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Legal update time!
[This is an update to my post: Libel and Libraians and Lawsuits (Oh my)!]
Begin recap: librarian Dale Askey is being sued by Edwin Mellen Press for what he had written in a blog post titled “The Curious Case of Edwin Mellen Press.” At the time of the posting Askey had been employed by Kansas State University (in the US), though he is currently employed by McMaster University (which is in Canada). Edwin Mellen Press filed a libel suit against Askey and McMaster. End recap.
Generally speaking, it is a bad idea to pick a legal fight with a librarian for voicing an opinion. We librarians, and our friends, tend to get rather ornery when threatened with legal repercussions for expressing opinions that may be part of our professional responsibilities. It seems that this is something that Edwin Mellen Press has learned, as Inside Higher Ed reported:
“Edwin Mellen Press is dropping a wildly unpopular libel lawsuit against a university librarian, CBC News reported. Mellen sued Dale Askey, associate university librarian at McMaster University in Ontario…The press says that it wants to focus on its authors and books and so is dropping the suit. Many scholarly and library groups were furious about the lawsuit and criticized Mellen for filing it.”
Huzzah! Right? No. The Inside Higher Ed synopsis posted above captures the basic essence of the full article from CBC News; however, the CBC News features a line that demands additional consideration:
“EMP told CBC Hamilton on Monday that it “has discontinued the court case against McMaster University and Dale Askey.””
Here it is important to keep in mind that EMP had two cases open against Askey, one against just him, and one against him and McMaster. So, CBC (and Inside Higher Ed) are reporting that the suit against McMaster and Askey has been dropped. Great, but what about the case just against Askey?
Well, according to Dale Askey’s twitter feed:
“hold those corks. currently the press is only withdrawing one of the two suits. from my pov, it’s not much different.” (March 4)
In another tweet (from a day later) Askey reiterates:
“alas, only partially good news. the other suit still stands. not sure what they’re thinking.” (March 5)
In other words the suit against Askey (and only Askey) still stands, and the case that remains may be the worse of the two. After all, at the time that Askey wrote the post that so infuriated EMP he was a professor at Kansas State University, and thus it may be that EMP did not have great legal standing in suing McMaster (seeing as Askey had not been employed there at the time of his writing the offending post). While I openly admit that I am not an expert in Canadian libel law, I would imagine that a case trying to hold McMaster accountable for the actions of one of its librarians before the librarian could be called “one of its” may be rather dubious. So dropping that lawsuit makes a particular kind of sense.
Furthermore a university is a bit tougher to shove around. This is not to say that an individual librarian can be shoved around easily (we librarians are tough [so are archivists]), but it is unlikely that an individual librarian will have the resources (financial or legal) that a university may command.
In my previous post on this lawsuit I expressed concern that what was at work here was simply a form of intimidation, a way of the press saying “Don’t do this or else you will be sued!” to its critics. And, it seems that this is holding, particularly as the suit against Askey still stands. This is despite the press claiming: “that it wants to focus on its authors and books and so is dropping the suit.”
The threat is encapsulated in the EMP press release ending the suit against McMaster and Askey (the press release from EMP is at the bottom of the CBC report):
“EMP has discontinued the court case against McMaster University and Dale Askey. EMP remains resolute that all have the right to free speech. Equally, all have the right to take steps, including legal action, to protect their good names and reputation.”
So if you see postings (such as the one on Inside Higher Ed) declaring: “Mellon Drops Suit Against Librarian,” wait to celebrate until the second suit is dropped. Alas, Askey isn’t in the clear yet.
Hopefully I’ll be able to post another update shortly saying this whole thing is over.
Though the damage of the threat has already been done.
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