Natalie MacLean: World’s Best Wine Writer or Content Thief?
Natalie MacLean is a well-known wine writer who self-publishes a subscription newsletter at NatalieMacLean.com, who proudly proclaims she was named the “World’s Best Wine Writer” at the World Food Media Awards. Unfortunately, Ms. MacLean appears to be building her reputation, and her business, on the work of others.
Her website offers a paid “Magnum Membership” that gives readers access to wine reviews. It also generates revenue from advertising. The core of Ms. MacLean’s work is the publication of wine reviews and food and wine pairings. In addition to her own reviews, which are often a sentence or less, Ms. MacLean includes professional wine reviews by writers from other publications. The reviews sometimes include the writer’s name, but never the publication or a link. Rather, they are all accredited to “Vintages Wine Catalogue,” a Liquor Control Board of Ontario publication which runs fully accredited reviews, including author, date, and publication, to drive wine sales, much like any retailer on line or on shelf-talkers.
There is a simple phrase for this practice in which Ms, MacLean has engaged – copyright infringement. Just because someone is writing about wine rather than, say, politics or foreign affairs does not absolve him or her from adhering to journalistic ethics. Intellectual property theft is a scourge on journalism and cannot be tolerated.
The law allows for republication of snippets of copyrighted material if it is used as a basis for criticism (such as using a movie or song clip for an arts review), commentary (as in debate), news reporting (and usually only with attribution in that case), or education (as in a classroom). This is known as the “Fair Use” doctrine. Ms. MacLean’s use of others’ work clearly fails the Fair Use test because she publishes entire reviews, they are appropriated for commercial purposes and her use is not for any of the legally permitted reasons.
Palate Press reached out to many of the wine writers whose work has ended up on Ms. MacLean’s site. None of those we contacted had given any permission to Ms. MacLean for her use of their work. The list of those so offended is a “Who’s Who” of the world of wine journalism, including Jancis Robinson and reviews from her members-only Purple Pages, Antonio Galloni, David Schildknecht, Lisa Perrotti-Brown and Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate, Bruce Sanderson, Harvey Steiman and Kim Marcus, of Wine Spectator, Steve Heimoff and Roger Voss of Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Josh Reynolds and Steve Tanzer from International Wine Cellar, as well as Alpana Singh, Tony Aspler, Evan Savioloidis, James Halliday, Jamie Goode, Meryl Weaver, Michael Cooper, Sue Courtney, and Michael Vaughan.
Jancis Robinson, when she learned of the use of reviews from her Purple Pages, wrote to Ms. MacLean:
I must say I am horrified, Natalie. Not just by the general lack of proper attribution, but by the appropriation of reviews from Purple Pages of JancisRobinson.com which is a members-only publication. I would draw your attention to the Terms & Conditions at http://www.jancisrobinson.com/page/terms_and_conditions.html and in particular to the Limitations on Use of the Site. Please take steps to remove all reviews appropriated from our Purple Pages immediately.
Harvey Steiman, of Wine Spectator, received assurances from Ms. MacLean that she would only republish the limited reviews offered for free on Wine Spectator’s website, and always with the author’s name, date, and publication. However, her website still publishes Wine Spectator reviews from behind the subscription wall without date or attribution to the original magazine.
Ms. MacLean’s Canadian colleagues, Rod Phillips and Tony Aspler, have also told Palate Press that their work had been reproduced without authorization or proper attribution, and that calls for changes have so far yielded no results.
We have all seen wine retailers use quotes or scores from wine reviews in so-called “shelf talkers.” This is akin to ads you see for films quoting from a glowing review (sometimes very selectively). But retailers quote such blurbs with the name and publication of the reviewer because they are attempting to sell wine (or movie tickets) on the back of writer’s reputation and credibility. But, as Ms. Robinson noted to Palate Press, “there is a qualitative difference between a retailer’s quoting a review for sales purposes and a fellow wine commentator’s publishing it on their own personal website.” When other writers do it – particularly when they fail to properly credit the writing – they are stealing the writer’s reputation and credibility.
Finally, if Ms. MacLean is truly “the Worlds’ Best Wine Writer,” or even one of the better ones, subscribers will come to her website for her own writing. There should be no reason to include other people’s work, unless her work fails to stand on its own and she needs to purloin the fruit of colleagues‘ labors to make her site viable. That, of course, strikes at the very heart of intellectual property laws as well as the simple respect one colleague owes another.
Palate Press is committed to upholding the highest ethical standards. We cannot sit idly by while an ostensible colleague in oenological journalism brings discredit upon any of us by flouting those standards.
We can only hope that Ms. MacLean will stop buttressing her own pages with the hard work of her colleagues.
David Honig, Publisher
Rémy Charest, Editor
Becky Sue Epstein, International Editor
Tom Mansell, Science Editor
Ryan Reichert, Managing Editor
Gary Thomas, Wine Review Editor
For other coverage of Ms. MacLean in Palate Press please see That’s Entertainment: Review of Natalie MacLean’s Unquenchable, by Rémy Charest. The comments are of particular interest and informed the Editorial Board in the decision to pen the above editorial. Research in support of this commentary may be found HERE.