Beware of what you say about your colleagues in emails. They may take you to court for defamation. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, the second part of the Lott v Levitt lawsuit is even weirder than the first:
Mr. Lott’s lawsuit has a second component, which hinges not on the meaning of “replicate” but on the meaning of “peer-refereed.” In May 2005, Mr. Levitt exchanged e-mail messages with John J. McCall, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of California at Los Angeles, where Mr. Lott earned his degree. Mr. McCall had suggested that the Freakonomics passage was unfair and asked Mr. Levitt why he had not cited various scholarly papers that support Mr. Lott’s theory.
In particular, Mr. McCall pointed to several papers that appeared in a supplemental issue of The Journal of Law and Economics in 2001. Mr. Levitt replied: “It was not a peer-refereed edition of the Journal. For $15,000 he was able to buy an issue and put in only work that supported him. My best friend was the editor and was outraged the press let Lott do this.”
That statement was false and defamatory, Mr. Lott charged.
If you’re wondering whether a private e-mail message can be libelous, the answer is yes. Courts have generally found that an e-mail message, even if sent to just one person, falls under defamation law, explained David A. Anderson, a professor of law at the University of Texas at Austin. “As long as it’s an e-mail to a third person, it counts as publication,” he said. “If Levitt had just said these things in an e-mail directly to Lott, there would be no publication and there could be no claim for defamation.”