Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Scholarly Libel Battle Waged in French Court

Little ProfessorImage by unloveablesteve via Flickr
Authors are lovingly protective of their works and have been known to refer to books they pen as their children, but Dr. Karin Calvo-Goller is taking the protective mother cliche to new heights concerning her work, The Trial Proceedings of the International Criminal Court: ICTY and ICTR Precedents (Brill, 2006), according to a story in The Times Higher Education.

NYU law professor Dr. Joseph Weiler,  editor of the European Journal of International Law, is bearing the brunt of that defensiveness, after he published a negative book review of Dr. Calvo-Goller's work by Prof. Thomas Weigund, dean of the law faculty at the Univ. of Cologne, on Global Law Books, an associated Web site.  Dr. Calvo-Goller, a senior lecturer at the Academic Centre of Law and Business in Israel, demanded that Dr. Weiler remove the uncomplimentary review, which she claimed was defamatory and harmful to her professional reputation and academic promotion, and even provided Dr. Weiler with a positive review of her book.  Dr. Weiler refused to remove Prof. Weigund's unflattering review, but offered the disgruntled author an opportunity to publish a response to Prof. Weigund's review.

Dr. Calvo-Goller has filed a criminal libel complaint against Dr. Weiler in a French court. Dr. Weiler, faced with the substantial cost of defending the action, has asked for "moral and material assistance" from the academic community. He also has invited readers to send him examples of negative book reviews that would make Dr. Weigund's effort look like a lovefest.

The tireless staff at "TUOL" recognizes that when two legal academics go to war in a courtroom, the general public's initial reaction is similar to that of watching a  televised debate of vice-presidential candidates: "Can't they both lose?" Nevertheless, the case at issue, beyond raising issues of academic freedom and Internet free speech, gives "TUOL" the opportunity to offer in contrast, a favorite decision involving battling academics by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Dilworth v. Dudley, (75 F.3d 307 (7th Cir. 1995)).

Prof. Underwood Dudley, who taught mathematics at DePauw University, wrote a book published by the Mathematical Association of America. In the text, Prof. Dudley referred to an article entitled "A Correction in Set Theory," written by engineer William Dilworth. Prof. Dudley was critical of Dilworth's work, calling him a "crank."

Dilworth sued Dudley for defamation.  The appellate court ruled that the term "crank" was not susceptible to a defamatory meaning, and was merely an example of hyperbole.  In other words, Dudley prevailed under the libel defense of fair comment & criticism, which protects the critic provided the negative review doesn't imply the exsitence of undisclosed damaging information that formed the basis for the negative opinion.  As libel involves an action to protect one's reputation against false statements, opinions by their very nature are neither true nor false.

But that's not the reason the devoted crew at "TUOL" loves the Dilworth case.  In its opinion, the 7th Circuit offered examples of statements that could not legally be deemed libelous, including the following statement that "TUOL" has been aching for years to use in a letter, article or legal brief.  Rest assured, dear readers, that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals will protect you against a defamation claim if you call someone a "lazy, stupid, crap-shooting, chicken-stealing idiot."

Time will tell whether the French court concludes that Dr. Calvo-Goller did herself more harm than did the tandem of Drs. Weigund and Weiler.

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  1. I, on the other hand, have been aching for years to read a decision that uses the names, "Underwood Dudley" and "Dilworth." Thanks.

  2. As a sign the French might view matters differently, in the run-up to the regional elections(14 and 21 March),politicians are suing one another for having pointed out past minor scraps they have had with the law(a matter of public record,of course,but in one instance,youthful hijinks nearly 30 years ago)...

  3. Also Read This New Article_> (Newly Released U.S. State Dept Documentary Proof That Richard Holbrook Gave Radovan Karadzic Immunity & Assassination Attempts on His Life) ->I don’t think these newly released State Dept. papers come anywhere close to answering Dr. Karadzic’s legal concerns(Read it Here)...