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Too Mean for Words: Editor Sued for Bad Review in Academic Journal

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on March 04, 2010 12:45 PM

Talk about fast times in higher education. Joseph Weiler, editor-in-chief of the European Journal of International Law, has been sued in a French court for libel, over a bad book review. Professor Weiler published what must have been a fairly sharp opinion regarding the merits, or lack thereof, on the book because the reaction of the author is a bit out of proportion.

According to The Times Higher Education, Prof. Karin Calvo-Goller wrote the book in question called The Trial Proceedings of the International Criminal Court. A review of the book was written by Professor Thomas Weigend, who as the director of the Cologne Institute of Foreign and International Criminal Law, might be presumed to be an informed critic on the subject. The ABA Law Journal reports the review was published in the journal Professor Weiler edits. Professor Weigend's review was not terribly kind, citing "sloppy editing" and an unproductive "exercise in rehashing the existing legal set-up" and asking for "a sophisticated discourse on the strengths and weaknesses of ICC procedure law." 

Unfortunately, this review lead Weigend's editor to become uncomfortably familiar with aspects of French criminal law when Calvo-Goller sued for libel. She claims the review was libelous, unfair, false and will damage her career. Prof. Weiler claims he offered Prof. Calvo-Goller a chance to rebut the review and offered to run her statements online. However, nothing short of a retraction of the review was acceptable to Prof. Calvo-Goller. Weiner refused, saying he stood by the review. The court action ensued. 

Prof. Weiler has sought support from the academic community, writing that if Prof. Calvo-Goller were to prevail, it would have a, "serious, chilling effect on editorial discretion, freedom of speech and the very important academic institution of book reviewing."

One commentator has noted that the suit itself will cause more harm to the professional standing of Prof. Calvo-Goller than one bad review could have ever done. Clearly the educated Prof. Calvo-Goller never heard the saying about today's news being tomorrow's fish wrap -- not literally anymore, but the idea is still sound. In any case, that theory only works if you let today's news die and don't turn it into an ongoing story of accusation and litigation.

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