Author Awarded Damages for Spiteful Inaccurate Book Review

A recent court ruling in London set the bar higher for book reviewers who give spiteful or damning reviews.

A High Court in London awarded author Sarah Thornton £65,000 in damages to compensate her for a single slashing review of her non-fiction book on the art world, according to FT.Com

The case turned on the author’s allegation that reviewer Lynn Barber in The Daily Telegraph denied that she had been interviewed by Sarah Thornton for her book,
Seven Days in the Art World
, when in fact, the Court ruled the reviewer had provided quotes. Lynn Barber blamed her accusation on faulty memory, to which friends testified Lynn could be a bit scattered in that department.

But the judge ruled that forgetfulness was not an excuse, because it was reckless for the reviewer not to verify the truth or falsity of her accusation, especially since her review was harsh.

Does this mean that book reviewers of non-fiction works will be silenced by the chilling effect of lawsuits? Doubtful. According to the FT.com article by Francis Wheen, the judge went on to say that:

“A reviewer is entitled to be spiteful, so long as she is honest, but if she is spiteful, the court may more readily conclude that misstatements of fact are not honest, since spite or ill will is a motive for dishonesty.”

I urge you to read Mr. Wheen’s entire report, for he goes on to make a sympathetic case for the side of the book reviewer, and the grand tradition of literary hatchets to writers’ works put out for the public.

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