Can Book Reviewers Be Sued for Bad Reviews? Yes. Amazon Reviewer Sued by Self-Pub Author for Libel under British Law After French Award for Criminal Libel, and U.S. Precedent

The New Yorker's Book Bench is spreading the news about a lawsuit filed across the pond against an Amazon reviewer as well as Amazon.com and Richard Dawkins by the self-published author of a book entitled, "The Attempted Murder of God: Hidden Science You Really Need to Know."

It's filed under British libel law and the first hurdle appears to be something akin to a Rule 12(b) motion under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure -- and it will be interesting to see what Great Britian does with this attempt to get money damages out of someone who wrote a thumbs down review of a self-published book uploaded for sale on Amazon. 

Laura Owen has written a nice summary piece on this reviewer libel suit over at PaidContent, entitled "Self-Published British Author Sues For Libel Over Bad Amazon Review.."

Book Reviewer Found Guilty of Libel in France for Bad Review

Think this is nuts?  Well, if this plaintiff had been following the news out of France, then maybe he is being crazy like a fox.  Seems that a plaintiff suing  for "criminal libel" under French law for a bad online review won -- got a nice chunk of change in an award, too.

Among the defendants:  the editor of the European Journal of International Law, New York University Law Professor Joseph Weiler.  Notice that an American book reviewer and noted law professor is being sued for damages in France, and he's posting about his courtroom experiences online. 


Could this happen in the United States? Should American Book Reviewers Worry About Being Sued for Damages by an Author for a Bad Book Review?

In the United States, authors have already sued reviewers for allegedly destroying their writing careers by giving bad reviews of their work.  I haven't done extensive legal research on this, but I am aware of  a landmark case where the New York Times got sued by an author named Dan E. Moldea for a review it published by NYT sports writer Gerald Eskenazi. 

That case, really cases, sets a standard for review - there are two relevant opinions here:

Moldea 1:  Moldea v. New York Times Co., 15 F3d 1137 (D.C. Cir. 1994)

Moldea 2:  Moldea v. New York Times Co., 22 F3d 310 (D.C. Cir. 1994)

Interesting thing about Moldea:  upon appeal from a district court dismissal of the case as being without merit, the appellate court initially recognized a cause of action for damages based upon a bad book review -- then, the court changed its mind ... finding that the book reviewer cannot be sued as long as the review is (Moldea, 22 F3d at 315) :

rationally supportable by reference to the actual text he or she is evaluating

From the Moldea 2 opinion (22 F3d 311-312, 315-316):
After careful consideration of the Times' petition for rehearing and Moldea's response to that petition, we are persuaded to amend our earlier decision. The original majority opinion was generally correct in its statement of the law of defamation. Unfortunately, that opinion failed to take sufficient account of the fact