Suing Librarians in the Digital Age

"Legal Document." Photo used under Creative Commons License and is available from

“Legal Document.” Photo used under Creative Commons License and is available from

Is it too early to ask the question? Has the legal action Edwin Mellen Press brought against Dale Askey and McMaster University backfired? From a public relations standpoint, what have been the outcomes of the suit?

The suit resulted in an article “The Price of a Bad Review” from Inside Higher Ed, which broke the story.

Librarians then bloggedtweeted and reblogged about the suit.

Gawker commented on the story.

An online petition to drop the suit was created.

Finally, the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s blog, Wired Campus, picked up the story.

In 1993, Edwin Mellen Press sued Lingua Franca for libel and lost. The snippet from their timeline reads:

Warren St. John deems Edwin Mellen Press a vanity publisher capitalizing on the desperation of credential-hungry academics. St. John also finds that the Press’s offshore adjunct, Mellen University, is little more than a diploma mill. After the exposé, Mellen chief Herbert Richardson, a former University of Toronto religion professor, accuses LF of libel and sues for $15 million. He loses. In September 1994, St. Michael’s College, where Richardson holds tenure, dismisses him for “gross misconduct.”

Fast forward 20 years and what’s changed? Not only has the Internet been created, but social media and mobile devices have transformed the Internet into an even more interconnected web. In 1993 a lawsuit might fly under the radar. Perhaps it would be mentioned in a few trade or niché publications. People may have talked about it at a couple of conferences, but overall how many people would be aware?

Now, through blogs and social media we are all publishers of information. It streams on our various feeds and we can easily rebroadcast it.

If the goal of Edwin Mellen Press was to protect its reputation, my question to you is, has it worked?

Leave a Reply