Journal editor Joseph Weiler was found not guilty of defamation in a French court yesterday, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported. A negative book review on Global Law Books, the site he edits, spurred the defamation suit.
iMediaEthics heard from plaintiff Karin Calvo-Goller, who confirmed the court’s ruling. “I don’t have all the details yet, however it is unclear to me how the court could decide it lacked competence and, nonetheless, decide on the merits,” Calvo-Goller wrote to iMediaEthics. “I still hope that this case will lead to more responsible book reviewing.”
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the court ruled that Calvo-Goller’s case was “forum-shopping” or “libel tourism” and that the review “expressed a scientific opinion of the book and did not go beyond the kind of criticism to which all authors of intellectual work subject themselves when they publish.”
Weiler was “awarded €8,000 (about $11,000) as a result of the action.” He was awarded the money “in reparation for the harm caused by the improper nature of her action.” Weiler posted the ruling in French on his blog here. Calvo-Goller may appeal the ruling within ten days.
iMediaEthics wrote Feb. 25 about the libel case of Karin Calvo-Goller, who is suing for defamation over a negative book review. Her suit is against Thomas Weigend, who wrote the book, and Joseph Weiler, who is editor of the site that published it, Global Law Books.
We wrote to Calvo-Goller last week and heard from her lawyer husband, Michel Calvo, who explained that his wife “as a party, chose to strictly adhere to the principle of non-interference through the media in the outcome of the complaint she filed against Pr Weiler.” However, he redirected us to the website CalvoLaw.org, where he offers his opinions and personal background on the case. The site was temporarily down March 3, but it is back online.
Calvo, clearly stated that the information on the website is his “personal opinion,” writing that “I stress that this is my opinion and mine alone.”
Whereas there has been criticism or confusion as to why Calvo-Goller filed in France (as the New York Times put it, for example: “France is an odd place to adjudicate a claim concerning a review written in English by a German professor of a book written in English by an author living in Israel. The book was, moreover, published by a Dutch firm. The review was published on a Web site in New York. True, Ms. Calvo-Goller is a French citizen”), Calvo explained that his wife is a French national and “better known in France than in any English speaking country.”
Calvo offered a timelined version of events: According to him, Calvo-Goller “read the review and found the review libellous” in June 2007. She asked Weiler to take the April 3, 2007 review down, but he “refused” and suggested she post a comment — which would have to be “approved by the editor” — on the review.
According to Calvo, “it could have taken weeks or more before Dr Calvo-Goller’s comment would be approved or rejected.” Since French law requires libel complaints be filed within three months from publication, so “she had no other choice left.” Calvo-Goller also asked for a temporary take down, but Weiler reportedly responded “I am unwilling to remove the book review, not even temporarily.”
Calvo alleged that Weiler intentionally tried to “provoke a ‘witch hunt’ and discredit Dr Calvo-Goller worldwide, by asking not only for letters of support but also for letters of ‘indigation'” publicly on the EJIL website. He also questioned why Weigend penned the review, claiming that Weigend’s background is in “German criminal law, German criminal procedure, and comparative criminal procedure.” Calvo stated:
“In 2007, there were some two dozen well-known scholars on international criminal procedure, some of which have published extensively on the subject. Dr Calvo-Goller’s book is on international criminal procedure, and it is still not clear to me, even after the Court hearing, why Pr Weiler would choose to ask Pr Weigend to review the book, instead of a scholar fluent in the field. In order to ‘perform a critical analysis of the text to be reviewed’, knowledge on the subject is required.”
With respect to the alleged defamation, Calvo specifically questioned why Weigend wrote that his wife “did not do any research; that he or she simply repeated sections provided in an instrument; that the work lacks analysis, or all of the above.”
“It is entirely incomprehensible to me why Dr Calvo-Goller’s book continues to appear in basic bibliographies on the ICC and the Tribunals and cited in books and articles, and has even been cited in the context of proceedings before the International Criminal Court, if her book was indeed as shallow as described by Pr Weigend.
Further, Calvo stated that defamation isn’t a crime but is a misdemeanor in France.
Weiler wrote Jan. 25 on EJIL about the case. He confirmed that his review of the book “Was not a particularly favorable review,” that Calvo-Goller called it defamation and that he “refused” her call for the post to be removed. He also noted that Calvo-Goller “declined” his “offer to publish a reply.”
“If I lose, I will stand convicted of a crime, branded a criminal,” Weiler wrote Jan. 25, adding that “the chilling effect on book reviewing well beyond France will be considerable.”
iMediaEthics has written to Global Law Books asking for comment regarding Calvo’s post. We will update with any response.