Damage to reputation vs. freedom of opinion - What can be done against bad reviews on the Internet under French law?

When is a negative company review in France to be classified as unlawful?

A negative review that is directed against the company or an employee is considered defamation if it contains the following: (1) an assertion of a specific fact, (2) a violation of honour or reputation (and not a mere criticism), (3) of a specific or easily identifiable person.

If the criticism is directed against the product or service, the notification may constitute a case of defamation on the basis of liability under general law [Code civil, Art. 1240], if it impairs the products or services or the brand image and thereby has a negative influence on the customers. If the comment lacks care and objectivity or if the comment does not state precise facts, it is considered to be defamation.

What measures can be taken against unlawful reviews?

The criminal law defamation action, based on the Press Act of 1881 (Loi sur la Liberté de la presse de 1881), follows a very strict evidence regime, in which the exceptio veritatis is asserted, and with a very short limitation period of three months from the date of publication. Therefore, it is very difficult for a company to receive compensation on this basis.

The action for defamation, which is based on the general law of civil liability (Art. 1240 of the French Civil Code) and benefits from a limitation period of five years from the date of publication of the comment, makes it possible to sanction and compensate a reputational damage of a company more easily on the Internet than is possible with the action for defamation.

Can you buy positive fake reviews as a company?

This practice is prohibited under French law, since it constitutes a misleading business practice (Art. L. 121-2 of the French Consumer Protection Act). It is indeed a practice that harms consumers (whose choices are distorted) and competing companies (whose products suffer from unfair competition).

Misleading business practices are punished with a prison sentence of two years and a fine of EURO 300,000 (Art. L. 132-2 of the French Consumer Protection Act).

Autor: Maurice Hartmann