There’s a librarian in the Great White North (or at least McMaster University in Ontario) under legal siege by the Edwin Mellen Press for writing a blog post criticizing EMP. A “faithful reader” sent these links about the story and wondered what my take on them would be. My first take was a double take. Suing a librarian for criticizing your press? Doesn’t that seem excessive?
The best summary of the story at this point is probably this Inside Higher Education article, following up on the blog posts.
The librarian in question wrote a blog post in 2010 critical of everything EMP. Now EMP wants $3 million from him and McMaster for defamation.
Oh, and the librarian is an American who was at an American university when he wrote the blog post, but wasn’t sued until 2012, after he had moved to Canada to take a job at McMaster.
We can’t say for sure why on the timing, but EMP did sue an American magazine in American court in 1993 for a devastating article criticizing them and lost. Perhaps they thought they’d have better luck in Canada.
It’s hard to know what to think, other than I hope that that it all goes away. It seems such a disproportionate response to a blog post. But here are a couple of observations.
A publisher suing a librarian for a critical blog post seems oversensitive to me. Oxford, Cambridge, and Sage have been roundly criticized for suing Georgia State, and they haven’t bothered to respond. Elsevier has more or less been called an evil empire in public by many a librarian and researcher and they just shrug it off.
A single librarian writes a single blog post and you sue for $3 million? It’s not like this librarian has the ear of the profession, unlike some pseudonymous bloggers I could mention. This was a relatively obscure blog post that’s now very well known by thousands of people, most of whom are your customers.
Instead of focusing your ire on an obscure library blogger, do like other publishers and just ignore librarians completely. Really, no one pays attention to what librarians say, or at least they don’t until publishers sue them.
The second thought is, do you really want to be known forever as the publisher who sued a librarian for writing a blog post? Your suit complains that the post was up from September 2010 to March 2012. That was one post, now removed, from a relatively unknown library blogger.
Suing that magazine in 1993? Them was pre-Google days.
Google Edwin Mellen Press from now on and you know what you’ll find? From now on you’re going to find blog posts and news articles about Mellen suing some poor librarian for writing a blog post.
These posts aren’t defaming anyone, either. They’re just reporting the facts. Maybe you thought those facts wouldn’t go public, but they did. And they’ll stay that way, because things last forever on the Internet. Maybe there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but then again maybe there is. Librarians are the ones buying your books, and a lot of librarians are now annoyed with you.
Since starting a draft of this post, I found out there’s a petition asking you to stop the suit against the librarian and McMaster University. Probably a good idea to accede to the request.
If you don’t mind a little advice, and I get the feeling you probably do but I’m going to give it anyway, drop the suit. You might win in the court of Canada, but you’ll lose in the court of public opinion of the group that matters most, the librarians you depend on to buy your books. Your short term gain could be a long term loss.
Here’s how to do it without losing any more face: Drop the suit. Issue a statement saying that you sued just to make the point that librarians shouldn’t say mean things about you, and now that everyone knows about the case you’ve made that point and everyone knows it, so there’s really no reason to go on.
I’d buy it.