Annoyed Librarian
Search LibraryJournal.com ....
Subscribe to LJ
Inside Annoyed Librarian

Celebrate Your Intellectual Freedom

Fortunately, there are people at LJ who do actual reporting so that we get one of the best news articles on that librarian being sued by the Edwin Mellen Press. What distinguishes this article is the quote from a lawyer on Canadian libel law and how different it is from U.S. law:

Askey’s lawyer, Brian MacLeod Rogers, told LJ, “In Canada, even in libel cases involving public figures and matters of public interest, the onus remains on defendants to prove a defense for any defamatory statement they have published; its falsity and damage are presumed. While defamation defenses have greatly improved in Canada over the past five years – thanks to our constitutional equivalent of the First Amendment for protecting free expression – it is up to defendants to show that: contentious facts are true; any defamatory opinions are ones a person could honestly hold; or they were ‘responsible’ in publishing what they did.”

Moreover, he continued, “In the United States, section 230 of the Communications Decency Act essentially provides immunity from defamation claims for publishing someone else’s posts online – not so in Canada where there remain many murky areas in determining liability for Internet postings and applying traditional common law concepts.”

This difference between the countries is important, and easily answers the question of why EMP decided to wait to sue, although the idea of a publisher seething for two years over an obscure blog post and keeping track of the author enough to be aware he had moved to Canada would be amusing if the consequences weren’t so awful.

The contrast also provides support for one of my criticisms of ALA claims about intellectual freedom, with its insistence that intellectual freedom is under some sort of serious attack if a mom in rural Idaho complains about an erotic book in the children’s section of the library or whatever.

The ALA OIF needs to hype stuff like that to convince themselves that intellectual freedom is in any danger in the U.S., when we all know it isn’t. There are freedoms in danger perhaps, but intellectual freedom really isn’t one of them. The fact that we can write pretty well what we please without having angry litigious people harass us is evidence for that.

Instead of getting agitated by the gnats of intellectual intolerance, we should instead routinely celebrate the intellectual freedom we have that others around the world don’t, including in Western democracies like the UK or Canada that we might otherwise consider similar in many ways.

Granted, that’s not the only difference. Health care, gun laws, church attendance, and a whole lot of cultural attitudes are different between the U.S. and those countries, but the free speech restriction alone is enough to shock Americans just as some of our more asinine laws and cultural practices shock Brits and Canadians. Canadians have a reputation for being very nice. Maybe it’s because they’re afraid they’ll get sued.

It’s a situation like the EMP one, where the headlines seem like they’re pulled from the Onion, when we should realize and celebrate just how much intellectual freedom and freedom of speech we now have.

“Publisher sues College Librarian for Saying Publisher Sucks” should be the start of a satirical article, not a report on the sad state of affairs for librarians in Canada.

So celebrate your intellectual freedom. One day you might lose it, and it won’t be through book challenges.

Share

Comments

  1. Ray Gordon says:

    Section 230 is an abomination that has given rise to “revenge porn” sites and other forms of search-engine attacks on someone’s reputation. Section 230 was inserted into the CDA by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), and runs counter to 150 years of defamation precedent. It has also never been tested by the US SUpreme Court so it’s hardly settled. Google and Yahoo just lost a lawsuit in Australia over its search-engine results, showing that 230 immunity is out of step with the western world.

    Those who defend Section 230 have simply never been targteted by anyone and just aren’t important enough to be targeted. It’s easier to blame the target than to do the right thing, and 230 immunity facilitates this.

  2. Tom says:

    “intellectual freedom really isn’t one of them. The fact that we can write pretty well what we please without having angry litigious people harass us is evidence for that.”

    Perhaps you have not heard of the “church” of Scientology.

  3. I love Annoyed Librarian stories like this one. “The ALA OIF needs to hype stuff like that to convince themselves that intellectual freedom is in any danger in the U.S., when we all know it isn’t.” Love it! Love it!