back to article Wikipedia goes to court to defend defamation immunity

Wikipedia, the free, user-generated online encyclopedia, faces a court battle to protect itself from liability for everything that users post on the site. The company behind the site will argue that it should be granted immunity under US law. A literary agent is suing Wikipedia owner the Wikimedia Foundation over a comment …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    One simple test

    If I were to bother. Can I create an entry "Why I think Wikipedia is shite and the owners are a bunch of self indulgent tossers"?

    If the page never appears then it is clearly a moderated site and therefore someone has editorial control, amking them liable

    if it appears then gets taken down, then fine.

  2. Gilbert Wham


    Imagine, if you will, that a list has you on it. This list is the 'list of people who everyone thinks is shit'. What do you do? Do you try to be less rubbish? Analyse what your business does and see if you can improve? Talk to its compilers? No! You litigate of course!

    Says it all really.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    easy solution

    Just block access to wikipedia from the US. Then sit back and watch the quality of children's homework (and the standard of PhDs) plummet.

  4. Christoph
    Paris Hilton

    Well that will show them

    She's proving that she's not dumb by making sure that everyone on the net knows about the original accusation.

    Is her middle initial "W" by any chance?

  5. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @easy solution

    Well my son (Yr 7) has been told by his school not to use Wikipedia as a source for information as it cannot be considered to be a reliable source!

  7. Tom

    This will be an interesting case

    While I see the EFF's point, I think CDA is the wrong way to go. 'Publisher' in the context of that law means, "we publish the data blindly without editing," and while the value of Wiki's editing is, um, debatable, that they at least claim to engage in it in order to improve the value of the postings negates the CDA protection. They might still be protected under Fair Criticism, which seems to be the way the EFF wants to go.

  8. Ash

    @easy solution

    Surely you mean increase significantly?

    Surely if it's a PhD, there's no premise for the work done anyway. Wikipedia is good for researching ALREADY DEFINED opinion (which wikipedia is; opinion), but a PhD seeks to define in new areas. You can't search a Wiki for something that hasn't been done yet.

  9. Steve

    Case lost the instant it was brought.

    There is a list of 20 crap agents on a website and she's the only one that sued and hence has her name forever associated with crap agents in the minds of people who would otherwise never have heard about the list.

    That clearly proves that she IS the dumbest and hence there is no defamation.

  10. andrew

    unreliable source?

    Isn't all of history a matter of conjecture.

    I don't believe for one minute that someone managed to walk on water for instance...

    If you read an encyclopedia of 100+ years ago there's all sorts of tat in there - at least Wiki has a sporting chance of being reasonably accurate thanks to many eyes watching and adjusting it.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Easy for whom?

    Do you mean that non-US homework and PhDs will suffer since they cannot benefit from leftpondian insight, or that US homework is largely copied verbatim from Wikipedia *and* that wikipedia assistance produces good homework...

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Hang on a second

    So, she's suing about content that isn't in the article any longer, although you can get to the Writers Beware site via an external link. Here's the best part, though - to be libel in the US, it actually has to be untrue and malicious. It can be unflattering, or even defamatory, but if it isn't untrue or there isn't "actual malice" (if it happens to be false or incorrect), you can't really get far. I'd never heard of her, but if you happen to do a search and start reading, it seems she may have a tough road.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    hang on!

    Can we just confirm... Wikipedia is finally shrugging off its claims of kinship with, and inferred superiority to, traditional editorially controlled encyclopedias and is finally accepting its place beside the throbbing sweaty porn-ucopia that is Usenet, the warez hose that is PirateBay, and the visual and grammatical crime against nature that is Geocities?

    Thank god they didnt get round to implementing WP:EnforcingOurPoliciesEffectively or else they would be up to their arses in accountability instead of snuggling up for warmth with!

  14. Duckorange
    Paris Hilton

    As ane fule kno

    ...calling somebody "dumb" is abuse and does not constitute libel.

    You might have thought somebody in the publishing business would have known that.

  15. Elrond Hubbard


    theyd just have to relocate to sweden, which wouldnt be too bad. civilised country and all that.

  16. John
    IT Angle

    Does no one remember

    the case between Hard|OCP and the creators of the vaporware Phantom game console? They tried to sue these guys for calling bull Sh!t and defamation - and got their asses summarily handed to them....

  17. Chris C

    re: easy solution

    "Just block access to wikipedia from the US. Then sit back and watch the quality of children's homework (and the standard of PhDs) plummet."

    I'm afraid to ask, but are you serious? Anyone with more than one brain cell knows that Wikipedia cannot be trusted. Period. If Wikipedia were to disappear today, and students could not use it as"research", then the quality and quantity of actual research would skyrocket overnight. I dare say the IQ of the average person would be brought up a notch. The problems with Wikipedia are that it is not, and never was, meant to be authoritative about anything, there is often no real research behind the articles and no attribution (hence no verification of accuracy). Let's also not forget the constant edits when somebody wants to offend/attack someone, when someone doesn't like something for whatever reason, for good/bad PR depending on who's doing the edit, and when the Wiki ruling class wants to show the world they're in charge of the "project".

    Simply put, anybody with a brain knows that Wikipedia is a joke. If I was a teacher, and a student turned in a paper showing Wikipedia as a source of information, with nothing else to back it up, that paper would receive a failing grade. Between Wikipedia and text messaging, our children have become stupid, are unable to communicate their thoughts, are unable to spell, and are unable to construct a simple sentence. I'm sorry, but to me, that's too great a cost for the "progress". The word "sheeple" has never been more accurate.

  18. Spleen

    Can't see this flying

    The information will have been taken off by now. This is like sueing the owner of a building because someone spraypainted "Joe Bloggs is a retard" on their wall, even though the owner got the paint washed off immediately.

    Hopefully Ms Bauer will have to take an IQ test to prove that she is not, in fact, the dumbest of the 20 people on the list, with the results published as part of the judgement. Never quite sure how burden of proof works in libel cases.

  19. Robert Long
    Paris Hilton

    If only it were that simple

    "We provide a platform through Wikipedia for smart citizens to give their knowledge back to a larger culture,"

    And, of course dumb citizens too. Even Paris can get someone to put an edit in for her.

  20. Shabble

    Wiki, Wiki, Wild, Wild West

    Wikipedia has become the internet equivalent of a Wild West town; it has a Mayor with delusions of grandeur, a law force unable to cope with its duties, roving gangs of semi-vigilanties making arbitrary rulings, corrupt behaviour by big businesses and national government and loads of gunmen trying to prove themselves by shooting down other people.

    It was an interesting and valuable experiment, but the reality is now setting in. If you want a reliable encyclopedia, you have to have an all-powerful editorial team that know exactly what's in the thing. This way the encyclopedia can protect content from maniuplation and ensure continuity from one edition to the next (reference a Wiki page today and when your lecturer looks it up tomorrow the content will have changed, probably with some vital peice of information suddenly removed).

    If Wiki succeeds in claiming that it was not aware of the nature of its content, then, ipso facto, it is not a reliable source of information. However, if it loses then the Wiki gold-rush is well and truly over, because there is no way it can cover its ass for every single Wiki page.

  21. Dr. Pangloss

    A better way

    Wikipedia anonymous posting sometimes is useful but not always the best solution. Sometimes another approach is more effective, such as the one used here:

    This is neither a change-anything-you-like-withou-anyone-knowing database nor a conventional edited encyclopedia. Maybe it is the next thing to happen.

  22. Jim Lewis


    Those of you slating Wikipedia as a flawed concept have obviously not taken the trouble to actually think about what you're saying.

    A trend which seems to be on the rise in comments on El Reg lately, but I digress.

    Wikipedia entries must NOT be opinion and MUST reference published work.

    True some entries don't meet these criteria and might not immediately be flagged as such, but eventually someone will notice and mark the entry as needing citations or re-editing.

    In cases where people continually revert the edit, the item can be locked, or certain users can be blocked from editing.

    If people use Wikipedia with the understanding that it is a quick way to find links to authoritarian publications then the misconception that wikipedia is the fastest way to a wrong answer will go away.

  23. Charles Manning

    The point of homework and research....

    is to teach people how to do research. You know, look things up in various sources, patch the factoids together and make some judgement when things don't fit (ie. develop "reasearch skills").

    Just copying the contents of the first Google hit, or cutnpasting a wikipedia article hardly constitutes reasearch. Learnt today: click, click, type "frogs", ctlC, click, ctlV.

    I homeschool our kids and encourage them to read many sources and believe nothing from one single source. Get some books out of the library, go to the river and catch some frogs. To this end we have about 3 different sets of encyclopedias including a very old Children's Britannica (eg. the entry on India is cringingly colonial and has a section on how many coolies you need when planning a tiger hunt).

    Wikipedia is fine for a quick overview of a non-controversial subject (so is an up to date Britannica), but neither should be used as exhaustive references in PhDs (or even homework for that matter).

  24. David

    How do you know if a plane is full of poms?

    When the engine turns off you can still here the whining.

    Seriously all I here is moan, moan, moan.

    Wikipedia is a great success. You're just jealous you never thought of it.

  25. Tim Bates

    Ban anonymous edits?

    Maybe they should just ban anonymous editing. People are less likely to act like tools if they have to register first.

    As for this idiot suing them... I hope the courts see sense.

    A forum I'm a member of in Australia was notified that a case had been filed against them for similar stupid reasons (by an Aussie company). Someone on the forum had said the company was crap, which they went about proving by attempting to sue them.

  26. Magnus


    If someone only quotes and looks at one reference, whatever it might be, for a serious bit of research then there is something wrong in any case.

    Wikipedia is useful, it has serious shortcomings but so do many sources. The point is to evaluate it and check exactly how far you can trust it. One of the things I like about Wikipedia is that you can see how and what shaped the article which makes assessing it easier. The COIs for many other sources are far harder to pin down.

  27. Andy
    Paris Hilton

    @Gilbert Wham

    You are making me sound like a fool. Expect to hear from my lawyers shortly.

    Lawsuits are a good way to make a quick buck in America.

    I've often considered travelling to America and touring the country as an investment. I'm sure I can find a fence to climb over and have a horrible accident that will turn me into a millionaire. I reckon a week's holiday to America with an accident in four different cities should be enough for me to retire on.

    Of course the person suing Wikipedia will have to demonstrate the credibility of Wikipedia. If a Wiki article claimed somebody was "dumb and stupid" I would just assume that the person being defamed was not on Jimbo Wales' Christmas list.

    It wouldn't really tarnish my opinion of somebody if they were described as being "dumb". And having the public think you are dumb doesn't translate into loss - George Dubya Bush is doing alright for himself despite the public being sceptical of his ability to win a battle of wits with a learning-impaired banana.

    Paris because she knows all about people saying nasty things but she just keeps on being fabulous and gorgeous anyway.

  28. Anonymous Coward

    Hope she wins

    At least if she does win, it may force the Wikipaedo's to angle the articles a bit more towards fact and a bit further away from trivial opinion pieces.

  29. Psymon

    Dumbest of the 20? Actions speak louder...

    To be honest, suing Wikimedia (no matter how tantalising the prospect of the wiki crew being held accountable for their foisted tripe) instead of Writers Beware for the libellous accusations that THEY (not wikimedia) allegedly wrote, only lends credence to the statement.

    Of course, that's assuming the accusation is even true. I have no love for the wickiphiles, but if wickimedia are outright denying the exsistence of the offending line, then I am pretty confident they have logs to back up their statements.

    I would be more inclined to believe Barbara mis-read the article, than Wickimedia neglecting to notice it in the edit logs before standing in a court of law to deny such a statement exsisted. The evidence for intellectual dearth keeps mounting...

    Unless her lawyer is Lionel Hutz, then surely he/she should have known about section 230 of the CDA? It doesn't exactly leave any grey areas.

    To my mind these actions are either extremely dumb, or a very greedy (and ill thought out) attempt to squease some cash out of another company.

    Oh and Barbara, I am describing your actions, not your person, so don't bother setting Lionel on me.

  30. Charlie Stross

    Not her only lawsuit ...

    I believe Bauer is also suing SFWA (the Science Fiction Writers of America -- a non-profit trade body of SF and fantasy writers), and several named individuals, in the same basket of lawsuits.

    Further comment would be inappropriate, but speaking purely for myself as a working science fiction writer, I hope her head explodes.

  31. Snert Lee

    Reliability of Information

    Wikipedia should not be used as the last word on any topic, but as a first step it's not bad.

    Little to say about the article and Ms Bauer except to give Steve (above) the nod for his assessment.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Doing the Wiki-Whaky!

    It's like the Funky-Gibbon but without the bananas!!

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe I'm missing something...

    But couldn't Ms Bauer simply have removed the bits of the article that she didn't like herself? Or at least edited them so that they were slightly less offensive. I'm not saying this is right, but it's not like this hasn't been done before (we all know who!) If she doesn't get the concept of Wiki (and I'm phrasing my words very carefully here) then she can't be overburdened with an abundance of intelligence, which suggests to me that maybe she deserves the title she has been awarded, so it can't be libellous.

    On a side note, if the title of "dumbest of the 20" is compiled by Writers Beware from a survey of writers, how can that be considered libellous? Does that mean every time there's a Which survey showing how X company is considered to be the worst for Customer Service or something, that company can sue for libel?

    AC, coz I don't wanna get sued!

  34. Edward Pearson


    If I pop down to my local cornershop, they've got a notice board outside. Anybody can use it to put up classifieds or messages (I'm sure most villiages have them)

    So by this logic, I could put offensive or libelous material up on this notice board and the cornershop would be the ones liable?

    Another triumph of the legal system.

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