NYU Professor Faces Libel Lawsuit in France for Refusing to Purge Negative Book Review

February 25, 2010

A law professor at New York University faces trial in a French criminal court in June on libel charges, after refusing to purge an academic book review from a Web site affiliated with a law journal that he edits, Times Higher Education reports.

Joseph Weiler, editor in chief of the European Journal of International Law, is being sued by Karin Calvo-Goller, a senior lecturer at the Academic Centre of Law and Business in Israel, for a review of her book, The Trial Proceedings of the International Criminal Court, that was published on the Web site in 2007.

Soon after it appeared, Ms. Calvo-Goller wrote to Mr. Weiler, saying that the review, by Thomas Weigend, director of the Cologne Institute of Foreign and International Criminal Law and dean of the faculty of law at the University of Cologne, was defamatory. She asked that the review be removed from the site.

"Prof. Weigend's review goes beyond the expression of an opinion, fair comment, and criticism," she wrote in correspondence reproduced in an editorial on "Book Reviewing and Academic Freedom" that Mr. Weiler has written for the current issue of the European Journal of International Law. She deemed the review "libelous," saying it could "cause harm to my professional reputation and academic promotion," and provided an example of a positive review the book had received from another German professor.

Mr. Weiler refused to remove the review but offered to publish a response from Ms. Calvo-Goller, "so that anyone reading the review would immediately be able to read her reply," an approach that "would have amply and generously vindicated all possible interests of the author of the book," he wrote in the editorial. "I continue to believe that in all the circumstances of the case ... removing the review by Professor Weigend would have dealt a very serious blow to notions of freedom of speech, free academic exchange, and the very important institution of book reviewing."

Faced with what he notes is "the heavy financial burden of defending such a case — expenses which are in large part not recoverable even if acquitted," Mr. Weiler has appealed for "moral and material assistance" from the academic community and writes that he is optimistic that he will be acquitted at trial. "Any other result will deal a heavy blow to academic freedom and change the landscape of book reviewing in scholarly journals, especially when reviews have a cyber presence as is so common today." —Aisha Labi