According to a report in today’s paper, a couple of major Australian booksellers are refusing to sell a new Tom Cruise biography that is critical of Scientology.
Book retailer Dymocks says it will not sell the biography.
“We take all accusations of defamation very seriously and, as a result, we won’t be stocking the book,” a spokeswoman said. “We will continue to assess the situation as it develops.”
Angus & Robertson spokeswoman Kate Jones said: “There are certain legal issues that have occurred overseas and with all of the risks involved we will not be stocking it.”
My recollection of defamation law is admittedly hazy. But this strikes me as odd for two reasons.
- I’m pretty sure that unlike an individual, a small group of people, or a corporation, a religion does not have standing to sue for defamation (otherwise, one might think another church would have had something to say about Nigel Cawthorne’s Sex Lives of the Popes).
- I was under the impression that booksellers were generally protected from defamation actions by the principle of ‘innocent dissemination’. I certainly can’t recall a prominent case in Australia in which booksellers have had to pay damages for defamation.
I can’t help wondering whether defamation is really a fig leaf for other commercial factors at play.