Wikipedia:No legal threats
|This page documents a Wikipedia policy with legal considerations.|
|This page in a nutshell: If you have a dispute with the community or its members, use dispute resolution. If you do choose to use legal action or threats of legal action to resolve disputes, you will not be allowed to continue editing until it is resolved and your user account and or IP address may be blocked. A polite report of a legal problem such as defamation or copyright infringement is not a threat and will be acted on quickly.|
If you must take legal action, we cannot prevent you from doing so. However, you must not edit Wikipedia until the legal matter has been resolved to ensure that all legal processes happen via proper legal channels. You should instead contact the person or people involved directly, by email or through any other contact methods the user provides. If your issue involves Wikipedia itself, you should contact Wikipedia's parent organization, the Wikimedia Foundation. Do not issue legal threats on Wikipedia pages.
If you make legal threats or take legal action over a Wikipedia dispute, you may be blocked from editing so that the matter is not exacerbated through other channels. Users who make legal threats will typically be blocked from editing while legal threats are outstanding.
What is not a legal threat
A polite, coherent complaint in cases of copyright infringement or attacks is not a "legal threat".
If you are the owner of copyrighted material which has been inappropriately added to Wikipedia, a clear statement about whether it is licensed for such use is welcome and appropriate. You may contact the information team, contact the Wikimedia Foundation's designated agent, or use the procedures at Wikipedia:Copyright problems.
Wikipedia's policy on defamation is to immediately delete libelous material when it has been identified. A discussion of whether material is libelous absent indication of intent to sue is not a legal threat. If you believe that you are the subject of a libelous statement on Wikipedia, please contact the information team at info-enwikimedia.org.
Perceived legal threats
It is important to refrain from making comments that others may reasonably understand as legal threats against them or against Wikipedia, even if the comments are not intended in that fashion. For example, if you repeatedly assert that another editor's comments are "defamatory" or "libelous", that editor might interpret this as a threat to sue for defamation, even if this is not intended. To avoid this frequent misunderstanding, use less charged wording (such as “That statement about me is not true and I hope it will be corrected for the following reasons...”) to avoid the perception that you are threatening legal action for defamation.
Rather than blocking immediately, administrators should seek to clarify the user's meaning and make sure that a mere misunderstanding is not involved. For example, a user might assert another editor's comments are "defamatory" because they are unaware of certain policies (such as harassment, personal attacks, incivility, etc.) and require assistance in dealing with such comments. While such comments may not be per se legal threats, they may fall under the scope of the aforementioned policies and repeated or disruptive usage can result in the user being blocked.
Rationale for the policy
While you may sue in a court of law, Wikipedia is not the place for legal disputes. Making legal threats is uncivil and causes a number of serious problems:
- It severely inhibits free editing of pages, a concept that is absolutely necessary to ensure that Wikipedia remains neutral. Without this freedom, we risk one side of a dispute intimidating the other, thus causing a systemic bias in our articles.
- It creates bad feelings and a lack of trust amongst the community, damaging our ability to proceed quickly and efficiently with an assumption of mutual good faith.
- We have had bad experiences with users who have made legal threats in the past. By making legal threats, you may damage your reputation on Wikipedia.
Attempting to resolve disputes using the dispute resolution procedures will often lead to a solution without resorting to the law. If the dispute resolution procedures do not resolve your problem, and you then choose to take legal action, you do so in the knowledge that you took all reasonable steps to resolve the situation amicably.
Conclusion of legal threat
The Wikipedia community has a long-standing general principle that (almost) anyone is capable of reform. Accordingly, statements made in anger or misjudgment should not always be held against people for the rest of their lives once genuinely and credibly withdrawn.
This policy removes an editor who makes legal threats to prevent damage or deterioration to the project. The editor is not blocked just because "it's a legal threat", but rather because:
- It reduces scope for escalation of a bad situation,
- It reduces stress and administrative burden on the wiki,
- It reduces disruption to articles and the editorial environment,
- It prevents the difficult situation where a person is both seeking to be a collaborative partner and also setting themselves up as a litigious adversary (in general those two roles are mutually exclusive).
Remember that a legal complainant may be someone who is genuinely hurt or upset. If someone is blocked for legal threats it is important to ensure that any possible factual basis for such a threat is not ignored or obscured. They should be instructed how to communicate with Wikipedia to correct errors, a link to Wikipedia:Contact us/Article problem/Factual error (from subject) may be appropriate. Blocking admins should watch (or get others to watch) the user's talk page and encourage the user to identify any specific, verifiable factual errors in any article at issue; assisting with such errors is part of the core mission of neutral point of view and does not equate to proxying for banned editors. Repeats of legal threats on the user's talk page have limited scope for disruption or chilling effect and the user should not be prevented from using their talk page for communication until reasonable attempts have been made to open a civil discussion. Remember that the aim of this policy is to contain the effects of legal threats, not to prevent article subjects or their representatives from having bad content fixed. As usual we assume good faith while containing disruption. As usual, the assumption of good faith is not a suicide pact and persistent or vexatious complaints may indeed lead to the user being banned and prevented from editing their talk page, but this is a last resort.
How to respond a legal threat
It is not possible to say how to respond to all kinds of legal threats on Wikipedia, but consider this one common case and how it usually is managed.
Suppose that a Wikimedia community member is engaging in good Wikimedia community activities. For whatever reason, another person says, "If you continue to do Wikimedia activities, then I will be contacting my lawyer to make trouble for you." This much is considered a legal threat. This is what should happen -
- The recipient of the legal threat should consider whether they want to report the legal threat or whether they would like to ask someone else to report it. If the threat recipient would like to report it, then they can choose to do so publicly or privately.
- Most people report them publicly, in which case they proceed to step three.
- If the threat recipient chooses to report it privately, then write to the Wikimedia Foundation. There is no need to be shy about writing to the Wikimedia Foundation, but then also, it is rarely necessary and most people make a public on-wiki report.
- If you wish to ask another person to manage the threat, then this could have the benefit of lessening your further involvement in the issue, and hopefully eliminate any need for the target of the complaint to respond further. Anyone else can manage the complaint on behalf of another, and common ways to have the complaint managed are to ask any wiki-friend or acquaintance to take up the issue, or ask any WP:ADMINISTRATOR to do it.
- When it is decided who will make the report, go to WP:ANI, the Wikipedia:Administrators' noticeboard/Incidents.
- However the reporter likes, make the complaint there. The complaint should probably not be longer than 2 short sentences. It should contain the username of the person who made the legal threat and a link to where on Wikipedia they made the threat. That noticeboard asks that when a complaint is made about someone, then the person being discussed gets a link to the complaint. If for whatever reason the person making the report is afraid to notify the person making the threat, then consider whether it would be better to make the complaint privately to the Wikimedia Foundation as described above, or consider ignoring the rule about making a post on the threat-person's page so as to not incite more tension.
- The expected response is that an administrator will ban the person who made the legal threat until and unless they agree that the legal issue is completely resolved and that they are sure they will not bring legal disputes into Wikimedia space.
- The most typical response to this is that the person who made the legal threat leaves Wikimedia projects indefinitely. Rarely do they want to engage more after this, because most people who make legal threats are single purpose accounts.
- Usually after a legal threat the Wikipedia community members return to their usual activities.
- Wikipedia:Don't overlook legal threats
- Wikipedia:Blocking IP addresses#Indefinite blocks