September 22, 2014

Can Bloggers Be Fined for Ruining a Business?

can bloggers be fined

Online reviews can promote your business if they’re positive. They’re essentially like word of mouth. Of course, the other side of this is that not all reviews are good.

Consumers have the right to leave reviews that are as positive or as negative as they please, provided the information included is true. However, one French blogger was recently ordered to pay a fine and change the name of a restaurant review because owners claimed it was hurting the restaurant’s business.

The review, which has since been deleted, appeared on the blog “Cultur’elle.” Blogger Caroline Doudet wrote the review about restaurant Il Giardino. It was titled “The Place to Avoid in Cap-Ferret: Il Giardino.”

According to court documents, the review appeared fourth in Google search results for the restaurant. Doudet’s blog had about 3,000 followers at the time of the posting, giving it a decent rank on Google. She told the BBC:

“This decision creates a new crime of ‘being too highly ranked [on a search engine]‘, or of having too great an influence.’”

In the U.S., this type of post would be protected under the First Amendment. But it wasn’t even the content of the post that the judge ruled on. She simply ordered the blogger to change the title so that it would not appear so high in search results, plus a fine for the damage caused by the post.

Being highly ranked in search results can certainly help you influence opinions. This is because people often Google businesses when considering where to eat, shop, or make other purchases. So it’s no wonder the restaurant suffered due to such a highly ranked negative review.

But the ruling could have other implications pretty scary for bloggers and small online publishers. Does this mean, for example, that what you can say or write online can be censored if your site has good search results?

Some don’t think so. The BBC spoke to a lawyer who writes under the pseudonym Maitre Eolas and said that this type of decision would not create a legal precedent under French law.

Even if it did, it seems unlikely this type of ruling would hold up in many other courtrooms around the world anyway. For example, as we’ve said, here in the U.S. it’s hard to imagine such a ruling wouldn’t simply be overturned on First Amendment grounds.

So for now, bloggers can go on posting reviews expressing their honest feelings without fear of legal action. And restaurants and other businesses will have to take the good with the bad.

Gavel Photo via Shutterstock

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Annie Pilon - Staff Writer


Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a staff writer for Small Business Trends, covering entrepreneur profiles and feature stories. She is a freelance writer specializing in marketing, social media, and creative topics. When she’s not writing for her various freelance projects or her personal blog Wattlebird, she can be found exploring all that her home state of Michigan has to offer.

14 Reactions

  1. I don’t think so. I think the Internet is a form of media. In the same way that television networks can give honest opinions about certain products, so does bloggers. Besides, the review will be more authentic and will really reflect how a person views a particular product.

  2. Customer reviews has always been a part of every business. Just the thought of censuring it on the grounds that the blogger holds great influence is just plain ludicrous. I’m surprised that the court even ruled this as this does not take into account the welfare of the customers. (I don’t think the blogger has any ill-intent towards the establishment. she just wrote what she experienced.)

    I understand that no one want to have a bad review but c’mon, the restaurant should just take the review as a constructive criticism to better their service. A good business should always strive to better themselves.

    • I agree. Striving for better service could lead to more positive reviews in the future, which could balance out the negative.

  3. Of course there are lots of truly abusive, phony, and even libelous customer reviews out there that *are* intended to do damage, as well as glowing reviews from highly influential reviewers who have undisclosed interests in promoting a product or company. And these are protected in the U.S. under the First Amendment. This makes online reviews a bit like the Wild West for marketers and business owners.

    • Since influential online reviews are still *relatively* new I think there are still a few things that need to be figured out so that the fake reviews on either side get weeded out. But I don’t think this particular one was untrue or libelous, just influential enough to harm the business.

  4. Wait. Hold on. Was she not telling the truth? Was she not giving an honest review? If she was giving a genuine account of her experience at the restaurant, why should she be held responsible for writing honestly, and fined as well? Also, why is she also being penalised for having a good Google ranking?

    • My understanding is that she didn’t lie in her review. The restaurant admitted not upholding the greatest service standards in this particular instance, but just argued that the review was doing too much damage because of the high ranking on Google. I agree it seems wrong.

      • Doesn’t seem fair at all. She’s in a way being held responsible for something that actually happened in the restaurant – for their service – for something they’re responsible for. I really don’t understand why she was fined. She didn’t do anything wrong.

  5. Freedom of speech? If it is slander or some kind of wrong-doing, when the blogger should be fined.

    • I agree that she should have been fined for a libelous or untrue review. But I don’t believe that was the case in this particular instance. The restaurant didn’t argue that the information was untrue, just that it harmed the business.

      • They harmed their business. By the courts fining her, they’ve sent out the wrong message to her, the restaurant and other bloggers.

        I hope this case (and the decision made) is a one-off.

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