User:Gianfranco/Wikimedia Italia sued for 20,000,000 €
The lawsuit has been initiated by Antonio and Giampaolo Angelucci (a father and son), allegedly because of some edits made to the Italian Wikipedia's Antonio Angelucci article, which they claim were defamatory to the reputation of both men. In essence, defamation.
An aspect which could be of some interest is that Antonio Angelucci is an Italian MP, a deputy, and you can read about him here. The Antonio Angelucci article was deleted by an Italian Wikipedia administrator as a precautionary measure due to the legal action. Angelucci is a deputy for the PDL party, a political organisation which was formed when Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia merged with Gianfranco Fini's National Alliance. PDL is the current ruling coalition in Italy. The press has reported that Giampaolo Angelucci is the editor of two Italian national newspapers, Libero and Il Riformista..
As most of you will understand, Wikimedia Italia has no responsibility at all for the edits in question. They were made on the Italian Wikipedia and the history of the article has been deleted, so we will have to wait for the trial, which will be held before a civil court, to discover which edits the Angeluccis are claiming were defamatory. However, Wikimedia Italia is not responsible, at any level, for the contents of the Italian Wikipedia. Just like any other Wikimedia chapter, Wikimedia Italia's relationship with the project is limited to the promotion of Wikimedia projects as a whole and it has no control or influence over the contents of the Italian Wikipedia or any other Wikimedia projects.
The Italian legal system allows these types of "funny" legal actions, meaning for "funny" that, in general terms, a plaintiff may freely initiate legal action, no matter how much the defendant may be connected to the alleged defamation. The legal action can also be instigated directly and the plaintiff is not required to contact the defendant and present him with a formal complaint or request he take any action to remedy the situation. This is precisely what happened in this case: the Angeluccis went directly before the court and did not allow Wikimedia Italia to respond and tell them that Wikimedia Italia has less than nothing to do with those edits.
The worst part of this situation is that it will take years to exhaust the legal procedures. During these years, Wikimedia Italia will incur significant expenses related to the case, retaining and maintaining a lawyer and meeting all costs incurred in defending the legal action. In addition, given the exaggerated numbers, the case will require the chapter's constant and severe attention. In Italy, you can lose a lawsuit for many extravagant reasons. For example, if your lawyer fails to appear before the judge on one occasion (even due to a case of force majeure, maybe a legally irrelevant one which will not justify his absence), or if the documents you present are deemed slightly not perfect, or if an otherwise irrelevant mistake or irregularity may prove to be reason for invalidating your documents, and many other examples. This requires severe and constant attention, which means money, time, and distraction from the chapter's constitutional goals and mission. This is a massive drain for a very small not-for-profit organisation which is supported by, and depends on, volunteers and small donations.
And one should never forget that the chapter's former president, Frieda, is being held personally responsible. Not knowing the edits which caused this situation, but assuming for a moment that they were effectively defamatory, Frieda is called to respond to a lawsuit (at these proportions) for what, in Wikipedia, we generally refer to as "vandalism". At the moment we don't know if it really was vandalism; you might be sued also for telling the truth. But let's stay, for now, with the hypothesis of vandal edits. Frieda is currently on trial (yes, a civil trial, but for a tremendous amount of money...) for the sake of (perhaps) a vandal.
Now, the financial side of the problem, the expenses that Wikimedia Italia and Frieda will incur just to say that they have no responsibility for the material, is not the only side. There is a general problem in Italy, which needs to be recalled only as a context note: defamation has now and then been highlighted, politically, as one of the most significant risks to free communication on the Internet. Accordingly, there have been several proposals to impose limits and restrictions, controls and bureaucracy in order to identify people using the Internet in Italy to talk about living persons.
Of course this case has not this scope: it is merely a coincidence, and nothing more than that, that in a case of alleged defamation so much money, so much frightening money is rolling around, that the plaintiff is a politician. But certainly one can find it curious that no other lawsuits are yet known against the eventual sources of the eventually libellous edits: naturally, you can always choose to not sue someone you don't want to sue, even if this might seem strange or unusual to others, but there is nothing irregular about it. Only Wikimedia Italia, as badly as it was mistook, and Frieda have been (according to the media) sued.
- This is standard procedure on the it.wiki, in cases involving legal threats.
- Sources: Corriere della Sera, Repubblica
- I.e., (in Italian) A project of law (not enforced after international protests).
- Update, as of Sep. 17th, 2009: a new proposal, in real time, to submit (undetermined) "editorial" websites to the press law; one of the consequences would be a heavier punishment for defamation, in which case the owner of the site will be punished, as well, like the author of the offense.