Edwin Mellen Press Drops Lawsuit Against University Librarian

[Updated (3/4/2013, 5:11 p.m.) with reaction from McMaster University and from Dale Askey.]

Edwin Mellen Press said on Monday that it would drop a lawsuit against a university librarian whom it had sued for writing a blog post critical of the publisher. Critics have called the lawsuit an attack on academic freedom.

The press had sued Dale Askey, a librarian at McMaster University, in Ontario, and the Canadian university in the Ontario Superior Court, seeking more than $3-million in damages for the post, in which Mr. Askey referred to the publisher as “dubious” and said its books were often works of “second-class scholarship.”

In a separate action, the press’s founder, Herbert W. Richardson, sued Mr. Askey for $1-million for personal remarks made in the blog’s comment section. It is not clear whether that lawsuit will also be dropped.

News of the lawsuits sparked a firestorm of criticism toward the press, with several groups representing librarians, professors, and university-press associations condemning the legal actions. An online petition backing Mr. Askey drew more than 3,000 signatures. Supporters of the librarian took to Twitter, using the hashtag #FreeDaleAskey.

“The financial pressure of the social-media campaign and pressure on authors is severe,” Edwin Mellen Press said in a news release issued on Monday. “EMP is a small company. Therefore must choose to focus its resources on its business and serving its authors.”

The press declined to elaborate on the news release.

In the release, the press stated that it had attempted to meet with officials at McMaster University but had been told that the university was not responsible for Mr. Askey’s blogging. When the blog post was written, in 2010, Mr. Askey was still a librarian at Kansas State University.

Gord Arbeau, director of public and community relations at McMaster University, told The Chronicle that “a notice of discontinuance from Edwin Mellen Press has been received, effectively ending the case against the university.”

“This is good news for all those across North America who have supported McMaster’s position on protecting free speech and in defence of academic freedom,” Mr. Arbeau said by e-mail.

Mr. Askey declined to comment on the case that’s being dropped, but he did say that the separate lawsuit filed against him by Mr. Richardson appeared to be continuing for now.

“We have no signals from their side as to their intentions,” he said.

On Friday the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the country’s main faculty group, announced that McMaster had decided to pay Mr. Askey’s legal expenses. Mr. Askey had previously been covering his own legal costs.

“We were really pleased that the academic community across North America spoke out in support of Mr. Askey and condemned the actions of Mellen Press,” said James Turk, the association’s director. “We’re very pleased that the university made arrangements to help Mr. Askey cover his legal costs. And we’re even more pleased that the press has done the right thing by dropping the suit.”

Edwin Mellen Press is a scholarly publisher with head offices in New York and Wales. It publishes more than 300 new works a year, according to its Web site, and maintains an inventory of more than 5,000 titles.

The lawsuits against Mr. Askey are not the only times it has used legal action in response to criticism. The publisher sued Lingua Franca for libel when the now-defunct magazine published a 1993 cover story about Edwin Mellen Press and Mr. Richardson. The press maintains that the most recent lawsuits were not an attack on free speech but a response to an attack against the publisher.

“EMP remains resolute that all have the right to free speech,” the press stated. “Equally, all have the right to take steps, including legal action, to protect their good names and reputations.”

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