Publishing Ethics and Platform Neutrality | Peer to Peer Review
"Do librarians really get sued, or threatened with lawsuits, all that often? It is hard to say. My initial impression is that they do not get haled into court very often, but it is very difficult to know about threats. There may be more saber-rattling than we know about, and if such threats actually prevent librarians from taking the challenged action, we might never know about it. That is called a 'chilling effect,' and there is a website devoted to cataloging such threats, which librarians should be aware of and, I think, contribute to when appropriate. But surely it was remarkable last month when two lawsuits against librarians both made the news within the same week or so. Actually, only one was a real, filed lawsuit – the one brought by Edwin Mellen Press against a librarian at McMasters University in Canada for a blog post he wrote while at his previous employment that questioned the quality of the books published by the Press. In the other case, an online, open access publisher sent a cease and desist letter, along with a demand for $10,000 in damages and legal fees, to Jeffrey Beall, a librarian in Colorado who maintains a list of 'predatory' open access publishers. I hope this is just a bizarre coincidence, and not the start of a trend or, worse, the visible tip of a long dormant iceberg of intimidation. But even assuming that these are two isolated events, the coincidence of the timing and the content of the claims can teach us a couple of things. First, lawsuits over bad 'reviews,' which take the shape of claims about defamation (slander or libel), are usually counterproductive. The publicity that comes with filing a lawsuit over an alleged defamation usually has the effect of spreading the damaging statements that prompted the suit in the first place much more widely ... Second, the specifics of these two cases are especially interesting to me because of the parallelism between the complaint made by a traditional publisher and that threatened by an online, open access one. Both publishers were accused of less-than-ethical practices, and both turned to litigation or threats of litigation to make those accusations go away. Part of the lesson—putting aside any judgment about the merits of these particular claims—should be that unethical practices are platform-neutral. Jeffrey Beall’s website, which elicited the threat from The Canadian Center of Science and Education, is focused on so-called predatory open access publishers, and I have always wondered why it is limited to open access. Most librarians know about traditional, subscription-based publishers who employ less than ethical business practices. We have heard about journals that publish issues dedicated to a topic that are supported by a pharmaceutical company, which hopes to increase sales and may even dictate the contents. Another common practice, I am sorry to say, is to re-release an earlier book with a slightly different title and very few alterations, hoping that libraries will buy the new 'edition' (which is sometimes not identified as an edition) without realizing it is a duplicate in terms of content ..."