Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Who Wants to Gag the Blogosphere?

Today's post comes with a bitter aftertaste. It was with surprise and alarm that I was informed by Octavian Coifan, the blogger of 1000 fragrances, that his blog was reported to Blogger regarding his recent posts about the relationships and possible "borrowing" between the new Guerlain Idylle and Coty's previous work from 1922 of the same name.
Apparently the legal team at LVMH decided that the postings were too accusatory and decided to bring out the big guns, reporting said postings and demanding they're taken down; otherwise Octavian's account would get deleted by Blogger.
Octavian has posted about the incident and about his decision on his blog, but I wanted to bring some questions to you, hopefully igniting another stimulating discussion:

1.The function of reporting a blog on Blogger exists for the following reasons: pornographic content without prior warning (non applicable in this case), copyright infringement (non applicable in this case) and libel/defamation. It's the last bit that was considered applicable according to LVMH but non applicable according to my humble opinion and here's why. The Merriam Webster definition of libel states: "A written or oral defamatory statement or representation that conveys an unjustly unfavorable impression. A statement or representation published without just cause and tending to expose another to public contempt." Nota bene the "unjustly unfavorable" and "without just cause". But the thing is Octavian posted info and photos of the comparison! Besides Idylle by Coty is mentioned in Art & Fragrance Rapport Annuel 2007 as well as in Perfume Intelligence Encyclopedia. Therefore it's nothing new, it's in the public domain for long and he was the one connecting the dots. Does it transpire an adage of the "let sleeping dogs lie" nature? Is this a case of "all is well if no one points it out for others to see"??

2.Other people in the French blogosphere, such as Jeanne from auparfum.com and Mechant Loup of Olfactorum, had posted the preview of the new Idylle bottle and presentation before the original release (Grain de Musc reports the original source was Les Échos owned by LVMH! Stratégies, a business monthly) and were asked by mail to take them down, which they obligingly did {edit to correct: Mechant Loup just informed me that he had the picture taken down through no action of his own, apparently through direct intervention of Blogger itself!}. Octavian was more drastically met. Why is that? Did he go too far in his pointing out the shorcomings of recent LVMH offerings and general practices? It can be argued that he has also greatly contributed to the grandeur of the perception of Guerlain from the perfume-loving community with both his appraisals of older scents as well as newer ones. And the gravitas of the praise is exactly in place due to the existence of criticism where it's due!
Besides, how far is "too far"? And most importantly WHO decides on that last bit? As a Greek by birth, the place where democracy was originally conceived and founded, this is deeply scathing to my very ethos, to my very core. In times where E-democracy is manifesting itself, when the Internet and the blogosphere are viewed as a platform and delivery medium for tools that help to eliminate some of the distance constraints in direct democracy, this is deeply against the times and denotes lack of grasping of current sensibilities. Which brings me to my next question.

3.Who in their right minds thought that such an action was a sensible move in PR terms? The likeable madame Sylvaine Delacourte, artistic director of Guerlain, has been receiving lots of flack for the recent creations of the house (and I admit although I personally liked some, I didn't like all of them) but she was unaware of the Blogger intimidation and to her credit she has confirmed so publicly on Octavian's blog! Why is there such a lack of communication and handling within the firm? This makes a highly placed person feel like a puppet and all the rest of us like viewers of a train-wreck and I am sure she does not appreciate it, nor do we. This also shatters the wonderful prospects we have tried to establish between the blogosphere and the historic house, starting a dialogue in which for once we could be heard!
After all, brands do read us and since Guerlain recently copyrighted the name Loin du Tout just after our review (I am eagerly expecting Lancôme to follow with Kypre), then it means that we blogggers can provide some sort of direction even inadevertedly. Is it worth losing that?

4.What is most alarming is not that big firms have gone after bloggers. No, this has happened again with Pere de Pierre and some objection regarding the authoriship of Lutens fragrances; this has happened to The Non Blonde when she posted about receiving some intimidation from PR companies regarding a lipstick; and there is also the infamous incident of independent perfumer Liz Zorn and her scent name "Peace" objected to by Bond No.9 and their own copyrighted "Scent of Peace". What is most alarming is that it was Blogger involved, a Google platform that has happily catered to the lion's share of blogging writers who wanted to self-publish due to its ease, good infrastructure and free publishing status. Accepting grosso modo a complaint without some logical delay in fair evaluation of the reported blogger and his specific posts equates accepting the word of the behemoth (or anyone really) against the little guy. And this means that there is a shortcoming of democracy once again...I find that last part most devious, most obscure and ~aside any overdramatisation~ truly alarming!

Let me terminate in a very American parable: As Benjamin Franklin was exiting after writing the U.S. constitution, a woman asked him "Sir, what have you given us?"; he responded "A republic ma'am, if you can keep it".

If we can keep it...


  1. Hi Helg,
    I'm very glad you've thrown your glove in the arena (however that metaphor goes). I am also very alarmed by the Blogger connection.

    Just a couple of precisions: the media that originally reproduced the Idylle ad is the online edition of Les Échos, owned by... LVMH.

    Also, according to a lawyer friend I spoke to this morning, in the French law the notion of libel is not applicable to a moral person such as a company. However, if a company can demonstrate that an article was prejudicial to their product or reputation, they have a case.

    I'd like to draw your attention to an irate (and anonymous) French commentator on Octavian's original post: clearly, this person worked on the Idylle launch and may be the whistleblower.

    I've already blogged about the way I see this mess -- it shows lack of judgment and is very bad PR. I'm very sorry that Sylvaine, who very sweetly had the Paris bloggers over to discover new materials and vintage Guerlain (including O. and myself), should find herself in such an uncomfortable position, when, as you aptly stated, she's opened the dialogue with the blogosphere.

  2. Just a pecision : when I received the email from blogger, it was not with cortesy. They did took the picture without action of my own. It was realy threatened, but I "only" had to consider that the picture was not visible, not more. I didn't think this could be so serious. Did Octavian receive the same kind of mail or did it go further ? I don't know,and I'm realy sorry about all this.

  3. Hi D!

    I'm glad you feel my contribution is welcome because I believe this issue merits all the discussion it can get; there is a new era dawning and it is strewn with dubious intentions and perilous side-paths...

    The Blogger connection is seriously alarming in my humble opinion because it precludes (unless something is done to the contrary) that it should suffice for a media mogul to draw attention to a blogger's writings in a negative light and the support team would take their word for it! I am willing to bet that as big LVMH is, Google is equally big, so I don't understand the qualm in not wanting to run this through their own sieve.
    It didn't transpire from anything Octavian told me or posted that he had been "evaluated" through the system as to whether his actions merited the label of libel.
    Libel or -granted, according to French law merely defamation- of course is a delicate issue because as pointed out is not easy to prove.
    Having lived and grown where Aristophanes mocked and criticised just about anyone in power and was awarded for it, instead of chastised, I fail to see how anything is beyond the scope of criticism, when that criticism does not seem to be one-sided (and in Octavian's case I see lots of praise too, as I pointed out; wouldn't that be transparent to the legal team of MVMH?).
    Thanks for the detail of the possible whistleblower, I can well believe it, since I also have commentators who like to "pose" as casual readers when in fact they seem to have a pretty transparent agenda. (BTW, only because I do not like to doubt my readers I try to be as diplomatic but also as clear as to the charade as possible...but this is another can of worms for another day)

    The detail on Les Échos being owned by LVMH is deeply ironic and also revealing...it means that their querry and objection had to do with copyright infringement, not defamation (certainly non intentionally by those two bloggers mentioned!!) But clearly with Octavian it goes beyond that and they object to the content as well, which is why I understand he feels intimidated. It's easier to take a pic down than to retract a "connecting the dots" revelation.

    What can I say...It's a pity! Just about when blogging was seen as something more respectable than just running PR press releases this comes and it pees in the soup...

  4. Mechant Loup,

    thank you so much for stopping by and for commenting on this with your experience. I will be sure to edit and mention it! I'm really sorry this happened to all of you and you have my support.

    So basically they blocked the picture of the presentation, if I understand correctly, again intervening into Blogger! I wonder how Blogger responds to that and I have in mind to ask them!
    Wouldn't this have been possible to solve through a simple email? Surely I can understand their concern on not wanting to have something presented before it being officially out to the world, but it just doesn't ring well... It harms them more than does them good.

    I believe Octavian had a Blogger reporting/flagging action taken on the actual content being objectionable in the sense of it being defamatory and therefore required to have the whole posts (3 of them if I recall correctly?) taken down. More drastic, apparently.

  5. Apparently, it's more quiet here so it's good to be on perfumeshrine. Thanks for the precisions about Octavian.
    Someone left a comment on Octavian's blog. It seems that Guerlain knows there was a misunderstanding. but it seems that some "young" person who know what "blogosphere" means and its impact try to make thing change in a good way, explaining, that "blog" is the world we're living in, today, and have to be free. That is for me the best solution. Crisis make things change, and it seems to be in a good way, for our freedom. We hope so ! Unfortunatly, sometimes, the contrary was prooved !

  6. ML,

    obviously this is Octavian's arena and the bulk of the support should be on his forum. It's imperative that people do leave a comment there so as to show that there is an audience who pays attention.
    Here, we lie a little lower, because this is not something first-handedly experience, but we raise questions, as always. Questions pave the path to thought and thought is what might save us from becoming "sheeple" (=sheep people).

    Thanks for pointing out the comment by Edouard. He's got a point. Brand have to learn to accept the web and the times which are changing. And finally we, as readers & commentetators this time, should be attentive, thorough and very judicious in our choice of words so as not to perpetuate falsehoods (something that is my pet peeve with the Internet at large, btw).

    It's been good hearing from you and feel free to mail me with thoughts any time :-)

  7. Mike Perez14:54

    True words Helg, very true.

    I hate censoring, in any form. It goes without saying that if today someone is telling us what to read - then tomorrow someone wants to tell me what to think.

    If we don't defend our constitutional rights, noone is going to do it for us.

  8. Alexandra15:19

    I think it`s too late for *save us from becoming "sheeple"*.
    Just look at those photos from *Idylle* presentation. Creepy. Ingeniously designed *new* bottle + sex, sex, sex. This sells...
    And if you just try to ruin this *idylle* they will threat you...Why not? They have all the money and need much more.

  9. Anonymous15:38

    I'm watching what is happening on perfume bloggers with Guerlain....and one question comes in: what happend with Octavian and Blogger will repeat in the future? Because a precedent has already been created. A dangerous one. Which will be the next step? The door is already open?!!!
    Something have to be done.....

  10. Anonymous16:32

    Hello, E. I hadn't heard about this controversy, but it doesn't surprise me at all. Blogger has been pretty heavy-handed about going after blogs that are reported for violating their TOUs. I can think of at least one case where they locked a blogger out of her own (political) blog.

    Frankly, we should always remember that Blogger owns this space, and they can silence anyone they please. The state may be obliged to respect our free speech rights, but private property owners are not. Short of a mass blogger boycott, we really have no way of controlling Blogger's censorship decisions.

    As for the corporate issue, well that shouldn't surprise us, either. The perfume business is roughly 75% image, after all--and there are lawyers that need to be fed ...


  11. Thanks Mike.

    I think it's not easy to defend our position, but we've got to give it our best shot.

  12. Alexandra,

    the "sex sells" dictum sounds so very cliche, does it not. You'd think they would be a little more sophisticated than that.
    As to us becoming sheeple, I fervently believe in resisting. How? By questioning everything and everyone. No one is a god, everything is field for scepticism.

  13. Anon,

    to be completely fair I don't think it's merely restricted to Guerlain. It's just the tip of the iceberg! The brands are not accustomed to independent venues yet.
    If you have any good ideas on what to do, practically speaking, apart from speaking up which I hope we're doing, I am all ears.

  14. M,

    if this is the case then I am very sorry for them. This is not conductive to creating an image of freedom.
    You do have a very valid point though: that after all Blogger is another big corporation. (I feel like I am in a Michael Moore film or something at this point...)
    I doubt we could change anything, indeed, in regards to that. Yet the incident creates a precedent...who knows how many more brands might be encouraged to "silence" other bloggers?

  15. Well, I am finding all of this fascinating. I read Octavian's original post and can't even see what their knickers are in a twist about, and besides, why would you do that to someone who loves Guerlain as much as Octavian, and writes about the house with such passion and intelligence? That's just dimwitted. It sounds like D's thinking it may be someone outside LVMH who's disgruntled, but still -- Blogger's response to this and Mechant Loup is stupid.

  16. Glad to see that I'm stupid, thanks. But yes, tht's true, I agree, I was stupid, for I didn't see the evil in any case and in any person. Ok, but who knows the truth behind this ? That is still a question.

  17. Rappleyea18:52

    Helg wrote: "As to us becoming sheeple, I fervently believe in resisting. How? By questioning everything and everyone. No one is a god, everything is field for scepticism."

    That about sums this up for me! And maybe we DO need Michael Moore. If bloggers' writings are going to be censored, then what's the point of blogging?!?

  18. I have only been able to quickly scan this today, but it does seem to be a monstrous blunder by a big, blind company so top heavy that it doesn't not even know what it's own people are doing;such organizations are more likely to strike at perceived threats.

    I'm also disturbed by the reaction of Google blogger and will be watching it too.

  19. Oi Caros amigos

    Eu acredito na liberdade de expressão. Acredito que um blog tem direito de expressar sua opinião.
    Esta opinião deve ser franca, honesta e respeitosa. É possivel mostrar o desagrado em relação à a qualquer brand ou produto e não provocar a ira.
    Acredito que esta briga e desentendimentos não seja proveitosa para o blog Octavian ou LVMH.
    Para ninguém!
    Ambas as partes envolvidas deveriam conciliar seus pontos de vista.
    Procurar o objetivo comum:Divulgação da perfumaria e assuntos relacionados.
    Procurar onde aconteceu a falha. A razão de tremendo equívoco e corrigir.
    A virtude está no meio.
    É uma questão de bom senso.

    Hi Dear friends
    I believe the liberty of speech. I believe that one blog has right to express its opinion.
    This opinion must be frank, honest and respectful. It is possible to show the unpleasantness in relation to any brand or product and not to provoke the anger.
    I believe that this fight and the misunderstandings are not productive for Octavian's blog or LVMH.
    For nobody!
    Both the involved parts would have to conciliate its points of view. To look the common objective:Spreading of perfumery and related subjects.
    To look for where the imperfection happened. The reason of tremendous mistake and to correct.
    The virtue is in the way. It is a question of common-sense.XOXO Elisabeth

  20. To Mechant Loup -- I just left this on your blog, I hope you see it -- my apologies, my English was awkward. I meant that Blogger's RESPONSE to you and Octavian was stupid, not that YOU were stupid! I would hate you and others to think that was what I meant. If LVMH is behind this, THEY are the fools.

  21. March darling,

    I think this whole drama has began under the sign of a terrible eclipse. An eclipse of common sense and another one of "who dunnit" savvy ;-)
    Who knows who the mysterious someone who issued the "flagging" report was. This whole veil of anonymity pisses me off. Why hide? Why not boldly get all out and say "hey, it's me/us/Darth Vader"
    This way it's all pussilanimous and lowly.
    And I agree that Blogger's stance to both leaves something to be desired.

  22. ML,

    I think it was inferred that the treatment you received was stupid, not you. :-)

    I know sometimes communicating in a foreign language is tough. (I should know)

    It's all a mystery till someone official comes out and clears the misunderstanding. I hope it happens.

  23. Donna,

    thank you for saying so. Maybe we do! I started blogging thinking it's a free speech platform. I am becoming disillusioned. But not compliant. :-)

  24. P,

    it seems that in the intricasies of a giant mechanism not all people are accountable and one can anonymously slander anyone they target (such as Octavian in this case). Somehow it seems like this was building up for some time now...Knowing the style of communication of Octavian, I do not believe he was meaning harm. He was meaning to be honest and blunt about it, I should think. If there is some disgruntlement, then it should be straightened out in regular communication like educated adults, not like children at the school yard who "report" on the teacher when someone is not to their liking....
    Is it just me, who thinks so?

  25. Thank you Elizabeth for your comment and your passion!
    I too think this whole thing serves nothing in particular for either party. However a little support to what must have felt very upsetting to a fellow blogger was merited.
    We will be back to schedule soon :-)

  26. March,

    merci on behalf of ML. :-)

  27. March, it's ok. I do not read easily english either. Thanks for the post.

  28. Helg, I goofed!!! The original leak was NOT, repeat NOT in Les Echos but in Stratégies, a business monthly.

  29. Perfumella07:35

    You know, there are other blogs which still have pics of Guerlain Idylle up, so I'm assuming poor Octavian was marked because of his outspoken and forthright(justifiable) criticism of Guerlain.

    It was an extremely shallow, petty and underhanded attack on one of the biggest Guerlainophiles in the blogosphere - are Guerlain so blind and reactionary to think that all of us who blog and post are going to just shut up from now on?

    This incident has caused almost irreparable harm to Guerlain's image as the ogre who couldn't rise above their own inflated importance to see that by listening to bloggers and evaluating their criticisms, they have an invaluable tool with which to shape their future direction - and it's free! Our finger is on the pulse because we ARE the pulse!

    I worry for freedom of speech (especially as blogging was supposed to be a platform to protect it) and I worry for the stupidity and heavy-handed tactics of large corporations. But mostly I worry for wonderful people like Octavian and Sylvaine who are caught in the crossfire of such egregious behaviour by commercial behemoths.

    Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.....

  30. I have just had a look at Octavian's blog. It seems that he has erased all his Guerlain posts! What a shame - I wanted to read it. And I'm sure there would have been people after me who would want to do the same. Seems a bit heavy handed on the part of Guerlain, unnecessary and it's backfired already. I think the only way to ensure this doesn't happen again is to buy a domain name. I had never thought of that before this but I think it's something I will do soon.

  31. D,

    that's OK, mistakes happen even to the best of us.
    Thanks for clarifying (have edited accordingly so as not to mislead anyone else)!

  32. Perfumella,

    it does sound like there is something more to it than meets the eye, although Octavian has just posted in his new post that it was a copyright concern.(the post is revelatory in more ways than one and is his response to us too).
    INdeed the whole incident has created a tarnished image (not sure who would be to blame on this!) and it was sad indeed.

  33. Audit,

    I believe the erasing is part of Octavian's decision, not an intervention of Blogger/Guerlain (thank god, because if that were the case it would be seriously bad...). I can't say that I blame him, he felt betrayed, although I will surely miss the wonderful entries...
    Perhaps having one's own domain is the best solution.(although it is STILL not exempt from applicable laws and copyright concerns from big companies)

  34. This whole case is a shame and it brings disgrace to Guerlain! I "used" Octavian's blog to improve my Guelain knowledge in the past and they (Guerlain) are setting their own pants on fire by censoring him and any Guerlainophile bloggers for just bein open mouthed and democratically speaking! Where are we? Is this European 'democrazy'? I am shocked, i cannot believe my eyes!!

  35. N,

    thanks to Octavian's latest post (which is recommended reading) it transpires that it was a copyright infrigment that was the issue. But still, it did damage to the image of the brand. Damage which could have been avoided...

  36. I wrote a previous message this morning but it seems that it was lost. (let me remember what I wanted to say and I'll come back later).
    I just wanted to say that the post was modified by blogger on a Guerlain SA complain on tuesday and it was my decision yesterday to start removing contents placing that small notice. It sounds like a violation when I was not at "home" but my home is blogger :)

  37. I'm ignorant of the law, and I understand that Blogger would be a privately owned medium, but how could a French company claim defamation here, if the offense wasn't committed in France? Google is a US company. I guess I'm just confused how that all works legally speaking.

  38. Dear Helg,

    Firstly, an apology for not writing sooner--I had a long day and I just got the news.

    To be honest I was saddened that such censorship would take place in a really direct manner, but interestingly enough the owner of an established fragrance boutique (you may remember who) discussed this issue with me several months ago--the person felt that corproate censorship would be on the rise and that it could be really troubling to discuss anything that could be interpreted as less than supportive. I don't agree with the principle but it seems the observation is right on the mark in this case.

    So here we are, with the brands fighting a second front--it used to be the war between the press and the brands, with Jean Paul Gaultier banning reporters and Pierre Bergé slamming people who cared to utter one bad word a YSL collection. While the fashion industry on a whole is less forward (Cathy Horyn of the NYT still gets a good banning here and there from the Italian designers) we are now seeing the Internet front gets the same treatment.

    Why? While there are many reasons (succinctly pointed out by many before me) please humour me to propose one issue: the whole system is too fragile.

    It's an industry that builds on dreams, easily constructed and just as easy to be punctured once the facts are pointed out. While the corporations will quick to point out the possible reprecussions of the comments (the story is all too familiar here) this is really an extension of the desire to lock in the system. Chandler already said it in his book: it's a big industry controlled by a relative few, and there's just a huge desire to maintain the status quo despite the destructive technology, the so-called Internet.

    (And if I may the old fragrance press, traditionally a mere division of fashion reporting, is still pretty brand-friendly. Aside from generally lacking the knowledge to critique scents properly there's also an incentive not to. For not wanting to snow-ball the situation I don't want to comment on that front--just an observation.)

    But enough with my thoughts. I just want to toss in my support for all fellow bloggers here. (And any other issues I'll e-mail you soon.)



  39. Starscent04:44

    I cannot connect to Avery Gilbert's blog, listing an article entitled, "The Goons of Guerlain." I wonder if this represents deliberate foul play by the goons or their henchmen.

  40. Octavian,

    thanks for coming here and clarifying this for us. It must have felt like a betrayal to see the system intervening on your post without your knowledge, indeed!
    I understood that the rest you edited yourself, out of your sense of not wanting to support a brand who treats you that way. Respected.

    Hope you let this glide off your back and don't let it bother you any longer. As much as that can be done...

  41. Gastronomic Goddess,

    I can't say I am a law professional either. My (hopefully lofical) understanding is that Google/Blogger is the domain and they're accountable to US law due to their location. Since the posts were hosted there, Blogger wanted to cover their @ss and be all right with the law, thus removing the photo in order to net get a lawsuit. LVMH is a French company, however their reach is global and US market is critical for them (well, for any company, you don't want to piss your American market!). Therefore they have justifiable cause to complain if they think their copyright infringment is breached. They also have a US branch for tackling that sort of thing, so it doesn't surprise me.

    HOWEVER the matter of complaints would have been easier dealt with if they had mailed the bloggers directly to take it down, and not reported them. That way the only people to know of this would be them. Now everyone does!!
    Like I had said on another post to another commentator, it's never intelligent to deny/attack something vehemently when the circuit of reach is small. The denial/attack fuels it and it becomes bigger than intended/dreamed of ;-)

  42. A,

    thanks for your always analytical comments.

    What can I say, I assume it was seen coming from the horizon. The French press especially has never been critical to perfume, the national "treasure". I guess it would be the same as our own journalists bashing the New Acropolis Museum or something...it would be "high treason"! (all comparisons relative of course and merely to illustrate perhaps crudely my point)
    At some point someone would get vexed and take action! Whether it was merited, I think we all agree it was not. But that's just how things are and we will have to devise ways of retaining our independence and not getting into lawsuits. There has got to be some way.

    It's true that the whole perfume business is built on dreams and expectations and it's easy to shatter them. But incidents like this tarnish the image for a significant segment that is especially attuned to the exclusive and top releases which might not bring the bulk of the money to the behemoths, but they do contribute to the image and the dream like nothing else!

    I will be awaiting your email on the further things (and the LADT)

  43. Starscent,

    I can see it perfectly here. Perhaps it was a tech glitch?

    It would be preposterous of them to intervene on each and every one of us who mentioned this, wouldn't it? *perish the thought*

  44. Remember, Google turned in chinese people the Communist Regime was after for merely voicing their opinions online. The people of China have no freedom of speech at all. The requirement of Google to enter China to do business was to turn in these chinese who thought they were voicing their opinion in a veil of safety on the internet.
    Google turned them in-all to make a buck.


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