Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Education The Almighty Buck Twitter United States Your Rights Online

Publisher Sues University Librarian Over His Personal Blog Posts 126

Posted by samzenpus
from the if-you-don't-have-anything-nice-to-say dept.
McGruber writes "The Chronicle of Higher Education has the news that Herbert Richardson, founder of Edwin Mellen Press is suing McMaster University and University Librarian Dale Askey for $3 Million over Mr. Askey's posts on a personal blog. In 2010 Mr. Askey wrote a blog post about Edwin Mellen Press on his personal Web site, Bibliobrary. Mr. Askey referred to the publisher as 'dubious' and said its books were often works of 'second-class scholarship.' For a few months afterward, several people chimed in in the blog's comments section, some agreeing with Mr. Askey, others arguing in support of the publisher. In a February 11 statement, the McMaster University Faculty Association (MUFA) stated that The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) 'and the MUFA Executive agree that this case represents a serious threat to the freedom of academic librarians (pdf) to voice their professional judgement and to academic freedom more generally.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Publisher Sues University Librarian Over His Personal Blog Posts

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:04PM (#42930101)

    I think we have laws against these strategic lawsuits against public participation.

    • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @05:02PM (#42930495)

      The publisher's problem is that this isn't some nut-job that can just be dismissed out of hand. Dale Askey appears to have the qualifications to know exactly what he's talking about here so they have to try and shut him up. But suing McMaster University over the personal blog of one of their employees personal blog opinions is way beyond reasonable -- although that's probably either were the money is, or that they hope to punish Mr. Askey by getting the university to fire him as him being too much trouble to keep onboard.

      Under all circumstances the publisher is wrong here. The proper course of action would have been for them to line up equally (apparently) qualified academicians on their side of the argument and let the book-buying institutions decide for themselves. It would seem that both sides of the argument were already being hashed out on the blog, and now arrives The Streisand Effect in spades!

      • by dakohli (1442929) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @05:15PM (#42930593)

        The proper course of action would have been for them to line up equally (apparently) qualified academicians on their side of the argument and let the book-buying institutions decide for themselves. It would seem that both sides of the argument were already being hashed out on the blog, and now arrives The Streisand Effect in spades!

        It would appear that this company's reputation is already well pretty [sspnet.org]. well [wikipedia.org] established [www.slaw.ca]

        The nicest thing I have seen so far are the comments that say it is just one step above a vanity press.

      • by lgw (121541) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @07:04PM (#42931191) Journal

        Librarians as a group tend to have pretty strong feelings about this sort of thing. If this publisher thought the blog post of one librarian might turn other librarians against them, they haven't seen anything like what this lawsuit will do.

      • I would think if were a Head Liberarian, that simply avoiding Edwin Mellen Press products, would avoid imperiling my institution. My libarians wouldn't be able to critique Edwin Mellen Press, if they didn't have any.

        • by RockDoctor (15477)

          I would think if were a Head Liberarian, that simply avoiding Edwin Mellen Press products, would avoid imperiling my institution. My libarians wouldn't be able to critique Edwin Mellen Press, if they didn't have any.

          And the moment that a request came in from a library user for a book published by $PUBLISHER$ ... your attempt at escaping controversy fails.

          Probably better to fight this one.

          • True, but while there is no guarantee you will not sponatiously combust, that doesn't mean you should bathe in gasoline.

      • Dale Askey appears to have the qualifications to know exactly what he's talking about here so they have to try and shut him up.

        They have been given top notch advise for free, why do they "have" to interpret that as a existential threat? - Parinoia?

    • by pwizard2 (920421)
      This definitely looks like a SLAPP suit to me. They may be able to sue for libel but the last time I checked a claim is not libel (no matter how damaging it is) if it's 100% true. Askey could probably beat this if he can document and prove his claims with real evidence.
      • by pwizard2 (920421)
        Another thing to consider are the dates. If the incident happened back in 2010, why is Edwin Mellen Press waiting until now (2.5 - 3 years later) to sue? If I had to guess, I would say that the statute of limitations is coming up (not sure how long it is in Canada but in the states 3-5 years is typical) and the plaintiff is getting the lawsuit pushed through while they still can. IANAL but I've seen stuff like this before. The very late timing appears to weaken the validity of Richardson's case against A
        • by fatphil (181876)
          From their website:
          1932-2011 Herbert Richardson III. He establishes The Edwin Mellen Press, fulfilling his fatherâ€(TM)s publishing aspirations. He names the Press to honor his grandfather.

          Perhaps things got shaken up a bit after 2011? Maybe the guy who took over started off a nosedive, and now wants to find a scapegoat?
    • by Psyborgue (699890)
      This is Canada. Such a suit would likely never have been filed in the states. although anti-SLAPP does vary from state to state, US defamation law is generally far more defendant friendly. The onus is reversed and there has never been something like NYT v. Sullivan in Canada so far as I know.
      • by davecb (6526) <davec-b@rogers.com> on Sunday February 17, 2013 @05:44PM (#42930793) Homepage Journal
        Quebec does have an explicit prohibition on SLAPP suits, but to my knowledge, the other provinces do not .
        • by Anonymous Coward

          In Canada we have a loser pays system. Helps prevents nonsense lawsuits if the instigator foots the bill for his and his opponent's bills.

      • by FirstOne (193462)

        "This is Canada. Such a suit would likely never have been filed in the states."

        I'm surprised that pleadings in Canada can be so lacking... No plaintiff's address.. how does one respond? No jurisdiction/venue claim(improperly assumed), etc..

        Askey and McMaster University should immediately file a dismissal motion for lack of Jurisdiction [wikipedia.org] since the publication occurred while the defendant was residing/working in the state of Kansas, USA. I.E The claimed tort occurred well outside the province the court

    • Does Canada have anit-SLAPP laws?

      In the US, it's on a state by state basis.

      Reason had a recent article on Anti-SLAPP laws:
      http://reason.com/blog/2012/06/18/conservative-historians-defamation-suit [reason.com]

    • Well I dont know about Ontario, but our BC government said that SLAPP laws are unnecessary. Of course don't think our premier likes public participation that much so that explains it.

  • I bet ... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:05PM (#42930103)

    ... that if also this librarian had been an Orangutan Mr Richardson would have thought twice about suing.

  • by cervesaebraciator (2352888) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:07PM (#42930113)
    Not only does this attempt to suppress free speech by means of the court, but it also treats the man like a serf. They sue the university (i.e. the employer or, in their view, the master) knowing that even if their suit isn't successful new policies will arise limiting employees' ability to have personal websites. The Servile State [wikipedia.org] is as relevant as ever.
    • by cffrost (885375) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:54PM (#42930437) Homepage

      Mellen Press is trying to make McMaster its McBitch.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      OTOH, it's the employer that gives the man his credentials and thus soapbox for being an authority on publishers. Look how he's identified in the headline.

      Yes, I quite agree the lawsuit is repugnant. If it gets any traction in the courts (even as a threat) then we have to look at rewriting our laws. But that doesn't mean the employer is irrelevant here. It's not the same as "Publisher Sues Auto Worker Over His Personal Blog Post."

      Hopefully McMaster will see this as good opportunity for headlining their repu

  • Have different ideas of what constitutes "freedom of speech".....

    • Does FIRE [thefire.org] have a counterpart in Canada?
    • by davecb (6526)
      Ours is very like the US's definition, with the same prohibitions on extreme misuse, such as inciting a riot or shouting fire in a crowded theatre. We differ only on edge cases, like inciting lesser crimes. We're in complete agreement on the librarian's rigfht to state an opinion or cite a fact.
      • So, everyone can express their honest, unvarnished opinion about ethnicity, religion, and homosexuality in Canada, right?

        • by davecb (6526)

          Yup, but the librarian in question didn't stick to safe subjects like race, religion or colour (:-))

          --dave
          [In case people haven't been following Canadian politics, there's a real debate ongoing in Canada about when merely racist/sexist/religious language turns into inciting attacks on people who are the wrong race, colour or religion. See "Ezra Levant" on Wikipedia if you want an activist and libertarian position on the debate]

        • We have anti-hate speech laws. You can't incite violence against an "identifiable group". So you can say "I don't like X". You can't say "we should kill all the X."
          • So it would be OK to start railing against Anonymous?

          • Like actual violence only? Or are stories like [catholiceducation.org] this [christianconcern.com] false? Don't get me wrong, I don't agree with religious conservatives on this issue. But Canada's reputation is of being a country where one can be civilly liable for expressing politically incorrect opinions, and if so, that's pretty fucking far from free speech.

            • by Pubstar (2525396)
              I love how everything posted on that site has no external links to stories and only names one person.
            • Free speech doesn't include physically trying to stop people from entering a clinic. Refusing to do you job due to religious belief is also not freedom of speech.
  • Until it gets subpoena'd for IP addresses.
  • by mpoulton (689851) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:17PM (#42930201)
    I do not know much about defamation law in other countries, but in the US there would be no valid case. The statements are derogatory, but are opinions and not facts. Only provably false statements of fact can give rise to an action for defamation in the United States. Of course anyone can always try to sue for anything, but the plaintiff here would lose quickly and probably face a judgment for costs and fees for filing a case unsupported by law (Rule 11).
    • by ClintJCL (264898)
      You also have to know they are false when you make them. If you are false by accident, it's not defamation unless you were made aware it was false and failed to correct your post. (IANAL...)
      • by Psyborgue (699890) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @05:33PM (#42930713) Homepage Journal
        it's more nuanced than that. Accidental is probably not what you're thinking of. What I think you're trying to refer to is called Actual Malice and this comes into play only when discussing public figures (or limited purpose public figures) on a matter of public interest. Otherwise, the plaintiff does not need to prove reckless disregard for the truth (which has it's own tests).
        • by Pubstar (2525396)
          Also, if you believe your own crazy rhetoric, you get off scott free! Thanks Bill O'Reilly for teaching us that one.
    • by Mitreya (579078)

      I do not know much about defamation law in other countries, but in the US there would be no valid case. The statements are derogatory, but are opinions and not facts. ... the plaintiff here would lose quickly

      This, of course, assumes that the University would go to fight
      In US they can (and often do, right or wrong!) choose to settle instead and institute new policies limiting what employees can blog on the next day.

      Even in US, I am afraid this would not get tossed out of court automatically. Someone would have to stand and fight at a significant expense.

      • by Psyborgue (699890)
        Depends on the state, and whether the matter is covered by anti-SLAPP legislation. California is quite good, for example. I was sued there and my lawyers took the case on a partial contingent fee basis. Didn't cost me a penny in the end. Cost the other guy over half a million. It's not all bad, and even the worst state is better than anywhere else in the world, and I've lived in quite a few places.
    • by Trepidity (597) <.gro.hsikcah. .ta. .todhsals-muiriled.> on Sunday February 17, 2013 @05:12PM (#42930563)

      While there was indeed no valid case, that didn't keep Edwin Mellen Press from suing the American magazine Linga Franca in New York state court over a 1993 article where they called it a "vanity press". The case was eventually dismissed in 1998 [google.com] after a series of appeals.

    • Have you heard of SLAPP [wikipedia.org] suits. They are very much alive in the US but some states have taken measures against them at least.

    • by sumdumass (711423)

      Opinion can be fact or taken as fact. An accident scene interpreter gives opinion that is treated as fact. Expert witnesses give opinion that is considered fact.

      In this case, the guy's standing and position could lead his opinion as being accepted as fact by most who viewed it. This is probably why the school was brought into the suit. Random guy rambling is obvious opinion. Specific guy who works in a specific field at a specific place rambling about his field of expertise creates fact.

      • Specific guy who works in a specific field at a specific place rambling about his field of expertise creates fact.

        Only in your specific imagination.

    • The US is pretty unique in that regard. In many other places, even demonstrably true statements can be libelous. And while in the US, these are merely civil matters, in other nations, libel, defamation, and slander are often criminal matters.

    • by Chewbacon (797801)
      Case in point: Westboro Baptist Church. If they can get away with it, then so could someone in this guys shoes.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:20PM (#42930215)

    Barbra Streisand published her memoir there, Don't Take Pictures Of My House.

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by Xtifr (1323)

      Wow, whoever modded this down really showed their lack of knowledge of history and lack of a sense of humor.

      (For those who have been living under a turnip truck for the last three decades, see [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect Streisand effect]].)

      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by MrHanky (141717)

        Perhaps, but more likely it was modded down for being painfully obvious. Redundant would be better than off topic, of course, as the point is already made as the story is posted to Slashdot, but this tiresome meme regurgitation has to be struck down.

  • Been there (Score:4, Funny)

    by srussia (884021) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:31PM (#42930291)
    I taped a note on my locker saying "Jenny Arbuckle is a fatty".

    She didn't sue, but she said 'no' when I asked her to be my prom date.
    • I taped a note on my locker saying "Jenny Arbuckle is a fatty". She didn't sue, but she said 'no' when I asked her to be my prom date.

      Roscoe got a sex change, eh? I guess I'd want to turn over a new leaf too, given what happened...he really got a bum rappe.

  • Why is the business named after a person whose identity isn't even known to Google, and not the name of the founder or some other relevant thing or person?

  • Carnival Hucksters (Score:5, Informative)

    by Moridineas (213502) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @04:57PM (#42930457) Journal

    I work for a small academic publisher and I've seen the Edwin Mellen press at some academic conventions. Nice people, but they totally come across as carnival hucksters. They get their business knowing full well how important "publish or perish" is in academia. Their reps will literally ask every single person who walks by in the exhibit hall: "Do you want to get published?" (including me, on multiple occasions, wearing my vendor badge!) They basically make their money from minimal production values (look at their covers or insides of their books to see what I mean), small print runs, and very high prices. They sell a limited number of books to libraries, to the author, and maybe a handful elsewhere, and then they're done. They claim to be subsidy-free (i.e., not a vanity press) but I don't know if this is true or not.

  • by Kaz Kylheku (1484) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @05:07PM (#42930525) Homepage

    For instance, the publisher could start a blog in which they call the librarian "Mr. Poopy Pants".

    That is essentially the equivalent of what he did to them.

    If I think that some publisher's output is poor, that is my opinion. It is not libel. You can't sue people for having standards (even completely vague ones that change daily) and for claiming that some things don't measure up to those standard (in no objective way).

    Libel would be if I claim that, say, the publisher cheated someone out of ten thousand dollars, when in fact that is false.

    • by Kaz Kylheku (1484) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @05:16PM (#42930595) Homepage

      I wrote:

      If I think that some publisher's output is poor, that is my opinion. It is not libel.

      Ah, in the United States perhaps. But if I express that opinion in Canada, it might in fact be defamation. Oops!

      en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_defamation_law

      True North Strong and Free, indeed ...

      • Ah, in the United States perhaps. But if I express that opinion in Canada, it might in fact be defamation. Oops!

        And yet, part of what they're suing him about, was published when the blogger/librarian was still living and working in the United States.

        • by nedlohs (1335013)

          But it was accessible in Canada, and there have been some crazy court ruling on publishing on the internet. No idea if Canada has had any.

          http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/high_ct/2002/56.html [austlii.edu.au] is the Australian example - if you put something on the internet the publication takes place when someone views it and hence you have published it in whatever jurisdiction the viewer is in.

          Of course suing a university with no involvement at all makes no sense.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Edwin Mellen Press is dubious and its books are often works of second-class scholarship.

    Has anyone heard this?

    Edwin Mellen Press is dubious and its books are often works of second-class scholarship.

    It appears that a lot of the Internet are talking about it right now.

    Edwin Mellen Press is dubious and its books are often works of second-class scholarship.

    Is it true?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Edwin Mellen Press is dubious and its books are often works of second-class scholarship.

      Is it true?

      I haven't heard anything to the contrary recently.

  • by Murdoch5 (1563847) on Sunday February 17, 2013 @05:29PM (#42930687)
    Most textbooks are second, third or ass wipe class resources. Out of the 14+ textbooks I have, and out of the 100 I've read, maybe 2 of them are worth any money and out of those two, only the embedded software textbook is worth over $20. Textbooks are by far the worst way to learn / educate a student! Instead of suing the blogger maybe textbook publishers should sit back and finally ask "How do make a learning resource that works!", One thing is for sure it's not following the current methods.
    • "Learning Resource?" It's a book, not a nontransferable software license. But we're getting off topic-- Mellon press appears to publish monographs [wikipedia.org], not textbooks. If they're good enough, you can cite them in your research papers.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Absolutely. If the academic content of a textbook mattered, evolution would apply, and very quickly "survival of the fittest" would mean each area of teaching would recognise only a couple of first class works, and ensure only these books gained a recommendation.

      Sadly, 80%+ of teaching is NOT about getting a person to learn something productive. It is simply a process to keep young people out of the job market until they are older and older (we've gone from 12 to 22 and rising), and then to ensure they are

    • by Pubstar (2525396)
      The CCNA Discovery class I'm taking has amazing coursework for it. Mostly interactive slides, comprehension quizzes, and some streaming video lectures. Great stuff, snd it really makes it easy to grasp the harder concepts.
      • by Murdoch5 (1563847)
        Oh I never said good books don't exist but there rare. I have my CCNA and the course work is pretty good, how ever to be fair I never had to buy into it as I took it in high school for free.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    As in, when I need to get published, I'll pay for a *real* vanity press rather than these "non-subsidized" publishers. You get what you pay for!

  • The publisher is upset that someone called them Scientologists. Well, they're absolutely not Scientologists. They're Moonies. [sdsu.edu] Yes, really.

  • So just out of curiosity I went to their website. On a poorly presented front page they advertise themselves not to potentials readers (i.e. customers) but to academics desparate to get a book "out there" for career purposes. One of their selling points is "Our books qualify for tenure promotion," for example. Reputable publishing houses do not have to advertise in that manner to potentials authors because their reputation means that they have many more inquiries from new authors than they could possibly ac

  • This also involves free speech. I believe the university and the librarian should counter sue, claiming the publisher is trying to suppress their free speech rights. They should ask for millions of dollars in damages and Billions in punitave damage.
  • IANAL, however...

    I imagine it going something like this:

    "Your honour, we move for dismissal due to lack of jurisdiction."

    From TFA:

    And Mr. Askey was not even a librarian at McMaster when he posted on the blog. He was still an associate professor at Kansas State University, working in Hale Library, he said. He started working at McMaster in February 2011.

    Judge: "Okay, published in USA by an American; I have no jurisdiction."

    Hopefully he adds, "I award costs to defendants."

    Then, all the librarians that keep th

  • there is no SLAPP law currently on the books in either Canadian law or Ontario law.

    But the publisher needs to be careful. If they loose, they have to pay the legal fees of the blog owner and the university.

    The simple defence is to show the comments are true. Doesn't seem to be to hard.
  • FUCK YOU. As an academic, I think I can speak for myself and at least a few others: FUCK YOU and the craptastic publishing company you rode in on. Douchebag.
  • Remember folks: Anyone can sue anyone, over just about anything.

    That - coupled with a grossly Byzantine case-law system that seems to directly-reward $$ paid to platoons of attorneys - has really left us a broken system.

    The problem is one of a level playing field, in both directions.
    On the one hand, we want our legal system to be accessible to anyone; this allows the impoverished parents of the kid that was crippled by defective playground equipment to sue Giant Mega Playground Corp despite their sub-povert

  • Doesn't matter who is right or who is wrong... what matters is which lawyers can sway the judge/jury in their client's favor...

  • Institutions of higher learning across country should issue a joint statement banning that publisher's books from being sold in on-campus bookstores (new or used) or being required material in any course.

    They're against academic freedom, they can kiss academic support goodbye, right?

    It's not like there aren't other publishers.

A CONS is an object which cares. -- Bernie Greenberg.

Working...