Gripes over Grapes: International Internet Defamation in the Wine World

international internet defamation case study: wine industryMon Dieu! Wine gossips were smirking and tutting over an international Internet  defamation dust-up. An industry commentator, popular for parodying oenophiles, spilled some satirical shade on a well-known wine glass maker. A lawsuit was threatened, but civility – and a joint statement – prevailed.

Despite the quick detente, the case is worth a gander, as it raises two defamation law issues:

  1. Satire v. Defamation; and
  2. International defamation considerations in a digital world.

The International Internet Defamation Incident: Glass Maker v. Win Blogger

His name is Ron Washam and he calls himself the HoseMaster of Wine™. Think: Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Vineyard Division.

And like any “insult comic dog,” Washam occasionally encounters people who don’t appreciate his humor. Recently, one of Washam’s works, which posted on U.K.-based Tim Atkin’s wine blog, ignited an international defamation flame.

In the contested article, Washam used a long-established satirical tool: fake dialogue. Specifically, he put these words in the mouth of high-end glassmaker, Georg Riedel:

“Sommeliers are the stupidest, most gullible people I work with”, and “The wine business is a very sexist business. As it should be.”

Another passage from Washam’s post:

“It is small-minded and immature men who understand that the only way to impress other men is to buy expensive wines and pour them into ridiculous decanters and serve them in very particular wine glasses. Things we convince them of using pseudo-science and half-truths. I am simply the man who found that way to tap into their vanity and overblown egos.”

To shorten a long story, Riedel wasn’t impressed with Washam’s parody and pursued legal action. When the Toastmaster learned of the possible claim, he publically responded on his blog:

“Me, a lowly, bottom-feeding satirist, threatened by a billionaire glass blower. It’s the stuff of comedy, ladies and gentlemen.”

It’s important to note, for reasons we’ll reveal below, that Tim Atkin, on whose site the offending article ran, had tweeted about the article.

U.K. Defamation Law Prompted Atkin To Take Precautions

A few days after the news hit, U.K. resident Atkin said he was consulting with solicitors. Shortly after that, he added a preface to the Washam’s piece on his blog. It reads:

In this piece, US-based wine writer Ron Washam pokes fun at Riedel, the wine glass company, a brand that I respect and use personally. This is a piece of satire. No offence is meant to be caused either to Georg Riedel or to his business. Please note that no interview with Georg Riedel took place in the creation of this article and that all quotes are fictitious and do not represent the personal views or business practices of Georg Riedel or his company. Tim Atkin

Why the statement? Because, under U.K. law, Riedel may have been able to successfully sue Atkin, if Atkin hadn’t back-tracked a bit.

You see, in Her Majesty’s Realm, since approbation of the 2013 Defamation Law, upon notification, website operators are required to remove defamatory content – before a court declares a statement libelous.

In this instance, if Atkin hadn’t posted the clarification, nor removed the article, there’s a significant chance he would have lost the case.

Smart To Settle This International Internet Defamation Case?

After Atkin posted the preamble – and the wine industry expressed exasperation over the suit – Riedel withdrew the legal action.

Was it smart to settle? Of course. If you can handle a situation amicably, do it!

But, in a way, it’s too bad this case didn’t play out. We’d never wish a protracted legal battle on anyone, but if this suit had made it to court, the decision may have further established case law regarding the responsibility website owners assume for defamatory guest blog content.

Under U.K. defamation law, did Atkins stir the proverbial pot by re-tweeting Washam’s message about the lawsuit? In doing so, did he attract more attention to the piece? And if so, is that contrary to the U.K.’s set of online defamation standards established in 2013? These questions may have been answered if the case made it to court.

Speak With An Internet Defamation Attorney

Maintaining a good online reputation is essential. Kelly Warner has worked with over 700 individuals and businesses with their Internet defamation issues and challenges. A top AV-rated practice, attorneys at our firm enjoy stellar litigation track records.

Let’s talk. We may be able to solve your online defamation or reputation issue quickly – and for less money than you may think. Get in touch today to schedule a consultation.

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