Business

Why a French court fined a food blogger $3,400 for criticizing a restaurant

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The French are having a hard time adjusting to technology. Just this year alone, they’ve banned Amazon from free shipping and forced Google to advertise a privacy fine on their homepage. Earlier this month, it upped its fight against information technology, as a French court ordered a food blogger to pay a 2,500-euro fine for an overly critical blog about the Il Giardino Italian restaurant.

The review, which roughly translates into “The Place To Avoid In Cap-Ferret: Il Giardino” was eventually taken down (here’s a chached version available via the Internet Archive). Apparently, the court had no issue with a negative review itself, rather that the review was both popular on Google and insulting to the business.

“The customers have shown us the blog page and they said they had been reluctant to come after this criticism,” explained the manager. The restaurants lawyer echoed this complaint, “This restaurant is especially popular with young people. … This has caused great harm to my client.”

That is, the criticism would have been ignored had it not been so popular on Google. Roughly translated, the lawyer explained “This was a problem that was not she said — she writes what she wants — but the title and SEO article were problematic.”

So, what should the post have been titled? Blogging lawyer Master Eolas told Le Express that had the title included something like “after careful consideration” then the court may have let it slide. But, as a brazen attack on a restaurant, it violated French law.

Hence, the court found that the blogger ran afoul of public defamation laws. In addition to attacking the restaurant, the blogger also described the manager as a “diva.”

France, it seems, distrusts the very concept of the “marketplace of ideas,” the 250-year-old philosophical premise that the free exchange of ideas is enough to foster meaningful dialog without need for government intervention. And, France is not alone in the distrust of the market place. Brazil also has a notoriously strict campaign-speech law that attempts to prevent insults against those running for elected office. This is one of the reasons why Brazil ranks so high on transparency reports comparing governments by the number of censorship requests.

Some governments seem to believe the Internet needs to be policed and that courts should determine what is good and bad speech.


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