The review of Dr. Karin Calvo-Goller’s book by Thomas Weigend in European Journal of International Law.
Aisha Labi in The Chronicle of Higher Education:
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.”
Lauren Streib at Business Insider:
So what did the author Dr. Karin N. Calvo-Goller find to be false and defamatory in Professor Thomas Weigend’s book review? Wigend’s statement that, “…in the main part of her book she simply restates the contents of relevant parts of the ICC Statute and the Rules of Procedure and Evidence.”
Apparently a pin-prick of a criticism is enough to bruise Calvo-Goller’s ego.
Via a CT reader, this rather horrifying attempt to hold an academic journal criminally responsible (PDF) for publishing a negative book review and then refusing to suppress it. As Joseph Weiler, the editor of the European Journal of International Law describes the culmination of his saga:
… on 26 September 2008 I received a Subpoena to appear before a French Examining Judge in connection with an investigation of alleged criminal libel based on a complaint made by Dr Calvo-Goller essentially replicating the complaints in her first letter to me. … in libel cases, all investigations of the merits of the case are exclusively reserved for the Criminal Court itself and, therefore, as a direct consequence of the complaint being filed, it was necessary that I be referred to the Court for trial. The date for the trial has now been set for 25 June 2010.The review (in the European Journal of International Law ) is decidedly pungent, but (without commenting on the legal aspects,which I know nothing about) it seems to my eyes to be well within the usual norms of academic book reviewing (where a general tendency towards back-slapping congeniality is leavened by occasional fits of vigorous criticism). Weiler asks that academics who are upset at Dr. Calvo-Goller’s novel approach to managing the fallout from negative book-reviews send letters of “indignation/support” by email attachment (preferably with letterhead and affiliation) to EJIL.academicfreedom@Gmail.com, especially if they are editors or book review editors for other journals. He also asks that people send scanned or digital copies of other caustic book reviews to this address, so as to demonstrate that Dr. Calvo-Goller’s unhappy experience at the hands of a critic is nothing unusual.
The substance of her complaints seem quite specious to this non-expert on her subject, and the review itself is a pretty run of the mill negative review. In the pretrial hearing, he was told by the examining judge that she couldn’t rule on substance and the case would be going to trial. Obviously, the idea that book review editors could be subject to criminal sanction, or even defending themselves against criminal charges, could certainly have a chilling effect on free speech and academic freedom.
As with the McDonalds case, it’s difficult to grasp why the complainant finds this particular course of action wise. Even if the book review in question contained actionable libelous claims, which seems doubtful, the notoriety of effectively declaring oneself an enemy of academic freedom will surely do more damage to her reputation than a couple of unfair critical remarks in a book review.
I’d certainly be curious to hear a defense of the “burden of proof lies on the defendant” approach to libel law on the merits, because it’s not easy for me to imagine what that would look like.
Zoe Corbyn at Times Higher Education
Mike Masnick at Techdirt:
The editor, Joseph Weiler, has written up the whole saga (pdf), including the letters between the two. He concludes by pointing out how this lawsuit seems to go against all principles of academic discourse:
I believe that in the circumstances of this affair, her action of instigating a criminal libel case against me for refusing to remove the book review is misguided and inconsistent with the most fundamental practices of all academic institutions with which I am familiar and with traditional academic discourse.
It really is difficult to see how someone could think that a slightly negative review could do more harm to one’s professional reputation than filing a criminal defamation lawsuit against the editor who published that review.