsuit, you’ve almost got to admire screwing up that epically.

That Anonymous Cowardsays:

I was over on Ars in the discussion about the Amazon “store” who got a horribly over-broad subpoena to unmask commenters based on the theory of they are a secret cabal out to destroy us.
http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/07/judge-orders-unmasking-of-amazon-com-negative-reviewers/

In the discussion I ran across someone who ran a restaurant who talked about how much money a single bad review could cost them… then it hit me.

“I am curious how you quantify the amount of money a bad review costs you.
I keep hearing about these massive losses because of bad reviews, and the industry that claims to have all the answers popping up touting these numbers.
From my perspective these claims look very much the like claimed losses to piracy numbers where a single download is worth more than the GDP of several nations, and the companies who sell a new magic bullet that will totally solve the problem (even though the same ideas have failed every single time before).
We’ve seen far to many companies who have gone off the deep end in demands for nothing less than perfect reviews, and some willing to sue and publicly bash dissatisfied customers.”

Online reputation is the new forum for copyright lawyers.
You sell this narrative how people OWE you a great review, and that bad reviews are them stealing money from you.

Before the internet, people learned what places were good or bad by word or mouth or first hand experience. Now we’ve slapped ‘on the internet’ onto these things and much money is spent to curate a bunch of awesome reviews while the service actually blows.

If a single review is so damaging to your reputation, why did you give such crappy service in the eyes of the person who wrote it?

This is not to discount the idea what your competitors are trying to screw your rating, it happens, but if you are so obsessed with a review over the actual service you provide… perhaps you earned those shitty reviews.

We are enshrining into law the idea that that hurt my feels, you owe me thousands of dollars. It needs to stop.

Harald Ksays:

Dysfunctionality of reviews

Don’t forget that there are also people who will threaten to leave a bad review unless they get paid / free food / extra service of some sort. I tried to dig down in this story to make sure it wasn’t that sort of extortion the critic was fined for, but my French isn’t good enough, and I’m drowning in tertiary sources.

John William Hauetersays:

Il Giardino-France-Comments

I read this article with much interest. Having been an owner of various food and bar establishments, I had previously thought of the blogging and internet sites such as TripAdvisor,degustapanama, booking etc. as good feedback sources to better the quality of the establishments i owned. I do not believe that anymore as the business has changed so much and dramatically in teh past 5 years only. I believe that it greatly hurts establishments today, much more then helping them to improve. I would be interested to discuss this issue and explain more on why I believe so. If interested please contact me at the e-mail address above.It could be real interesting and I wold write the article.I have written many articles about food and establishments for Magazines, News Papaers etc. before. Best regards John

John William Hauetersays:

Il Giardino-France-Comments

I read this article with much interest. Having been an owner of various food and bar establishments, I had previously thought of the blogging and internet sites such as TripAdvisor,degustapanama, booking etc. as good feedback sources to better the quality of the establishments i owned. I do not believe that anymore as the business has changed so much and dramatically in teh past 5 years only. I believe that it greatly hurts establishments today, much more then helping them to improve. I would be interested to discuss this issue and explain more on why I believe so. If interested please contact me at the e-mail address above.It could be real interesting and I wold write the article.I have written many articles about food and establishments for Magazines, News Papers etc. before. Best regards John

This is just a symptom

This is just a symptom of a much larger problem, namely:
* Who’s the lawyer who agreed to take this case? Why did he think suing a negative reviewer was a good idea?
* What court allowed this lawsuit in the first place?
* Was the review libelous? Or was the entire argument over the fact that the restaurant just didn’t like the review?
* Who’s the judge that ruled in favor of the restaurant? Does Europe not have similar “right to free speech” like the US? What about the “this is my experience” defense?
* And does the judge realize what kind of precedent this sets for other reviewers? Will people be afraid to post a negative review out of fear of getting sued? Will other restaurants use this case as a way to sue people they don’t like?

I am sure France does not has an authoritarian system. When we talk about democracy, it starts with the judicial system only. It’s surprising to see how come the court found the allegations relevant. But after getting highlighted for this cheap act, I am sure Il giardino by now must have understood the power of negative reviews. Negative reviews should strongly be taken as a quality feedback and hence improve your quality not to penalize them.

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