Everybody owes, everybody pays

May 15, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

As long as there have been books, the saying goes, there have been book critics. And as long as there have been book critics, there have been pissed-off authors. If you’re an aggrieved author, not of a murderous disposition (see post below), and happen to live in Russia, it now appears you can successfully sue the author of a negative review.

From the Law Library of Congress’s Global Legal Monitor:

On April 23, 2009, a federal district court in the southern Russian province of Dagestan issued an unprecedented ruling, ordering a journalist of a local newspaper to pay compensation in an amount equal to US$1,000 to a writer who did not like a review of his book published in the newspaper.

The author of the book in question claimed that the negative review led to severe mental anguish for him and his family, and that his reputation was adversely affected.

The problems with this ruling are clear. If reviewers can be held financially liable for subjective opinions about imaginative works, legitimate criticism is not possible. Writers will (for obvious reasons) be unwilling to dispraise anything, for any reason, and readers will be unable to trust the praise that is dispensed, suspecting that it is merely a cover for the reviewer’s fear of retaliatory litigation.

The irony of the Russian court’s ruling is that it satisfied neither the defendent nor the plaintiff, who had originally asked for compensation in the amount of U.S. $150,000. According to the Law Library of Congress, both parties in the suit intend to appeal. With luck, this asinine ruling will be overturned in short order.