After Loss in French Court, Dr Calvo-Goller Defends Her Libel Lawsuit Over a Negative Book Review and Why She Launched It.[Introduction: Dr Karin Calvo-Goller was born in Italy, the daughter of Austrian parents who came to Italy, and while she speaks several languges, German is her mother tongue. She lived, studied and worked in France for close to 20 years and her five children are French nationals as is her husband, Dr. Michel Calvo. Karin also became a French national, and is an Italian, French and Israeli national - in order of acquisition.]
IMPORTANT NOTE: There is one point in this case that was totally misunderstood by many of the international observers and that point needs to be underlined here: in France, no one goes to prison for libel. [All that a defendant in a lawsuit in France risks, such as the one that Calvo-Goller brought against Joseph Weiler, is a fine, and even then, even if the court decides in the plantiff's favor, against the defendant, even then, the defendant is not considered a criminal under French law since libel is a misdemeanor and not a crime under French law.]
Now to our story. (Comments welcome, pro and con, but under no circumstances will insulting or uncivil comments be allowed, and especially hate-speech of any kind, in any language. Go at it, yes, but be polite and civil. This is a civilized blog, after all.)
Jennifer Howard, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, interviewed Karin Calvo-Goller recently and allowed her to give her side of the international brouhaha over a long-simmering lawsuit. While not everyone agrees with her strategy or her lawsuit, and while the French court that heard the case has ruled against her and ordered her to pay the legal costs of Dr Joseph Weiler, who she was suing, Calvo-Goller has explained that she will not appeal the ruling and is moving on with her life.
According Howard, the Calvo-Goller controversial libel lawsuit in France was an international case that had ''stoked [global] concerns about libel tourism and scholars' freedom to publish criticism''.
As Howard explained, Dr. Calvo-Goller, 63, is a senior lecturer at the Academic Center of Law & Business, in Israel, and she had filed what became a very controversial criminal-libel complaint in France against Dr. Joseph H.H. Weiler, a professor at New York University's School of Law. Weiler edits ''Global Law Books'', a US-based internet site that published a negative review of a 2006 English-langauge book authored by Calvo-Goller about international legal issues.
The English-language book review was written by Dr. Thomas Weigend, a professor of law at the University of Cologne in Germany, after Dr Weiler apparently commissioned the review or accepted it for his site when it came in cold via email. [At any rate, the review was not positive, although it was not altogether negative, either, contianing a few words of praise amidst the damning appraisal.] Calvo-Goller's decision to launch her lawsuit in France caused some observers to say that she was looking for a venue with favorable laws, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Howard reported that ''on March 3, a French court found in favor of Dr. Weiler, agreeing with his contention that it did not have proper jurisdiction in the case. In its ruling, the court also criticized Dr. Calvo-Goller for bringing the action and ordered her to pay Dr. Weiler 8,000 euros (about US$11,000)" -- a payment to compensate his legal and travel expenses.
So, to make a long five-year story short, she lost the case, he won the case. And she decided not to appeal.
However, Dr. Calvo-Goller wanted to get her side of the story out to the media, so she agred to an interview with Howard, the first media interview she has granted about this case.
Accordiong to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Dr Calvo-Goller's answers were ''edited for space, with omissions indicated by ellipses.''
The Chronicle of Higher Education:. Why did you decide to file a criminal-libel complaint rather than publishing a response to the review or ignoring it altogether?
Karin Calvo-Goller: This is very important to emphasize here. In mid-June [of 2007], there was no certainty that my response to the review would be published for sure since it had to receive approval of the editor, Joseph Weiler. Under French law, the time limit for filing the complaint'"a three-month time limit'"was July 3, 2007, since the book review was published on April 3, 2007. ...
I could not ignore Mr. Weigend's review and particularly [the suggestion] that, in my book, I had simply restated the contents of existing legal texts.
Q. Do you plan to appeal the court's ruling?
A. No, I have decided not to appeal the ruling. ... According to another expert I spoke with, in view of the massive publicity of this case, French courts don't want to be seen as the censors of academic freedom, and so I have decided not to appeal the ruling.
Q. Are there specific sections of the judgment you'd like to comment on?
A. ... In the "Abuse of process" part of the ruling, it is stated that I explained to the court that I "chose the French courts rather than the American or Israeli courts for economic reasons'"the cost of the procedure would have been higher for her ..." I want to make it very clear that, at the hearing before the court, I "explained" exactly the opposite: that the cost would have been lower in Israel than in France, and that the financial aspect of a procedure before an American court was not at all the reason for my choice of the French court. I was very clear about that.
Q. Will you pay Mr. Weiler the penalty imposed by the judges?
A. Of course. Actually, it is not a penalty but a payment to compensate the legal and travel expenses of Mr. Weiler.
Q. How do you respond to the suggestion made by some observers that bringing the complaint in France amounted to libel tourism or forum shopping?
A. I disagree with my critics completely. ... The court ruling states that "for reasons of preference ... she considered that only French law offered her a chance of being successful." But there was no option since, under two Israel Supreme Court judgments, at the relevant time (July 2007) the Internet was not considered'"contrary to the printed media, for instance'"to constitute a means of publishing what is deemed to be a libelous text or expression. I spoke to an American lawyer earlier, and I was told that in an American court, I would have had to prove "malice," among other [things]. ...
Q. What sorts of reactions have you gotten from colleagues or strangers?
A. You know, what surprised me most were the many supportive e-mail messages received from nontenured lecturers [and] senior lecturers whom I had never met before who told me things about their own problems with unfair book reviews such as "I wrote the opposite of what the reviewer said"; that their works had been "mistreated," "intentionally misinterpreted," "killed" by reviewers; and [that] this was used to block their nomination or tenure. ...
Now, in my case, I also need to make this very clear: I received a lot of very terrible hate mail. Complete strangers send me hateful, insulting e-mail messages. Just the other day, for example, I received this very hateful mail that read: "[If you, Karin,] were to die in a freak fire, writhing in agony in the flames, well that would be a fitting punishment ..."
What's wrong with people these days? To use the Internet in this way? To disagree with me and my lawsuit, that is OK, but to insult me this way, with those hateful e-mails, something is terribly wrong.
However, I can tell you that the complaint I filed did not affect my career, my life, or my work. Of course, the Web-site posting of the book review in 2007 did affect my career and my chances for future publication. However, I am glad to say that in spite of the "global" noise and criticism made on the Internet, a new book that I have written in French was accepted for publication in France just a few days ago.
Q. Have you written academic book reviews yourself? Have you ever received a negative review other than the one at issue in the case?
A. No, I have never written academic book reviews. I have been asked to write reviews but did not consider myself to be enough of an expert on the subject to review the book in question. ... As for negative reviews in the past, yes, I have received a negative review, but I was able to prove to those who intended to use the negative review against me that his [the reviewer's] lack of knowledge ... on the subject was so blatant that his review disqualified him as an "expert," and that was the end of it, and the review was never published.
Q. Scholarly debate involves the freedom to critique others' ideas. How would you balance such freedom with authors' desire for a fair hearing?
A. The freedom to hold opinions and to express opinions is a right expressly provided in international human-rights covenants. This includes the freedom to criticize other people's ideas and works. These freedoms are the basic premise for the transmission and exchange of knowledge among others. However, one of the very few restrictions to the exercise of these rights is the respect of the rights or reputation of others. An author, [like] any human being, is entitled to the respect of his reputation. The publication of works of course exposes an author to criticism, but it does not deprive him of the right to the respect of his reputation. Fair criticism does not automatically mean that rights of the authors were disregarded. ...
In my view, fair criticism of someone else's idea can initially be put on the Internet without the agreement of the author. If an author finds the criticism unfair or erroneous and informs the manager or editor of the site accordingly, the author should be entitled to respond and be granted the same space as was accorded to the criticism, and'"I want to emphasize'"not only in the form of a comment. Where the author considers the criticism to be libelous and harmful to his reputation, another mutually agreed-upon reviewer should be found and, whatever the outcome, it [the review] can be posted. But in the meantime, the criticism should be removed.
Words can cause tremendous harm, and there are higher principles telling us not to do so.
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