Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2007-11-05/French lawsuit

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The Wikipedia Signpost


Wikimedia avoids liability in French lawsuit

By Michael Snow, 5 November, 2007

In a decision announced last week and proclaimed a "landmark", the Wikimedia Foundation prevailed in a lawsuit brought by three people over alleged defamation on the French Wikipedia.

The plaintiffs were attempting to have the Wikimedia Foundation declared responsible for an article in the French Wikipedia that identified them as gay activists. The statements, which also referred to one of them having difficulty adopting children because of his activism, were introduced by an unregistered editor and subsequently removed. The plaintiffs sought to hold Wikimedia liable for € 69,000 in damages based on a claim of defamation and invasion of privacy.

Taking the position that the Wikimedia Foundation had been notified of the problem, one of the plaintiffs claimed to have contacted the foundation to complain. Efforts to locate a message from the plaintiffs failed to yield fruit, and Wikimedia's position was that the disputed content was removed promptly once it was notified. While not reaching the issue of whether the statements were legally defamatory, the judge noted that any damage was mitigated by the removal of the material from Wikipedia. He concluded that Wikimedia "acted promptly to cease giving access to the content once it became aware of its character."

The decision came Monday, October 29, from Judge Emmanuel Binoche of the tribunal de grande instance (the court of initial jurisdiction) in Paris. The ruling was based on a French law known as the LCEN (Law for the Security of the Digital Economy). Somewhat like Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in the U.S., the LCEN distinguishes Internet hosts from content publishers, and provides some protection from liability for hosts who are unaware of illegal content. By classifying Wikimedia as a host, it would relieve the foundation from the burden of actively screening for defamatory material.

Some news reports pointed to the case as the first European litigation involving the Wikimedia Foundation. However, it should be mentioned that the local chapter for Germany, Wikimedia Deutschland, prevailed in a lawsuit last year over whether the name of a deceased individual could be published in Wikipedia. In the United States, Wikimedia seems to have avoided direct involvement in litigation so far, although Wikipedia edits have been the subject of lawsuits involving other parties, such as one involving a Nebraska school, and a professional golfer complaining about defamation. The Wikimedia Foundation was included as a party in a wide-ranging lawsuit filed in Canada by a Green Party activist earlier this year, with such companies as Yahoo and Google as co-defendants, over postings about the plaintiff on Wikipedia and elsewhere; Wikimedia is seeking to have the matter dismissed.



Also this week:

French lawsuit — WikiWorld — News and notes — WikiProject report — Features and admins — Technology report — Arbitration report


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