Scholarly Kitchen Reposts Blog Post That Resulted In Legal Threat, But Removed Comment

from the no-need-to-do-that dept

We recently wrote about how academic publisher, Edwin Mellen, was both suing an online critic as well as having its lawyers send highly questionable threat letters to blogs and commenters who were criticizing the company. As part of that, we were disappointed to see the website Scholarly Kitchen, a blog of the Society of Scholarly Publishing, cave in the face of legal threats and pull down the blog post when it was clear that the post broke no laws (the threat letter even admitted as much). The board of SSP has since talked about it and agreed to reinstate the blog post.
Yesterday, the Board of Directors of the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) unanimously decided to restore the posts by Scholarly Kitchen chef Rick Anderson that had been removed after the Kitchen and SSP received correspondence from a publisher that didn't like the content.

The posts (“When Sellers and Buyers Disagree” and “One Down, One to Go: Edwin Mellen Press Blinks One Eye“) have been restored without the comment quoted in the letter.

For many reasons I won't go into the ingredients of the sausage by explaining why the posts came down and why they went back up. I will say that the Board and the Scholarly Kitchen volunteers stand behind Rick's posts. The Board also stands behind the business and editorial decisions to take them down last week, until we could gather our busy volunteer leaders to fully evaluate the situation.

I can understand why a blog might pull such a post after getting such a letter. It's no fun to be the target of a legal nastygram, no matter how sure you may be that you're right. Even if you know with 100% certainty that you would win any such lawsuit, just the very threat of one could be attention, time and money draining. This is why such legal nastygrams can often be so effective in creating chilling effects around speech.

That said, I also think it's important for people to recognize the value of standing up for their rights in the face of such threats. Otherwise those rights get eaten away. On that note, I think that SSP could have and should have also reposted the "comment" which they say they took down. As we discussed in our initial article, Kristine Hunt's comments (which were actually mostly supportive of Edwin Mellen) seemed unlikely to reach the level of defamation -- but, much more importantly, this has no bearing on SSP's liability. Section 230 of the CDA is pretty clear that, as the service provider, they are not liable for such comments, even if they are aware of them and leave them up. It is, of course, SSP's decision as to whether or not to remove any comments (or posts) on its site, but I'm a bit surprised they'd remove that comment when the caselaw on Section 230 is pretty clear. Some courts have even ruled that sites have no obligation to remove such content even after the statements have been judged to be defamatory (though that's not agreed upon across the board). But, at this stage, merely on accusation, SSP is clearly protected by Section 230, so it's unfortunate that they still chose to remove that comment.

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  • identicon
    relghuar, 4 Apr 2013 @ 2:56am

    It's no fun to be the target of a legal nastygram...

    Actually, with the right attitude it can be ;-)

    (this one for example is quite hilarious)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rick Anderson, 4 Apr 2013 @ 7:06am

    The comment that was removed

    As the author of the posts in question, I have access to some information that might be helpful here. Most importantly, you need to know that the decision to remove the comment was not made by SSP -- it was made by the commenter, and her decision was honored by SSP. You may disagree that she needed to do so, but since she was the one under threat, it seems to me only reasonable that SSP honor her request.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Apr 2013 @ 5:54pm

    Section 230 has never been addressed by he Supreme Court, and other countries have rejected its logic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kent Anderson, 6 Apr 2013 @ 5:49am

    The disputed comment

    As the editor-in-chief of the Scholarly Kitchen, I wanted to echo Rick Anderson's information -- that the comment was taken down at the request of Ms. Hunt, after both phone and email conversations. We discussed as many options as you can imagine, but ultimately it came down to asking her how she wanted to proceed. She requested we remove the comments, and we honored that request.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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