• November 27, 2014

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

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

Comments

1. physicsprof - February 25, 2010 at 03:54 pm

Incredible... Prof. Weiler, you have my total moral support. As to material assistance, is it possible just to ignore French court here? Probably being a scholar in International Law, Prof. Weiler does not want to do this, but please explain me even if for my own education.

2. kathden - February 25, 2010 at 03:59 pm

I urge anyone interested in ordinary academic freedom (or in the possibility of reviewing books) to read what Thomas Weigend wrote. (Click on the link "Web site" in the second line of this Chronicle piece; the review is just four paragraphs long.) Then ask yourself whether it will be possible in future to write a negative review.

3. kyle43 - February 25, 2010 at 04:10 pm

Just read the review. It is not "libelous" in any way shape or form.

4. mothergrogan - February 25, 2010 at 04:10 pm

As the editor of an international journal myself, this is chilling. I recently had a run-in with a disgruntled author who demanded a retraction of a perfectly reasonable review. I knew he had no legal recourse, but the fact that one can sue in a French or, even worse, British court is obviously threatening to the cause of academic freedom.

5. philrels108 - February 25, 2010 at 04:10 pm

While taking the author to task for her weak analysis, the review appears to be well within the range of normal standards of academic discourse. If it provides grounds for charges of libel, so do hundreds of others published online every year.

6. 22108469 - February 25, 2010 at 04:14 pm

I hope K.N.Calvo-Goller is not as angry as Amy Bishop, and it's amazing that a court in Western Europe will be hearing this case. Why wouldn't a judge toss such a case?

7. cichacech - February 25, 2010 at 04:39 pm

Freedom of expression is always lost first... and then freedom vanishes, when fear of abused legal power paralyzes intelligent people from criticizing their peers' work. The European courts should review their troubled history before wasting time and money on cases such as this... Czechoslovakia of August 1968, from which I escaped "illegally" as a boy of six, is one such historical example...

8. cicuta - February 25, 2010 at 04:49 pm

K.N.Calvo-Goller, get a life, get over it, write another book, take the criticism for what is worth (I have personally been the subject of much accolades and virulent critisism in my carrer. The later is hard to take, but there is always something constructive that can be made out it)
Please don't sue me if you don't like my coment.

9. grumpygradstudent - February 25, 2010 at 04:50 pm

I'm many years removed from my International Law classes, but I'm unclear on a couple of points:

1. How does a French court claim jurisdiction over a perceived "harm" that occurred in Israel? I was under the impression that the case must be registered in the place where the alledged harm occurred - which in this case would be Israel where K C-V is located. Do French courts claim universal jurisdiction over journals?

2. How does a review of a book that contains a reviewer's OPINIONS constitute libel? Last I heard, statements of facts are libelous, opinions are not. This is a serious free speech issue

One might think that a motion to dismiss from some IL savvy "friends of the court" might get this thrown out

10. plottel - February 25, 2010 at 04:52 pm

K.N.Calvo-Goller's lawsuit will do more to blemish her professional reputation than Thomas Weigend's lukewarm review of her book. Some suggestions: Prof. Weiler could ask the American Association of University Professors to convince the plaintiff to drop her lawsuit. Surely NYU who has access to the best and brightest legal minds in France will defend Prof. Weiler who was carrying out the obligations of our profession.

11. morningsider - February 25, 2010 at 05:13 pm

Bringing such a suit only brings more attention to the review Calvo-Goller wishes to suppress.

I just read the review! If Calvo-Goller had simply posted her response as invited, she might have had a chance to win readers to her views.

Suing book reviewers and editors increases our suspicion she sues to hide incompetence.

12. vdolgopolov - February 25, 2010 at 05:43 pm

Amazing! I certainly do believe that the primary damage to Dr Calvo-Goller's reputation was done all by her good self, in seeking to remove the review and further suing Mr. Weiler. This clearly is an issue for both academic freedom specifically and free speech in general. I hope that the French court will throw out her lawsuit.

What sort of an example is Dr Calvo-Goller seeting for her students at the Academic Center of Law & Business?

13. mikelutz - February 25, 2010 at 06:14 pm

I was book review editor for a professional magazine for several years, during which time we published much more pointed and critical reviews than this one. I would hope this suit is dismissed out of hand or it will be increasingly difficult to get honest, useful reviews of books that fall short of the mark.

14. mjpowell - February 25, 2010 at 07:21 pm

When I went to the web site to read the review I could not find it. I think they have pulled the review.

mjp2

15. blue_state_academic - February 25, 2010 at 08:02 pm

mjpowell (and everyone else): you can find the review here:

http://www.globallawbooks.org/reviews/detail.asp?id=298

16. jaydee - February 25, 2010 at 09:02 pm

<Comment removed by moderator>

17. jaydee - February 25, 2010 at 09:03 pm

Sorry! Posted the comment on the wrong story.

18. 11159995 - February 25, 2010 at 09:40 pm

The review is still there: http://www.globallawbooks.org/reviews/detail.asp?id=298. I agree with everybody else who says that this review should in no way be considered libelous. It is shocking to have a court even accept a suit like this. Courts have no business meddling in the affairs of academe when they are conducted within generally accepted professional norms, as this review was. ---Sandy Thatcher (former President, Association of American university Presses)




19. thirdcamper2 - February 26, 2010 at 05:33 am

Dear K.N.Calvo-Goller,

The only reason I read the persuasive review of your inadequate book was because of your lawsuit, which led to this publicity, and which is leading people like me to read a review that otherwise would have been forgotten, rapidly.

This is the problem with repression: it fosters attention.

You have proven by the very act of your lawsuit that you lack the spirit of true scholarship, the ruthless criticism of everything existing always being permissible and understood to be part of the territory. Pitiful you.

20. mheyer - February 26, 2010 at 06:48 am

Has anyone read the book in question? The review doesn't just say it is a bad book or some other opinion - it actually makes some very clear-cut statements of fact. Are those statements true? If not, they are libel.

21. amnirov - February 26, 2010 at 07:53 am

This is simply not a bad review. I've written way way way worse reviews. And if writers don't want to have their work trashed, then perhaps they should refrain from publishing terrible books. The really galling thing is that academic books are not cheap. A $155 book ought to be bound in caviar and printed on silkworms. If it isn't perfect and brilliant and genius and immortal, a $155 book stinks out loud.

22. russensign - February 26, 2010 at 09:00 am

Whine with that cheese? Couldn't agree with amnirov more.

23. dank48 - February 26, 2010 at 09:08 am

Check out the situation in the UK. Thanks to ridiculously archaic libel laws there, Simon Singh is being sued into penury by the
"professional" association of British chiropractors, basically for pointing out that chiropractic theory may not be quite on a level with, say, the germ theory of disease or the theory of relativity. It was news to me that libel tourism had spread to France. This seems grotesque in a country where truth is an adequate defense (not a rigorous legal assessment, of course), but it is succeeding in discouraging free inquiry and freedom of speech.

24. 11332462 - February 26, 2010 at 09:12 am

Oh, my gosh! When I went to the website I expected some "grayness" -- i.e., a review that pushed the boundaries, even a bit, of fairness and appropriate academic objectivity. But this is mild; I'VE written harsher reviews, and I think I'm generally inclined to pull a punch rather than take a shot that might be seen as unfair or gratuitous. Prof. Calvo-Goller should be ashamed of herself -- and, perhaps more importantly, ask what would happen in the academy if every reviewer adopted her perspective on fair-mindedness. Talk about a chilling effect...

25. jpjones1963 - February 26, 2010 at 09:33 am

She notes: could "cause harm to my professional reputation and academic promotion." Uh, yes, that is what happens when one does a poor job with one's research--as should be. But that isn't the reviewers (libelous) fault.

26. itc2000 - February 26, 2010 at 10:27 am

Oh, my. How many academic authors would be grateful and relieved if that were the worst review they received over the course of their career? Prof. Calvo-Goller, please grow up. French court and/or judge, please read the book, read the review, then throw this ridiculous, frivolous lawsuit out.

27. bellace - February 26, 2010 at 12:43 pm

When I went and read the book review, I was astounded that anyone would think it unfair or libelous. The reviewer simply noted what Prof. Calo-Goller had not covered. He indicated his view that she did not possess a sufficient knowledge of the continental approach of criminal prosecution to make valid comparisons between the continental and Anglo-American approaches. That is clearly his opinion (and one would have to read the book to see if one agreed with that opinion). One would think that book reviewers are supposed to give their opinions on a work. His comments about some ICC procedures simply being reprintd in the book appear to highlight the fact that the reader would be paying for something that could be accessed for free.

One of the comments to this CHE article mentions the high price of the book. By American standards it is high, but the price is absolutely normal for a book published in English by one of the major European publishers. Also, the reviewer's comments about sloppy editing would normally reflect poorly on the publisher, not the author.

28. tee_bee - February 26, 2010 at 01:50 pm

After Calo-Goller's lawsuit fails, her institution should give her the boot for gross academic misconduct. Indeed, why wait that long?

29. johntoradze - February 26, 2010 at 02:17 pm

It's called "venue shopping" and Prof. Calo-Goller has now demonstrated herself qualified to ill advise future clients.

30. wmartin46 - February 26, 2010 at 04:07 pm

The "free world" doesn't seem to be so free, after all. With e-Bay getting sued (and losing) for selling Nazi war memorabelia, and the EU getting "down" on Google/Steetview, Muslims trying to strangle "freedom of the press" via the UN and this crazy law suit .. it's not clear that "freedom of speech" will be around all that much longer .. unless we Americans start standing up for our basic rights!

It might be interesting to try a little experiment, and remove all references to this book, and all of the published work of this author, from Google's Index, and all US web-sites that might carry mention of this sort of material. This sets the stage for a litle nose-to-nose/toes-to-toes action between people who aren't always well-suited to this sort of conflict; however, it does makes us think about what advertising is all about: "I don't care what you say about me, as long as you get my name spelled right!"

Wonder what this Italian author might say when it turns out that her name just doesn't turn up in the US any more?

31. ruritania - February 26, 2010 at 07:23 pm

# 2 got it wrong- you need to click on "published on the web site" in the second paragraph, not "web site" on the second line. The review is mild. The author's actions are foolish, and will bring scorn upon her. Sue me.

32. mr_tuvwxyz - February 28, 2010 at 04:43 am

It's probably a defamation suit.

Check out page 10 of this document:

http://web.archive.org/web/20061119111506/http://www.taylorwessing.com/website/generator/taylorwessing/content/publications/items/UK/DefamationAndPrivacyLawProcedure__TWUK__english.de,property=file.pdf

In France, libel is a whole other animal. If anything that could remotely be construed as insulting is in question, the burden of proof is on the defendant to prove that the statement is true.

Moronic, medieval, French :)

Add Your Comment

Commenting is closed.

subscribe today

Get the insight you need for success in academe.