Publisher suing McMaster and librarian for $3.5 million in libel damages

Edwin Mellen Press is formally suing a McMaster librarian, along with the University, for $3.5 million in damages over a libel claim stemming from a 2010 blog post.

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice is now trying the case of Dale Askey and McMaster versus Edwin Mellen Press (EMP). Askey published a series of personal blog posts critiquing the publisher under the title, “The Curious Case of Edwin Mellen Press” three years ago.

In his blog posts, Askey stated that Edwin Mellen Press produced books of low quality and was a “junk publisher” that regularly published second-class works that were exorbitantly overpriced. He also claimed that the press treated its authors in an unprofessional manner and, as a librarian, had seen many poorly edited and poorly bound books published by EMP.

Askey was issued legal notice in June 2012 as a result of the alleged defamatory statements. The notice also identifies McMaster University as co-defendant.

The plaintiff, EMP, claims that by refusing to force Askey to remove his defamatory comments, McMaster has vicariously adopted his defamatory and libelous statements.

McMaster spokesperson Gord Arbeau said that the University stands in full support of Askey.

“The University is very supportive of Mr. Askey. Freedom of speech and academic freedom are foundational principles of this institution.”

McMaster issued a statement on Feb. 8 re-asserting its commitment to academic freedom. McMaster affirmed “the right of the academic community to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion … the University supports the exercise of free speech as a critical social good.”

In his posts, Askey emphasized the importance of being critical of publishers and the quality of academic publications that universities purchase. He re-iterated that in his role as a librarian, and given limited university library budgets, it is important for universities to be selective in what they purchase.

Lingua Franca, a noted American magazine, was also taken to court by EMP in 1993 for libel and asked for $15 million in damages. EMP lost the case.

An online petition on Change.org, asking for the case to be dropped, has elicited over 1000 signatures in support of Askey and McMaster.

On Feb. 11, The McMaster Faculty Association also issued a statement urging McMaster to offer its member, Askey, all “necessary support, including financial assistance, in dealing with this threat to him, our institution and to the wider academic community.”

Arbeau noted that because Askey’s comments were made on a personal blog and while he was not an employee of McMaster, his case is a unique one. McMaster has chosen to act in support but “is responsible for its own defence and the costs borne from that as a co-defendant,” he said.

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