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Natalie MacLean: ‘What I am doing is legal and right’

Canadian wine critic Natalie MacLean has denied offering wine reviews in return for website subscriptions, but has promised to fully reference third-party reviews amid growing scrutiny of her practices.

MacLean, who was named the world’s best wine writer at the World Food Media Awards in 2003, and holds a host of other awards including a James Beard and a Louis Roederer International Wine Writing Award, stands accused by Indianapolis-based online journal Palate Press of using a ‘pay to play’ rule, by asking those submitting wines for review to subscribe to her website.

The accusations surfaced in reader feedback on the site accusing MacLean of infringing copyright by publishing third-party wine reviews from critics inclduing Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson MW and Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, with little or no reference.

In a response posted on the Palate Press blog and also sent direct to Decanter.com, MacLean said that she has ‘never charged to review wines’.

‘It’s $2 a month to access the subscription part of my site, but that does not determine whether or not I review a wine.’

She was defensive over the copyright infringement claim. ‘I have had a thorough discussion with a legal expert on copyright and know that what I am doing now and what I will be doing in the future is not only legal, but right,’ she said.

But, she added that ‘for all reviews previously quoted, please know that I am working to revise the way I format third party reviews to cite full names and publication details’.

In an editorial entitled, ‘wine writer or content thief’, Palate Press said that MacLean was using reviews from the Vintages Wine Catalogue, a publication of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), without prior permission from the authors or full attribution.

‘Before my attention was drawn to this, I had no clue my tasting notes were being used on Natalie’s website,’ Jancis Robinson MW told Decanter.com.

‘I’m afraid I can’t help concluding that she was hoping casual visitors to her site would think that all of the 150,000 wine reviews she claims to have were hers. Had she genuinely wanted to attribute them correctly she would not have bothered to strip off all the correct attributions given by the LCBO.’

Written by Chris Mercer

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