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Blogger Fined For Bad Review: There's No 'Point of Criticism If It's Only Positive'

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Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

A French blogger who was fined thousands of euros for writing a bad review online now tells Eater she stands by her critique. "I regret not having left the restaurant from the beginning and therefore never having written the article. That would have been easier," food blogger Caroline Doudet writes in an email to Eater (translated). "But otherwise, yes [I stand by the review], because it's still a lot of trouble for not much."

Last week, Eater reported that French courts demanded Doudet pay 1500 euros ($2,040 USD) for writing a negative review of Il Giardino, an Italian restaurant in Cap-Ferret, France in August of 2013. In the review (cached and translated) she wrote that the restaurant should be avoided and that the boss is a "diva."

Six months after the review ran, the restaurant brought Doudet to court. According to Sud Ouest (translated), the restaurant's lawyer claims the review caused "great harm" to his client because the negative review would come up as one of the first Google search results for the restaurant. The court asked Doudet to change the title of the post, which was "L'endroit à éviter au Cap-Ferret : Il Giardino" or "The Place to Avoid in Cap-Ferret : Il Giardino."

Along with the 1500 euros, Doudet was also charged an additional 1000 euros ($1,360 USD) to cover the costs of the proceedings, making her grand total $3400. "It wasn't a fine, but procedural costs and damages and interest," Doudet explains. She says she's already paid it. Instead of changing the title of the post as the court asked, Doudet deleted it. "I removed it because technically, it's simpler than just modifying the title on its own," she says.

Arret Sur Images reports that this is the first example of an amateur, unpaid blogger having to pay damages for a negative review. Doudet sees this as part of a growing problem around freedom of speech. "Recently several writers in France were sentenced in similar proceedings for defamation, invasion of privacy, and so on. And I find it really serious if we no longer have the freedom to write," she says. "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."

For Il Giardino, positive reviews are getting harder to come by. It seems that since the court's decision, there's been a bit of a backlash against the restaurant. On TripAdvisor and Google+ there have been a slew of recent one-star reviews, many of which mention the Doudet incident outrightly. It remains to be seen whether the Doudet case will be used as precedent in France to target other unpaid reviewers like those on TripAdvisor and Yelp, but it will certainly give pause to bloggers like Doudet.

Thanks to Raphael Brion and Amy McKeever for translating.

· Blogger Fined $3,400 for Her Negative Restaurant Review [-E-]
· Critique De Restaurant: Blogueuse Condamnée [Arret Sur Images]
· Une Blogueuse Condamnée [Sud Ouest]
· All France Coverage on Eater [-E-]