Edwin Mellen Press’s Curious Case

In case there are any Slaw readers who have not yet learned of it, I thought I’d point you to some posts about Edwin Mellen Press‘s lawsuit against McMaster librarian Dale Askey (and against McMaster University as well). EMP claims Askey defamed them online in a post, and a series of comments to it, entitled “The Curious Case of Edwin Mellen Press” (a turn on Dickens’s “The Curious Case of Edwin Drood,” by the way) and in the Notice of Action begun in June 2012 they ask for $3,500,000.00 in damages.

The Notice of Action is available online here. You will find the original post by Askey, dated September 22, 2010, and various comments, some by Askey, also alleged to be libellous, as an appendix to the Notice of Cation. The post and comments appear on a blog, Bibliobary, that Askey started in 2009 and maintains on a domain unconnected to McMaster. The nub of EMP’s complaint is that Askey said that much of what they publish is “second-class scholarship” and that they charge unreasonably high prices for it, something they are able to do, he alleges, because libraries don’t perform adequate due diligence when purchasing books or when failing to return those originally sent on approval.

The original post and associated comments have been removed from Bibliobary.

If you would like to follow up on the story, the following blog posts are worth reading:

It would seem that the matter has had a burst of publicity because Les Green, Professor of the Philosophy of Law at Oxford and an adjunct faculty member at McMaster, took an interest in the case and began tweeting about it.

Yesterday, McMaster University made a public statement concerning the lawsuit. I reproduce it here in full:

February 8, 2013
McMaster’s commitment to academic freedom

McMaster and one of its librarians have been named in a lawsuit launched by the Edwin Mellen Press. The suit stems from a blog post published in 2010.

In its Statement on Academic Freedom, McMaster University affirms the right of the academic community to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion. Beyond this commitment to teach and learn unhindered by non-academic constraints, the University strongly supports the exercise of free speech as a critical social good.

For this reason, McMasterUniversity has for more than eighteen months rejected all demands and considerable pressure from the Edwin Mellen Press to repudiate the professional opinions of university librarian Dale Askey, notwithstanding the fact that those opinions were published on his personal blog several months before he joined McMaster.

Because of our respect for individual freedom of speech, the University finds itself today a co-defendant with Mr. Askey in a legal action brought by the Edwin Mellen Press.

The University will continue to rigorously defend its commitment to academic freedom and freedom of speech as the case proceeds before the courts.

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Comments

  1. As I write this, a petition to Edwin Mellen Press to drop their lawsuit against Dale Askey has just short of 1000 signatures. Members of the academic community all over the world are standing up with Dale Askey and asking that that Edwin Mellen stand down. Please sign the petition at:
    https://www.change.org/petitions/edwin-mellen-press-end-libel-suit-against-dale-askey-and-mcmaster-university

  2. I’m not a defamation lawyer, but one has the feeling that this lawsuit will turn out well for both McMaster and Askey if it is well defended.

    In the meantime, it will be very interesting and important to see whether:
    • McMaster steps up to the plate and pays for Askey’s independent defence by competent defamation counsel
    • CARL and CLA do or at least say something helpful
    • Whether CAUT or AUCC get involved in a constructive way – up to and including contributing funds if necessary. Talk is good. Money is better.

    This case will also be watched by those in the copyright community in the educational system, since Access Copyright (“AC”) has recently increased the volume of its sabre rattling in the fallout from its great defeat on fair dealing in the Supreme Court of Canada on July 12, 2012, and the resulting hit on its revenues with much more decline to follow. AC has always capitalized upon the great propensity for risk aversion in the educational and library community at any cost and notwithstanding any logic – and the resulting copyright chill is only now beginning to thaw. One can only hope that this does not cause a setback to the warming process.

    Sam Trosow has a good take on this case:

    http://samtrosow.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/libel-action-against-mcmaster-librarian-raises-academic-freedom-issues/

    Regards,

    Howard

  3. I’m pleased to share UVic Libraries’ position on the issue, released Thursday and following the lead of the Canadian Library Association:

    UVic Libraries supports CLA position on Mellen Press suit against McMaster librarian

    The University of Victoria Libraries supports the Canadian Library Association’s position on the libel suit against Dale Askey and urges Edwin Mellen Press to drop this suit which UVic Libraries considers to be an affront to academic freedom.

    Future purchase of Mellen Press titles will be considered on a case-by-case basis and only at the written request of a faculty member.

    We have amended our UVic Libraries acquisition approval plans to exclude title notifications from Edwin Mellen Press.

  4. Thomas Anthony Kelly

    I find this whole debate to be nuts. Every book is a unique product. Some are good and some are poor. The actual publisher is no indication of quality. Every book needs to be judged on its individual merits. I know of some excellent books published by EMP which have had excellent reviews in leading scholarly journals.