Thursday, August 16, 2007

Publisher asks libraries to return Alms for Jihad

Earlier this month The Chronical of Higher Education published an article concerning the libel lawsuit in Britain between Cambridge University Press and Saudi banker Khalid bin Mahfouz. Mahfouz claimed that the 2006 book Alms for Jihad:Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World published by Cambridge wrongly implicated him as a financer of terrorism in Sudan. As a result of the claim, Cambridge has offered to pulp all their copies Of Alms for Jihad and have requested that libraries return their copies so they can be destroyed. This has inevitably created a lot of concern amongst librarians here in the U.S. who are wondering whether they really do have to follow through with the request. The ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom issued a statement on their blog today which included the following:

Unless there is an order from a U.S. court, the British settlement is unenforceable in the United States, and libraries are under no legal obligation to return or destroy the book. Libraries are considered to hold title to the individual copy or copies, and it is the library's property to do with as it pleases. Given the intense interest in the book, and the desire of readers to learn about the controversy first hand, we recommend that U.S. libraries keep the book available for their users.

This entire situation brings up the question whether publishers actually have the right to ask libraries to return books. There have been other examples in the past where authors have been caught plagerizing. James Frey's A Million Pieces and Kaavya Viswanathan's How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life come to mind, however, those are examples of fiction titles as opposed to the non-fiction Alms for Jihad. In this particular case, there still seems to be a lot of disagreement as to whether the author was wrong about Mahfouz. These things are always open to interpretation and that case, a book should still be available at a library for readers to discern their own opinion. Any thoughts?

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