Academic Author Sues Journal Editor For Criminal Defamation Over Negative Book Review

from the which-hurts-your-reputation-more? dept

There are some people out there who appear to believe that anything they don't like is defamation -- or anything that makes them look bad, even if it's true. Fortunately, that's not the way defamation law works. But it doesn't stop some from trying to use the law that way anyway. Kevin Carson writes in to let us know of a lecturer/author named Karin Calvo-Goller, who recently wrote a book on The Trial Proceedings of the International Criminal Court. Another law professor, Thomas Weigand, reviewed the book for Global Law Books and didn't feel it lived up to its potential. The review is a pretty typical book review. Hardly scathing.

But Calvo-Goller was apparently upset by it, and contacted the editor of the journal (another law professor) asking for the review to be suppressed on the grounds that the review might "have a negative impact on her 'professional reputation and academic promotion,'" and that there were factual errors in the review that were libelous. The editor refused to take down the review, noting that he did not find the statements libelous (including detailed notes on why the statements were not, in fact, wrong), but did so in an extremely polite manner. He kicked it off with a very friendly opening to Calvo-Goller, agreeing how painful it is to get a negative review of one's book (and relating his own experiences dealing with negative reviews) and warning her directly that:
I think, however, that your reputation would suffer even more if you emerged as someone who tried to suppress a critical book review of the kind published by That is my advice to you as a friend.
He also suggested, politely again, that if she disagreed with some aspects of the review, he would allow her to write up a response, which he would post alongside the review -- something that almost no other book review sites would offer.

Calvo-Goller apparently chose not to heed this advice or accept the offer, and after a terse note demanding the review be taken down again, she sued the editor for criminal defamation in France, where the editor is now scheduled to stand trial later this year.

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.
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Filed Under: book review, defamation

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  1. icon
    jjmsan (profile), 26 Feb 2010 @ 10:37am

    Baseless Lawsuits

    Once upon a time when I was taking a class in law it was stated that lawyers were officiers of the courts and were under an ethical obligation to not accept or file baseless lawsuits or ones that had no chance of winning. Wouldn't it be nice if that were true?

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