Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Publisher unclear on the concept

Imagine if a critic in the Globe and Mail wrote a book review and the author and publisher did not like the fact that the review was largely negative and then mounted a major law suit against both the reviewer and the newspaper. Or imagine if a film critic writing for Walrus Magazine wrote a damning review of a new film release and the director and the studio mounted an attack against both the reviewer and the magazine.

If these law suits, or similar ones, were successful then that would mean the right to fair and open criticism in any arena of our society would become an absolute impossibility. And that is the very fundamental value at stake in a 4.5 millon dollar libel law suit brought about by Edwin Mellen Press against a McMaster University Librarian Dale Askey. Why is Askey being sued? For doing his job too well. It seems that Askey as part of his professional duties at his former position at Kansas State University made professional judgments about the quality of the books produced by various academic publishers. In a blog entry he recorded his critical impressions of the poor quality of Mellen Press books, their careless editorial standards and their poor contracts with authors. Askey made both positive and negative remarks about various academic publishers based on many years of experience in academic book selection at a time when declining budgets meant that university library selectors needed to be more critical and discerning about what they actually purchased. Mellen, instead of defending their policies and practices as a publisher, saw fit to resort to blatant intimidation and to just hammer Askey over the head with a heavy lawsuit. It should be noted, however, that this isn’t the first time that Mellen has gone after a critic. In 1993 the publisher sued Lingua Franca magazine over an article that referred to the company as a “quasi-vanity press cunningly disguised as an academic publishing house.” Mellen thankfully lost that case. And Mellen most thankfully will lose the Askey case as well. If not then we are all in very, very deep trouble.

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