French blogger fined over review's Google search placing

Restaurant GV The restaurant argued the negative review's prominence in Google's search results was unfairly harming business

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A French judge has ruled against a blogger because her scathing restaurant review was too prominent in Google search results.

The judge ordered that the post's title be amended and told the blogger Caroline Doudet to pay damages.

Ms Doudet said the decision made it a crime to be highly ranked on search engines.

The restaurant owners said the article's prominence was unfairly hurting their business.

Ms Doudet was sued by the owner of Il Giardino restaurant in the Aquitaine region of southwestern France after she wrote a blogpost entitled "the place to avoid in Cap-Ferret: Il Giardino".

According to court documents, the review appeared fourth in the results of a Google search for the restaurant. The judge decided that the blog's title should be changed, so that the phrase: "the place to avoid" was less prominent in the results.

The judge sitting in Bordeaux also pointed out that the harm to the restaurant was exacerbated by the fact that Ms Doudet's fashion and literature blog "Cultur'elle" had around 3,000 followers, indicating she thought it was a significant number.

'Perverse'

"This decision creates a new crime of 'being too highly ranked [on a search engine]', or of having too great an influence'," Ms Doudet told the BBC.

"What is perverse, is that we look for bloggers who are influential, but only if they are nice about people," she added.

The judge told Ms Doudet to amend the title of the blog and to pay €1,500 ($2,000; £1,200) in damages to the restaurant, as well as €1,000 to cover the complainant's costs.

Start Quote

What is perverse, is that we look for bloggers who are influential, but only if they are nice about people.”

End Quote Caroline Doudet Blogger

In her article, which has now been deleted, she complained of poor service and what she said was a poor attitude on the part of the owner during a visit in August 2013.

The owner took issue with the whole article. However, the judge limited her decision to its title.

The restaurateur did not respond to the BBC. But, according to the website Arrêt sur Images, she said: "Maybe there were some errors in the service, that happens sometimes in the middle of August - I recognise that.

"But this article showed in the Google search results and did my business more and more harm, even though we have worked seven days a week for 15 years. I could not accept that.

"People can criticise, but there is a way of doing it - with respect. That was not the case here."

'Weeks of anguish'

A French lawyer and blogger who writes under the pseudonym Maître Eolas, said: "It seems to me that the judge did not understand the technical issues." He added that, in French law, this type of decision would not create legal precedence.

Under French law, a judge can issue an emergency order to force a person to cease any activity they find to be harming the other party in the dispute.

The summary decision is intended to be an emergency measure to protect the person deemed to be a victim and can be overturned or upheld if the parties go to a full hearing.

In order to issue the order under French law, the judge has only to identify a wrong on the defendant's part, a negative effect on that of the appellant and a causal relationship between the two.

Ms Doudet said she did not believe she will appeal because she did "not want to relive weeks of anguish".

Ms Doudet added that, because the decision was taken at an emergency hearing, she did not have time to find legal representation, so had represented herself in court.

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