An Australian case in which a restaurant won damages from a newspaper that gave it a bad review has inspired pianist (and author) Susan Tomes, who took to the Guardian to pontificate on whether these suits would work in the music world:
If someone does a hatchet job on a solo pianist, his or her personal reputation and business interests are both damaged. The pianist is the business. His playing cannot be spruced up overnight. If he could prove that bookings had fallen through, or were likely to, because concert promoters had lost confidence in him after reading a negative review, surely he could sue for damage to his business interests.
Musicians often wonder what authority critics have to publish their opinions in the national press. This is not to say that there are no committed and knowledgeable critics out there – there are. But an arts critic needs no training. No qualifications have to be achieved before you can become one.
I often think about this when I play in the US. Months before the promoter is allowed to hire me, I have to submit extensive reviews, past programmes and CD reviews to show why I should be engaged, rather than a similarly qualified American artist. When the concert finally takes place, it is likely to be reviewed by someone who – to put it mildly – is unlikely to have been so thoroughly vetted. The critic may even be someone who wanted to be a musician but didn’t succeed. Yet this one person’s review of my concert may determine whether I get asked back.
There is a huge imbalance between the long training and private practice that goes into being a performer and the preparation that goes into being a critic. Performers know this, and it lies at the heart of their uneasy relationship with critics. In the music world it is generally thought that the most dignified response to a poor review is silence. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some performers were now wondering whether it would be better to fight back.
Sure, in theory, it would be great to fight back–but in the end, the suing musicians wouldn’t gain too much from a lawsuit, aside from mounting legal fees, a drastic drop in press mentions about the performer’s musical output (the ink would instead go to breathless, schadenfreude-tinged coverage of the lawsuit), and a cold, harsh realization of how little these “untrained” scribes actually wind up earning.
Unqualified criticism [The Guardian]