Speaking as the author of a book (have I mentioned that here?), I understand how personally authors take bad reviews. And I find the idea of suing the reviewers for their many obvious errors mildly entertaining. But I am gobsmacked by the imagination -- not to mention the chutzpah -- it takes for an author who doesn't like a review to demand that it be taken off line, to refuse a proffered right of reply, and then to sue -- not the reviewer but the publisher of the review. And for criminal libel no less. But that’s what Karin Calvo-Goller is said to have done, in a stunning post by the victim of her ire. It begins:
My entire professional life has been in the law, but nothing had prepared me for this. I have been a tenured faculty member at the finest institutions, most recently Harvard and NYU. I have held visiting appointments from Florence to Singapore, from Melbourne to Jerusalem. I have acted as legal counsel to governments on four continents, handled cases before the highest jurisdictions and arbitrated the most complex disputes among economic ‘super powers.’
Last week, for the first time I found myself in the dock, as a criminal defendant.
And it just gets better. Or worse. As the defendant points out, Calvo-Goller won’t get big damages from bringing a criminal action against him, but the French state in its majesty can fine him to vindicate her honor; and the richer he is, the more her honor will cost him. Here’s the longer version, which quotes the professor demonstrating her command of first amendment law as follows:
I am aware of the extent of freedom of expression under the First Amendment to the
Constitution of the United States (freedom which, as you know, is less extensive in
EU countries). However, the extent of that freedom ends where its exercise damages
the reputation of an individual.
I’m tempted to remark on the wisdom in general of taking human rights lessons from professors steeped in European and United Nations law, but I’m more interesting in a shorter question: What can Karin Calvo-Goller possibly be thinking? Already, a search of her name on Google yields in third place an entry linking “Calvo-Goller” to “an idiot and a fascist jerk”, thusly:
Given that Calvo-Goller’s actions threaten to injure her reputation by making her look like an idiot and a fascistic jerk, I am hereby charging her with criminal libel against herself.
Really. Someone probably should let Karin Calvo-Goller know how the Internet works and about, you know, Google and stuff. Because if she’s worried about her reputation, suppressing book reviews in the European Journal of International Law is just the beginning of the job she’s cut out for herself.
PS In 2010, Congress adopted the SPEECH Act, which refuses enforcement of libel tourism awards, so perhaps the United States can look forward to a new wave of "libel refugees."
UPDATE: Original post only discussed the failed 2008 attempt to enact libel tourism protections, not the successful 2010 enactment.
My recollection from an earlier stage of the controversy is that the review was not all that bad, either - no ad hominem (ad feminam?) remarks etc. Really just a difference of interpretation, which shouldn't surprise lawyers.
Posted by: John G | Feb 21, 2011 at 09:02 PM