You’ve Been Served

Nope, not that world-renowned SMCM Library service.  I mean the legal kind.

What would happen if didn’t think that our service, or anything about us, was that great?  And what if you posted in your blog that you thought the SMCM Library sucked because we had hardly any books, or you didn’t like the candy choices. I’m not sure there would be much we could do about it.  We might not like it, but you have a right to your opinion.

But take the situation of Dale Askey, Associate University Librarian at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.  In 2010, when he was a librarian at Kansas State University, Askey wrote a blog post that criticized Edwin Mellen Press, a publisher of scholarly books which it sells to libraries.  He did not say they sucked.  But he did write some things about their prices and the types of books they publish, and he offered his professional opinion about the value of books from this publisher compared with others.

You can’t find the blog post very easily any more.  Can you guess why?  Because Edwin Mellen Press is suing Askey for more than $1 million in damages, and suing Askey and his current university for $3.5 million for libel and damages.

Exactly what is libel?  Libel is a method of defamation expressed by print, writing, pictures, signs, effigies, or any communication embodied in physical form that is injurious to a person’s reputation, exposes a person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule, or injures a person in his/her business or profession.

So – if you buy a product or services from a company and you aren’t happy with them, AND your write a blog post telling people why you think that company’s products are substandard (and you use some data, not just a rant), can you get sued?  Maybe.  Is that fair?  What about your right to free speech?

What is likely to happen in this case?  Mellen lost a similar case in 1993.  This one will be argued in a Canadian court.  Librarians, publishers, and universities will be watching carefully.  And even if Mellen loses librarians and authors may be more reluctant in the future to express their views (lawsuits are really expensive even if you win).

Do you express your views and ideas on a blog?  Could your words drive someone to sue you?  Would that stop you?  Think about it.  And if you’d like to read Dale Askey’s original blog post, here it is (and if you don’t know about the Internet Archive’s Way Back Machine, check it out).

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