A rather astonishing--indeed shocking--attack on academic freedom has come to my attention (h/t Alex, Chris). Karin Calvo-Goller, an Israeli professor of international law, has filed criminal libel charges in France against Joseph Weiler, the editor of the European Journal of International Law, who has refused to withdraw from circulation a review of Calvo-Goller's book by Thomas Weigend, dean of the law school in Cologne. Calvo-Goller alleges that the review contains knowingly false statements that will damage her professional reputation. Under French law, an allegation of libel by a private party is enough, as the examining judge explained to Weiler, for the case to be referred to trial without any examination of its merits by any organ of the state. Hence any aggrieved author with standing to take legal action in France can force the editor who publishes an unfavorable review to answer criminal charges in a French court. Even if the allegations are ultimately found to be without merit, the editor must thus bear the expense and anguish of a criminal court appearance. The consequences for freedom of academic publishing are obvious.
Anyone who has ever received a negative book review has entertained fantasies of revenge, but that an author would go to these lengths to prevent the circulation of a bad review is truly shocking to the conscience. Weiler's very firm but remarkably temperate replies to the aggrieved author, along with her letters to him, can be read here (long, but well worth reading). Other comment on this case can be found here and here. The question for France, of course, is whether this case reveals a defect in its libel laws that calls for amendment.