Austrian Hotel Drops Libel Lawsuit Against Guest Who Complained About Pictures Of Nazis In The Lobby
from the calling-a-nazi-a-nazi-still-protected-expression-(but-just-barely) dept
Some sanity has finally prevailed in Austria, where libel laws are anything but sane. Earlier this year, a guest of the Ferienhof Gerlos hotel in Austria was sued by the hotel after posting reviews that mentioned the unexpected presence of a photo of a man in a Nazi uniform by the front entrance.
The guest — referred to in court documents only as “Thomas K” — said a few things the hotel didn’t like in his reviews. This:
At the entrance they display a picture of a Nazi grandpa.
This made us wonder what the hotel owners are trying to tell us with this image. This incident speaks volumes about the current state of affairs in this region of Austria.
The hotel owners claimed the photo was not of a “Nazi grandpa,” but rather the only photo they had of this relative who was definitely not a Nazi. The owners claimed the person had never been a member of the Nazi party, but rather only a member of the military force controlled by the Nazi government. Checkmate, I guess.
Except that wasn’t actually true. The reviewer being sued did his research and discovered the person in the picture had been a member of the Nazi party. So, an actual “Nazi grandpa,” not just a “Nazi-adjacent grandpa.”
Despite all of this, the Austrian court sided with the hotel owners. It granted a preliminary injunction, stating that the hotel owner’s interest in “protecting her reputation took precedence over the guest’s right to freedom of expression.”
Having actual evidence backing Nazi claims is no defense to libel accusations by someone who wants to “protect” their reputation, I guess. Fortunately, the court reconsidered this decision and decided that maybe having proof that the Nazi being called a Nazi by a hotel guest is actually a Nazi might tip the scale back in favor of freedom of expression.
The court rolled back the injunction in November, citing the evidence showing the accused Nazi was a literal Nazi. With the injunction gone, the hotel owners have decided it’s probably not a good idea to keep suing.
The owners of an Austrian four-star hotel who took one of their visitors to court over his online review criticising the portrait of a “Nazi grandpa” in its lobby have dropped the case because the guest managed to unearth evidence showing their relative had in fact been a member of the Nazi party.
I wonder how much a visit to the German National Archives costs?
The hotel’s owners, who say they had not been aware of their relatives’ party membership, will likely have to pay their former guests’ legal costs of about €10,000 (£8,350).
The hotel owners could have done a little research before engaging in litigation, but that same thing could be said about lots of plaintiffs in bogus defamation suits. Careless litigation tends to do more damage to reputations than anything defendants have said. The decision to place a photo containing a person wearing Nazi symbols at the entrance of a hotel was a terrible judgment call by the owners. A simple apology and an explanation would have been far better than this expensive mess it made for itself.