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Can a Blogger Be Sued for a Bad Review?

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Kuwaiti Flag by Steve and Jem Copley on Flickr

Kuwaiti Flag by Steve and Jem Copley on Flickr

A blogger in Kuwait has been sued by Benihana, a popular Japanese-style restaurant — and it all started with an unfavorable review.

Mark Makhoul, a Lebanese expat blogger in Kuwait who writes TwoFortyEightAM, recently posted about a dining experience at Benihana in Kuwait. The post began innocuously enough with a physical description of the restaurant and some compliments on the friendly staff, but then Makhoul continued:

Now the Hibachi chicken which is basically grilled chicken, that was the worst. The chicken was very chewy (I could swear it was undercooked if not raw) and tasted terrible. Even after I had the chef add some more teriyaki sauce in hopes of improving the taste it didn’t work. [...] Would I go back to Benihana? No I wouldn’t. Their sashimi and maki’s are pretty cheap (KD1.5 for 5 pieces of Salmon sashimi for example) but there are two other Japanese restaurants at the Avenues, Wasabi and Maki, and I would prefer either one of those to Benihana.

One of the comments that showed up under the post was from Benihana’s GM in Kuwait, Mike Servo, who threatened legal action. Servo apparently then followed up on the threat as Makhoul was served legal papers shortly thereafter and has a court date set for early March.

The lawsuit alleges that Makhoul wrote a fake review to gain publicity and requests $18,000 in damages; Makhoul is fighting the allegations not only on behalf of himself but also for other bloggers:

If blogs were recognized like newspapers or magazines we would all be protected from lawsuits like this but at the moment we aren’t. I find this unfair and if I end up losing this case what will it mean to all the other bloggers? Should bloggers be afraid to say anything negative about a company? Should all our posts just be happy happy joy joy?

For its part, Benihana Kuwait has stated, “Rest assured that it is not and we repeat not for a negative review, we understand the concept behind blogs, the reason will be revealed in a later stage after the hearings, so stay tuned.”

Should bloggers in America be worried about getting sued over bad reviews?

In the United States, bloggers are entitled to free speech under the First Amendment, but there are limits just as with any other kind of speech. For example, defamation actions against bloggers and other online posters have become increasingly common, and courts have even unmasked anonymous online commenters in order for a plaintiff to bring a cause of action.

Still, a bad review on a blog in the United States would generally be protected by the First Amendment — but the recent legal experience of a Yelp user could cause some reviewers pause.

What do you think of the Benihana case?

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February 7th, 2011 at 10:00 am