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Cornell U. Prevails Over Alumnus in Suit Over Digitized Material

Cornell University scored a victory this week when a federal judge dismissed a $1-million lawsuit from an alumnus who accused the university of libeling him and disseminating private information about him online. The alumnus, Kevin Vanginderen, was angered that information about his run-ins with the law as a Cornell student were accessible on the Web via a Google search. The information was on the Web because the university library digitizes the Cornell Chronicle, a university newspaper, and a March 1983 issue of the paper detailed Mr. Vanginderen’s alleged involvement in campus thefts.

Mr. Vanginderen, now a lawyer, asked Cornell to remove references to him from the digitized version of the Cornell Chronicle. The university declined.

The judge, Barry Ted Moskowitz, of the U.S. District Court in San Diego, Calif., concluded Tuesday that because the news information about Mr. Vanginderen was mostly accurate, the university did not defame him.

The judge sidestepped the larger issue raised by the case: Are college libraries obligated to expunge embarrassing and false information about someone from their digital archives? Nelson Roth, Cornell’s deputy university counsel, said the university believes the answer to that question is no, and thus chose to vigorously defend itself against the lawsuit. If archivists “were required to go back and fact check information readily available on the shelf, it would bring digitization to a grinding halt,” he said during a phone interview. And Anne R. Kenney, Cornell’s chief librarian, said the library has no plans to alter its digitization procedures as a result of the case. —Andrea L. Foster

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