Print-on-Demand Publishers not Liable for Defamation, Maine Court Holds

When is a publisher not a publisher? When it is a copy machine. Confused? Consider the following case.

In Sandler v. Calcagni, a defamation action was filed in the federal district court in Maine over a book that was printed and distributed by BookSurge, a print-on-demand service owned by In case you are not yet familiar with these services, they are “publishers” that permit anyone to upload a tome and have it made into a book. The author can buy copies of his own book to sell or distribute, and in the case of BookSurge and others, the book will be added to Amazon’s catalog of available books. If someone comes across the author’s book, it can be ordered, printed and shipped.

In the Sandler case, a dispute arose among some high school students and one of the parents came up with the creative idea of publishing a book in order to tell her side of the story. The target of her vitriol responded by suing her for defamation, along with BookSurge as the publisher of the book. With traditional books, the publisher can be held liable for defamatory content, because it is presumed that the publisher reviewed and edited the book and therefore had the opportunity to make certain the author could back up the claims. But can that model be applied to a print-on-demand service that never sees the material?

In Sandler, the court said no. The court correctly concluded that print-on-demand publishers are really no different than electronic copy machines. The author uploads the text to BookSurge’s servers, and whenever someone wants a copy they can cause the book to be printed. Since the “publisher” has nothing to do with the content of the book, the court found that it could not be held responsible for the defamatory content

This is just one case, and it is not controlling on other states, but I predict every state will reach the same conclusion. If the publisher is merely acting as a copy machine, it makes no more sense to hold it liable than you would hold Microsoft or Adobe liable for providing the publishing tools.

Aaron Morris

Morris & Stone, LLP
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11 Orchard Road, Suite 106
Lake Forest, CA 92630
(714) 954-0700

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