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Christmas and New Year Message to Oxford University Press ELT

2013-12-23 18.27.26Before Christmas I sent this email (see below) to Oxford University Press' lawyers because they had just written to me to threaten me with a libel action over my protracted attempts to have a discussion with their author Kristin Sherman.

Ms. Sherman is the co-author of their global English coursebook Network - Get Connected and the person credited with creating the 'unique' social media tasks that are fundamental to every unit of each of the five coursebooks.

I really wanted to talk to her.  I wanted to ask her where she had got her inspiration from. I thought that if I were in her shoes I would want to understand what it was about my work that was causing another ELT author so much distress and occupying the time of so many busy people.

I know my message reached her because I got her boss to send them to her and confirm she had received them. I slowly upped the information ante as she refused to engage with me. In my last email I explained some of the allegations that lawyers I had hired had sent to OUP (and they had ignored) and why it was very important that I got to have a private dialogue with Ms. Sherman.

Ms. Sherman never replied and then, just before Christmas, I got another letter from OUP's lawyers weakly threatening me with a defamation action. I sent them this email in reply:

Hi C (of Harbottle & Lewis, OUP's expensive reputational management lawyers)
 
Thanks for threatening me (again) on behalf of OUP. I was joking with someone the other day saying that you know it is almost Christmas in this house because I get threatened with a defamation action by OUP's lawyers. Twice last Christmas your firm threatened to sue me, for sharing basically the same information.
 
I don't consider anything I have done to have defamed OUP or anyone who works for them. All I think I have done is seek honest answers to very pertinent and extremely serious questions, for more than a year. Any information I have shared has been the truth. If it seems to be potentially damaging to OUP's reputation maybe they should do what any decent organisation would do and hold an independent investigation.
 
When we do get this whole matter looked at properly I don't think it is going to look terribly good that OUP lied to me when they claimed there was no connection between the people who signed an NDA with me (Laura Pearson et al) and Kristin Sherman, do you? I mean, someone was always going to look at the inside back cover of every course book, see Laura's name and twig it, weren't they?
 
Add to that the fact that Kristin Sherman won't engage with me, another ELT author, about her work. Instead wishing to hide behind you. Most authors in situations like this either immediately strenuously deny any wrong-doing in person (i.e. they don't hide) or they confess and apologise. But hiding behind your publisher's corporate reputation lawyers....not even issuing a statement...that really seems odd and, to me anyway, makes me think, hang-on, they know there's more at stake here than just an author's reputation.
 
From the outside the lock-down really doesn't look good. 
 
I think it was funny that OUP didn't release the recording of Kristin's first webinar (as planned) after the launch of the book. I think I know why. Her first words were "I'm so excited, this is my first ever webinar". How do I know? I was there under a different name (see screenshot below). Trust me, that's not a great thing to exclaim when you are trying to sell a five course book series you have co-written about learning English using technology. 
 
Kristin Sherman presenting unique social media task
 Kristin's profile on the OUP website says, "Though not a technology expert, Kristin is very interested in helping teachers harness the power of social media" (http://oupeltglobalblog.com/blog-authors/) How nice of her. So OUP are in the habit, it seems, of hiring non-experts to create 'unique' social media tasks that underpin a whole course book series? An Interesting and hugely innovative (if a little risky) way of working for such a prestigious publisher, don't you think?
 
I also think it is superbly ironic that an organisation can publish a course book that actively encourages students to behave responsibly online, to share, be fair and give credit where credit is due when using social media whilst simultaneously refusing to engage with someone who earns their living using social media to teach English (me) and has some extremely serious questions that need engaging with in an open, honest and fair way. A way that is also commensurate with OUP's published Code of Conduct and Anti Bribery and Fraud Standards (http://global.oup.com/about/way_we_work/?AB=B&cc=us).
 
This is nothing more than hypocrisy and it will undoubtedly be seen as that by many people in due course. I think you, your colleagues, the executives at OUP and Kristin Sherman know that too. The more you ignore this, the worse it will look.
 
I genuinely find it incredible in this hyper-connected world that OUP can publish 'the first' social media English course, get told to remove the word 'first' by Trading Standards, credit an author who has virtually no online reputation with creating 'unique' social media tasks, lie in writing, get caught lying, and then try to keep a lid on it whilst most PR and corporate reputation professionals are now prescribing swift open dialogue, public apology and fair compensation as the best long term way to deal with matters of this sort. The truth will always out.
 
You see, your current policy of trying to bully and scare me also has a few inherent flaws. Firstly, three idle threats over a year don't look good. Secondly, if you do sue me I will tell the truth, the detailed allegations made by the criminal lawyers I hired will become public and the story will inevitably find its way into the mainstream media and OUP's lies will be fully exposed.
 
So, by studiously ignoring their own published advice OUP will eventually extend and greatly exacerbate the reputational problem they are currently trying to bury. Isn't that really funny, to ignore your own published advice on how to deal with things like this? 
 
But, who am I to tell you how to do your job? Maybe you have told them to do the right thing and they are still knee deep in internal denials and there's someone in a high place sweating their career away? 
 
You keep on shutting the door, collecting the cheques and hoping for the best. Good luck to you.
 
Here's genuinely wishing you and OUP a very Honest Christmas and a thoroughly Open New Year.
 
Regards
 
Jason

I might have added that on the 1st January 2014 the new Defamation Act 2013 would come into force in England and Wales. These new protections began today and I quote from the BBC's website,

  • "New serious harm threshold" aimed at helping people to understand when claims should be brought and discourage wasteful use of court time"
  • "Protection for those publishing material on a matter of public interest where they reasonably believe that it is in the public interest."

The serious harm threshold requires that big organisations provide proof that little guys like me caused serious financial loss as a result of any defamatory statements. The old defence of truth, which I have relied upon to date in the face of three written threats of action, has also now had honest opinion added to it. I have added the honest opinions of a firm of former public fraud prosecutors to my own, but OUP are still refusing to answer our questions.

Oxford University Press is the world's biggest academic publisher, the second or third largest ELT publisher in the world and is part of a registered charity that publishes for profit, Oxford University. The huge profit OUP makes from ELT provides an income for Oxford University.

OUP invites hundreds (if not thousands) of authors to trust them by sharing their valuable ideas and work with them, every single year. It has done this since it was founded in 1586. Millions of people trust OUP's publications, executives, editors and authors because they trade on the good name of Oxford University and its charitable status.

Charities operate under the Public Interest Disclosure Act.

You can share this article freely without worrying about any personal legal consequences because the issue has been in the public domain for more than a year and no one has been sued. Also, what has been stated is the truth.

Please do share this article to start a long needed open and honest online debate on the issues I have been raising in the interests of all academics, authors, teachers, learners and the book reading public of the UK and the world. 

N.B OUP claimed in their 2012 Annual Report that "1 in 5" of the world's English learners uses their content, that's 400,000,000 members of the public.

 

IMAGE: Kristin Sherman image published by OUP on their website here: http://oupeltglobalblog.com/tag/kristin-sherman/ "No comment" text added by Jason West as a statement of fact as proven by Ms. Sherman's use of OUP's lawyers to avoid commenting on her work.