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U.S. court rules print-on-demand services not liable in defamation cases

A fight between two high-school cheerleaders has resulted in an American court ruling that print-on-demand services are not liable in defamation lawsuits. (Sounds like a plot twist on Gossip Girl…)

The two cheerleaders, Ms. Calcagni and Ms. Sandler, battled over a boy they both liked and Calcagni allegedly spray-painted hateful graffiti near Sandler’s home. After she was convicted of a hate crime, Calcagni’s family hired a freelance writer to tell their side of the story, which they published using Amazon.com’s BookSurge print-on-demand service, a kind of 21st-century version of a vanity press. Sandler’s family sued BookSurge for defamation, but the suit was thrown out when BookSurge was deemed to have had “negligible involvement” with the authors of the book. MediaShift reports:

Traditionally, book publishers could be held liable for defamatory statements in their books under the theory that they exercised some form of control over the books’ contents. But online print-on-demand companies typically provide printing and distribution services only, and do not perform the traditional editing, fact-checking and marketing functions associated with other publishers. Sandler v. Calcagni appears to be the first case in which someone has argued that a print-on-demand company should face traditional publisherÂť liability.

The court decided that BookSurge had no editorial input into the book’s contents, and therefore could not be held responsible for anything libellous or defamatory. It was found that the service acted more as a mass copier than a publisher, which would imply more active involvement with the process of preparing the book for press.

There won’t be an appeal, since the two parties subsequently settled their differences out of court.

Which leads Quillblog to wonder, why all this acrimony? Calcagni and Sandler are cheerleaders: couldn’t they just settle their differences in the good ol’ fashioned Hollywood manner, with a cheerleading competition? Bring it on!