Andrew Dubber is a senior lecturer down the road at UCE and from what I understand from people who've met him all-round nice chap. He has a research interest in online music, radio, and new media technology. In that context, he published an interesting email correspondence with a chap called Paul Birch, who runs a record company, and sits on the board of the IFPI and the BPI. The IFPI is a international recording industry body, and the BPI the British record industry trade body.
The conversation starts slightly abruptly
Looking at your site I don't think allowing indiscriminate criticism of the RIAA is inappropriate for a Government funded institution.Dubber responds that he isn't a Government funded institution, nor is he indiscriminately criticising the RIAA. The RIAA is the US recording industry trade body, currently engaged in a number of court actions over music downloads. Unfortunately the conversation heads off into the wilds from there, with Dubber offering to correct any factual inaccuracies, while Birch asserting that Dubber promotes "hatred of the recording industry" by linking to this article. He finishes by saying
It expresses opinion, it's not factual. If you persist then I shall make a formal complaint to the University.Persist here means, I think, persist in linking to the article. Andrew Dubber's crime, which I had to hunt around for was this
RIAA, extortion, and conspiracy, in the same sentenceThat's a quote from the article, by the way, not Dubber's opinion. Does linking to something necessarily endorse it? Nope.
Finally someone, more specifically Ms. Del Cid has filed counterclaims against the RIAA under Florida, California, and Federal law.
Earlier this week, Ben 'Bad Science' Goldacre reported that a professor at UCL, David Colquhoun, was subject to a similar complaint. Professor Colquhoun had written a piece saying that the claims made for red clover herbal supplements by Dr Ann Walker were a load of nonsense. Rather than respond to the facts, Walker's husband, Dr Alan Lakin made a complaint directly to UCL, alleging defamation and holding UCL jointly liable because the article was hosted on a UCL server. After an initial wobble, UCL is backing Prof Colquhoun and asking Lakin and Walker to, basically, put up or shut up.
As a nation we fund university lecturers to be clever. We pay them to teach - both to impart facts to students, and to teach students how to be similarly clever - and we pay them to think and research. If, in the course of that thinking and researching, they find out something or form an opinion we dislike, is it appropriate to kick up a stink about it? To demand that they only say things we agree with? To "shut up or I'll tell your Mum and she'll stop your pocket money". Leaving aside that my children can form a better argument, it absolutely isn't. If you think someone's wrong, in fact or in opinion formed on fact, then show the error. Produce the evidence, show the logic is flawed.
In these two examples that hasn't happened. The "injured parties" haven't even tried. The Colquhoun case seems particularly egregious, as Lakin and Walker appear happy to trade on their academic backgrounds until challenged. In Dubber's case it seems remarkably trivial - pointing to article you dislike isn't grounds for anything, let alone a formal complaint. Nevertheless, complaining to an academic's university is a pretty serious business. It can cause all kinds of unpleasantness even if it the complaint isn't upheld. Threatening such a complaint is a bullying scare tactic, and if you have to resort to it you've probably already lost.