A critical book review does not constitute libel
In order to advance their careers, academics are expected to publish books and peer-reviewed articles. When they do so, they in turn hope for reviews and citations, because such recognition of their published output constitutes an endorsement by the wider expert community. Of course these reviews may turn out to be critical. A French court has now suggested that such criticism, where it stays within the limits of ‘the kind of criticism to which all authors of intellectual work subject themselves when they publish’, does not constitute libel.
The case involved somewhat unusual circumstances, as the author of the book, Karin N. Calvo-Goller, is resident and works in Israel, while the book review was published online in English on an American website. Dr Calvo-Goller chose to bring her action in France, and the French court, the Tribunal de Grand Instance de Paris, found for the defendant largely on technical grounds, in that they took the view that the plaintiff had been ‘forum shopping’ in an unacceptable manner: i.e. she had looked for a jurisdiction where the publisher would find defending the action most difficult but where there was no strong connection between the alleged libel and the jurisdiction chosen. But the court also does not appear to have shown sympathy for the idea that authors can seek to suppress unfavourable reviews by threatening or pursuing legal action for libel. That would be an important finding in support of academic freedom.