Litigation involving the Wikimedia Foundation

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The Wikimedia Foundation has been involved in several lawsuits. They have won some and lost several others.

This listing is not meant to be exhaustive, and only includes notable cases.

Outcomes in favor of the plaintiffs[edit]

In May 2011, Louis Bacon, a hedge fund manager, obtained a court order in Great Britain, where he owned property, against the Wikimedia Foundation, the Denver Post and WordPress to compel them to reveal the identity of persons who he claimed had anonymously defamed him on Wikipedia and the other two websites. However, legal experts said that the order was probably unenforceable in the United States.[1][2]

Initially, the Foundation agreed to give the information to Bacon's solicitors,[3] but later asserted that it would cooperate only with a court order in the U.S. It said, "we do not comply with foreign subpoenas absent an immediate threat to life or limb."[1] Automattic, which owns WordPress, said Bacon would need a court order but agreed to remove any defamatory material from its websites.[3]

In January 2019, a court in Germany ruled against the Wikimedia Foundation, prompting it to remove part of the history and the allegedly defamatory content about a professor. The Wikipedia article's content was ruled defamatory because the link supporting its claims was no longer active, a phenomenon known as link rot.[4]

Outcomes in favor of the Wikimedia Foundation[edit]

The Wikimedia Foundation ultimately prevailed in a controversy in Germany involving the deceased hacker known as Tron. A German court issued an injunction against the Wikimedia chapter in Germany due to its ownership of the Wikipedia domain. The Foundation intervened and the matter was resolved.[citation needed]

In January 2008, Barbara Bauer, a literary agent, sued the Wikimedia Foundation in New Jersey Superior Court for defamation.[5][6][7] She claimed that a Wikipedia entry branded her the "dumbest" literary agent.[6] The case was dismissed because of the protections afforded by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.[7]

Professional golfer Fuzzy Zoeller, who felt that he was defamed on Wikipedia, said that he did not sue Wikipedia because he was told that his suit would not prevail, in light of Section 230.[8] He sued the Miami firm from whose computers the edits were made, but later dropped the case.[9]

In 2007, three French nationals sued the Wikimedia Foundation when an article on Wikipedia described them as gay activists.[10][11] A French court dismissed the defamation and privacy case, ruling that the Foundation was not legally responsible for information in Wikipedia articles.[11] The judge ruled that a 2004 French law limited the Foundation's liability, and found that the content had already been removed.[10][11] He found that the Foundation was not legally required to check the information on Wikipedia, and that "Web site hosts cannot be liable under civil law because of information stored on them if they do not in fact know of their illicit nature."[11] He did not rule whether the information was defamatory.[10][11]

In December 2010, Sylvia Scott Gibson, author of Latawnya, the Naughty Horse, Learns to Say "No" to Drugs, sued Wikipedia in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. She took issue with how editors had described her book.[12] Her suit was dismissed on September 18, 2011, with Judge Otis D. Wright II writing, "Plaintiff demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts, the Internet, and the law."[13]

Other alleged defamation[edit]

John Seigenthaler, an American writer and journalist, contacted Wikipedia in 2005 after his article was edited to incorrectly state that he had been thought for a brief time to be involved in the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and of Bobby Kennedy. The content was present in the article for four months.[6][14] Seigenthaler called Wikipedia a "flawed and irresponsible research tool" and criticized the Communications Decency Act's protection of Wikipedia.[6]

The representative for the American Academy of Financial Management, George Mentz, suggested that either phony or incompetent Wikipedia editors were creating legal problems for Wikimedia in May 2013, because of alleged intentional false claims that had been published on Wikipedia.[15]

In 2014, Yank Barry filed a defamation lawsuit against four Wikipedia editors.[16][17] He withdrew it after about a month.[when?][18]

Sorin Cerin sued the administrators of Romanian Wikipedia in Romanian courts, claiming "patent falsities".[19] The trial ended in 2021; the plaintiff lost the case.[20]

DMCA takedown notices[edit]

Texas Instruments sent a DMCA takedown notice to the Wikimedia Foundation because certain cryptographic keys were made public in an article on the Texas Instruments signing key controversy. A Wikipedia editor later filed a counter-notice. Because Texas Instruments did not reply in 10–14 business days as required by the DMCA, the keys were restored to the article.[citation needed]

Two other articles also came under the purview of Wikipedia's office actions[clarification needed] because of the DMCA: Damon Dash and Peripheral Component Interconnect.

FBI seal controversy[edit]

The seal of the FBI, which the FBI demanded be removed from Wikipedia

In July 2010, the FBI sent a letter to the Wikimedia Foundation demanding that it cease and desist from using its seal on Wikipedia.[21] The FBI claimed that such practice was illegal and threatened to sue.

In reply, Wikimedia counsel Michael Godwin sent a letter to the FBI claiming that Wikipedia was not in the wrong when it displayed the FBI seal on its website.[22] He defended Wikipedia's actions and also refused to remove the seal.[23]

NSA lawsuit[edit]

In March 2015, the Wikimedia Foundation, along with other groups, sued the National Security Agency over its upstream mass surveillance program.[24]

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. v. WordLogic Corporation et al[edit]

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. v. WordLogic Corporation et al was a lawsuit involving the Wikimedia Foundation as plaintiff and the companies WordLogic Corporation and 602531 British Columbia, Ltd. as defendants over a patent dispute.[25] WordLogic claims that the Wikimedia Foundation and the MediaWiki free software infringes on at least Claim 19 of the U.S. patent 7,681,124.[why?][26] Wikimedia denies those claims and has moved under 28 U.S.C. §§ 22012202 for a declaratory judgment against the WordLogic entities requesting a declaration from the Court that a number of patents property of defendants are invalid, and that Wikimedia Foundation does not infringe those patents "directly or indirectly, either literally or under the doctrine of equivalents" as provided by the Title 35 of the United States Code. The case was filed on March 11, 2020, before the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.[27] On July 18, 2020, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. moved to dismiss with prejudice its own complaint.[28]

Richard Desmond in legal battle over term 'pornographer'[edit]

Richard Desmond is the former owner of Asian Babes and Readers' Wives. In November 2021, The Guardian reported that he has hired lawyers to force Wikipedia to remove the word "pornographer" from his biographical page. Desmond has argued that he cannot factually be described as a pornographer because that term applies only to individuals who publish illegal and obscene material. Desmond says the top-shelf magazines and television channels he owned for decades were instead in the legitimate "adult material" category distributed in high-street shops and on Sky UK. Desmond has spent years having his Wikipedia page edited in a failed attempt to remove any suggestion that he is a "pornographer", preferring the term "philanthropist".[29]

G & G vs. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc[edit]

G & G vs. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. [2009] EWHC 3148 (QB) was an English legal case. The case involved "G" who sought a Norwich Pharmacal order requiring that the respondent disclose the IP address of an individual who had edited Wikipedia to include private and sensitive information about her and her child.[30] The order was granted.[31] The judgment drew attention, inter alia, in paragraph 12 to the risk that "the naming of the respondent may indirectly enable readers who already know other information about the case to identify of [sic] the claimant." The possibility is alluded to again in paragraph 40, which notes that "There are occasions when the court does impose a prohibition upon disclosure of the fact that an order has been made." [citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "US billionaire wins high court order over Wikipedia 'defamation'". The Guardian. May 9, 2011. Archived from the original on December 2, 2016. Retrieved December 15, 2016.
  2. ^ "U.S. Law Protects Anonymous Speech, Not Billionaires". Forbes. May 10, 2011. Archived from the original on July 30, 2017. Retrieved September 4, 2017.
  3. ^ a b "Hedge fund boss wins Wikipedia case". Daily Telegraph. London, England. May 10, 2011.
  4. ^ Rogers, Jacob; Davenport, Allison (April 11, 2019). "A German court forced us to remove part of a Wikipedia article's 'history.' Here's what that means". Wikimedia Foundation. Archived from the original on April 14, 2019. Retrieved May 22, 2019.
  5. ^ "Wikipedia goes to court to defend defamation immunity". The Register. May 7, 2008. Archived from the original on August 1, 2013. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d Beaumont, Claudine (May 11, 2008). "Wikipedia fights defamation lawsuit". Telegraph. Archived from the original on November 9, 2012. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  7. ^ a b "Bauer v. Wikimedia". Citizen Media Law Project. May 2, 2008. Archived from the original on July 13, 2010. Retrieved December 21, 2011.
  8. ^ Beaumont, Claudine (May 11, 2008). "Wikipedia fights defamation lawsuit". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on November 9, 2012. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  9. ^ "Zoeller v. Josef Silny & Associates". Digital Media Law Project. Archived from the original on December 26, 2017. Retrieved December 26, 2017.
  10. ^ a b c "Wikipedia cleared of defamation". The Inquirer. November 2, 2007. Archived from the original on October 24, 2014. Retrieved April 15, 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  11. ^ a b c d e "Wikipedia cleared in French defamation case". Reuters. November 2, 2007. Archived from the original on December 21, 2012. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  12. ^ "Gibson v Amazon complaint". Archived from the original on April 5, 2016. Retrieved September 9, 2017.
  13. ^ "ORDER by Judge Otis D Wright, II: Granting Defendants Pacific Lutheran University, Amazon for Sylvia Scott Gibson et al v.". Justia Dockets & Filings. Retrieved October 30, 2023.
  14. ^ "FindLaw's Writ – Ramasastry: Is an Online Encyclopedia, Such as Wikipedia, Immune From Libel Suits?". December 12, 2005. Archived from the original on January 27, 2013. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  15. ^ "AAFM ® Legal Complaint FOR Defamation, Libel and Fraud To Wikipedia/Wikimedia Legal Offices". AAFM. Archived from the original on June 20, 2013. Retrieved June 15, 2013.
  16. ^ Simcoe, Luke (June 25, 2014). "Canadian businessman sues Wikipedia editors for defamation". Metronews.
  17. ^ Alfonso, Fernando III (June 24, 2014). "Wikipedia editors hit with $10 million defamation lawsuit". The Daily Dot. Retrieved May 14, 2019. Updated 11 December 2015.
  18. ^ "Philanthropist Yank Barry prepares to bolster lawsuit against Wikipedia editors, strategically withdraws first complaint". PRNews Channel. July 17, 2014. Retrieved August 2, 2014.
  19. ^ "Wikipedia România, în mijlocul unui proces". Digi24 (in Romanian). September 15, 2016. Retrieved February 8, 2022.
  20. ^ "Detalii dosar 6954/2/2018". Înalta Curte de Casaţie şi Justiţie a României (in Romanian). Retrieved February 8, 2022.
  21. ^ "Letter from FBI to Wikimedia" (PDF). July 22, 2010. Archived (PDF) from the original on August 18, 2014. Retrieved August 16, 2012.
  22. ^ "Letter from Wikimedia to FBI" (PDF). July 30, 2010. Archived (PDF) from the original on August 18, 2014. Retrieved August 16, 2012.
  23. ^ Schwartz, John (August 2, 2010). "F.B.I., Challenging Use of Seal, Gets Back a Primer on the Law". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 6, 2014. Retrieved August 16, 2012.
  24. ^ Ingram, David (March 10, 2015). "NSA sued by Wikimedia, rights groups over mass surveillance". Reuters. Archived from the original on September 30, 2015. Retrieved August 28, 2015.
  25. ^ Masnick, Mike (April 2, 2020). "Predictive Text Patent Troll Tries To Shake Down Wikipedia". Techdirt. Retrieved April 7, 2020.
  26. ^ Ohanian, H. Artoush. "Re: Infringement of WordLogic Patents by Wikipedia Inc". DocumentCloud. Retrieved April 16, 2020.
  27. ^ "Complaint for declaratory judgment" (PDF). Wikimedia Commons. March 11, 2020. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  28. ^ "Notice of Voluntary Dismissal" (PDF). CourtListener. Retrieved July 19, 2020.
  29. ^ Waterson, Jim (November 5, 2021). "Richard Desmond in legal battle with Wikipedia over term 'pornographer'". The Guardian. London, UK: Guardian News & Media. Archived from the original on August 11, 2022. Retrieved August 11, 2022.
  30. ^ "G & G v Wikimedia Foundation Inc". 5RB. December 2, 2009. Retrieved July 16, 2016.
  31. ^ "Cases – G and G v Wikimedia Foundation Inc [2009] EWHC 3148 (QB)". One Brick Court. Retrieved July 16, 2016. [dead link]

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