Monday, September 10, 2012

Arnault Sues Libé

Bernard Arnault is suing Libération for publicly insulting him with a headline that obviously paraphrased the words of a former president of the Republic: "Casse-toi riche con!"

Le patron de LVMH, Bernard Arnault, a décidé de porter plainte contre le journal "Libération" pour "injures publiques proférées à son égard", selon un communiqué, après la Une choc du quotidien lundi "Casse toi, riche con!" qui fustigeait sa demande de naturalisation belge.
An interesting legal conundrum: Can you sue someone for injures publiques when the injure in question is borrowed from a head of state?


Mitch Guthman said...

I don't have a background in civil law, so I don't understand what this lawsuit is about. Can it possibility be true that Amault has a basis for a lawsuit under French law?

If so, is truth a complete defense?

Anonymous said...

This cover was insulting and stupid.
Arnault made a mistake - as someone said on TV today "Bill Gates would never consider changing citizenship if the tax code changed, so the problem is not Arnault, the problem is the disconnect between French elites and their sense of belonging to a country".
Yet that does not excuse such a cover.
I also disliked their cover last week about "incest" on the day kids started school.
Kinda wondering if they think it's cute or what, because it feels very immature to me.

Mitch Guthman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mitch Guthman said...

@ anonymous,

The Libé cover and article is a part of the political debate and is, in a way, a sort of push back against the threats of some of the superriches to leave France while continuing to make their money in there. Arnault is being singled out because he has very much put himself in public eye in this debate over taxes and because the value of so many of the brands in his conglomerate is so dependent on the cachet conferred by the strong association of those brands with France. Arnault is happy to rake in the money the cachet of being French brings to his brands; now let him pay his fair share to France in return.

I thought the cover was hugely amusing because it played rather cleverly off of the famous Sarkozy quote, especially the subtle nuance of meaning involved in the substitution of rich for poor in “pauvre con”. Maybe it wasn’t polite but I don’t see it as inappropriate under the circumstances. Amault is chief among those elites you mention as being disconnected from a sense of belong to something larger than themselves. You know, if the former président de la République can call a total stranger a pauvre con, then surely it’s okay for Libé to call the richest man in France a riche con when he acts like one.

martinned said...

To answer that final question: there are many things interesting about this case, but that last thing isn't it. You can cause injury to someone even by quoting someone else.

Mitch Guthman said...

@ martinned,

Actually, the final question does hold great interest for me. There is nothing even remotely similar in the common law allowing a person to sue a publication for calling him a rich asshole or because they’ve hurt his delicate feelings. I have never heard of such a thing in my country, England or Canada. It seems absurd.

At common law, we do have certain kinds of actions for publishing defamatory or false statements but they would not encompass someone expressing the opinion that Bernard Arnault is an asshole. Such opinions are traditionally far outside the jurisdiction of the courts. There is also an absolute defense of truth (which would seem to be clearly applicable in this case).

Also, could you perhaps direct me to a basic description of what we would call the tort of injures publiques, preferably in English or the easiest French possible? I assure you, a legal obligation not to hurt someone’s feelings is quite remarkable to an American lawyer and I would like to know more. If it’s this easy, I’m amazed that every newspaper, magazine and a vast number of politicians in France haven’t been bankrupted already.

Anonymous said...

Can you sue someone for injures publiques when the injure in question is borrowed from a head of state?

A man in the street got in trouble some months after the famous Sarkozy quote, for displaying it on a placard.

More cleverly, you could buy tee-shirts bearing the words "Nicolas Sarkozy a dit" in small letters and, in huge letters, the phrase for which our ex-president will come down in history, "casse-toi, pauvre con".

Art, as a translator, how would you transpose it in English? It can be translated either in too mild a manner or too rude.


Cincinna said...

American jurisprudence which evolved from English common law is a whole different kettle if fish from French law.
First, Arnauld is a public person, and the standard for libel and slander is very high, almost non-existent, except in cases where proven facts, ie the truth is the only defense.
Huring someone's feelings, making them look foolish, or insulting them, or writing about their private life, or using their picture without permission is not an
actionable tort in US or common law.

In France, the story is quite different. Princesses (sic) Caroline of Monaco has developed her own cottage industry of suing various French publications like Paris Match and Point de Vue, for using pictures of her, a very public picture, and writing about her private life. She always wins. The magazines pay a fine and print an apology, getting themselves even more readers, and the ludicrous game goes on.

M. Arnault is a brilliant businessman and promoter of French luxury goods, one if France's most important exports and of himself. He would be wise to turn this around to his advantage. 

  In the words of that great self-promotor, P.T. Barnum:
“I don't care what you say about me, just spell my name right.”

Anonymous said...

One more layer to the business...

Libération was clever for its second cover: "Reviens, on annule tout", quoting Sarkozy again (allegedly).