Libel case against Wikimedia Foundation dismissed

This article mentions the Wikimedia Foundation, one of its projects, or people related to it. Wikinews is a project of the Wikimedia Foundation.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Image: Copyright Wikimedia Foundation. All rights reserved.

Wikinews has confirmed through several sources that a lawsuit filed against the Wikimedia Foundation, the parent organization of the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia, by the 'Barbara Bauer Literacy Agency,' has been dismissed. As a result of the associated conflict, edits pertaining to Bauer on Wikipedia were deleted and, following the commencement of legal proceedings, Wikinews exclusively obtained the offending texts and edits.

Judge Jamie S. Perri dismissed the case citing the 1996 Communications Decency Act, promoting free speech over the Internet. The act protects the provider of interactive computer services from liability for publishing content provided by another.

At the start of the court action, Wikimedia asked the court to dismiss the case. "Wikimedia asks the Court to dismiss the claims against it, with prejudice. The claims against Wikimedia are frivolous because they are barred as a matter of law by the Communications Decency Act (47 U.S.C. § 230( c), "Section 230" or the "CDA"), by the First Amendment, and by New Jersey law. Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia written by its users, the content of which can be created, edited, or removed by anyone.

The claims arise from statements made on numerous Internet websites, which Plaintiffs assert describe them as being among the "20 Worst Literary Agents" and having "no...significant track record of sales to commercial (advance paying) published" states the motion filed in Superior Court of New Jersey, Monmouth County," said the organization.

Before the case started, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) issued a press release that defends against a suit Bauer filed against Wikimedia which states that contributors on Wikipedia posted "libel statements" against Bauer that labeled her as number three on a list of twenty people grouped as the "worst" publishing agents, and included allegations that she had "no documented sales" through her firm. Complaints filed against her and her firm state that Bauer had a bad record when dealing with "commercial publishers,", and questioning her practice of, "charge[ing] in advance of making a sale, against the generally-accepted industry practice."

In March of 2007, Wikimedia was named in a lawsuit filed in Superior Court of Monmouth, New Jersey, along with 20 other defendants which included operators of the Absolute Write web site and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America who authored the list.

Wikinews has learned that Bauer's Wikipedia article was deleted some time during the course of the proceedings, along with the edit history of her article and its talk page as a "courtesy." During the investigation, Wikinews found that all edits to her article, and edits to pages requesting it to be deleted were deleted by Wikipedia administrator MaxSem.

Wikinews has also exclusively obtained all the edits affiliated with Bauer's article, which was sourced accurately, the deletion requests along with the edit history of all pages related to the discussion about Bauer's article. Fearing retribution on Wikipedia by other administrators and users, the source who provided Wikinews with the edit information wishes to remain anonymous.

The deleted Wikipedia article on Bauer stated that she claims "to have placed books with a number of well-known commercial publishers, but does not provide specific details of the books in question. In 2006, due to the number of complaints they receive, Writer Beware (part of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America writers' organization) listed Bauer's agency as one of the twenty worst literary agencies."

Wikipedia logo.
Image: Copyright Wikimedia Foundation. All rights reserved.

Bauer's article was started on May 25, 2006 but was not deleted until March 21, 2008 by Wikipedia administrator and Wikimedia office employee Cary Bass, who was not able to comment on the incident. It underwent two requests to be deleted, with the second one passing, and it was subsequently deleted. It had first been deleted on March 25, 2007 by "Doc Glasgow", an administrator, amid allegations that the information presented in the article was "a bloody disgrace, full of 'allegations of who said what on message boards. No mainstream media interest." It was later restored on March 26 to undergo a "deletion review." It was then deleted just under one year later after an extensive discussion.

Barbara Bauer was shown to have threatened a number of website hosts who reproduced the "Top 20 Worst Agents" list, or referred to her inclusion in the list; her complaints apparently prompted a brief takedown of the site.

One blog even states that Bauer attempted to get people fired from their jobs, after allegedly posting information online that was in any way connected to the Top 20 worst agents.

"Barbara Bauer has been running around the Internet lately threatening people who've posted information about her fee-charging, non-manuscript-selling ways, including people who've linked to the Twenty Worst list. She has threatened legal action; she has even attempted to get people fired," states Victoria Strauss on

The EFF, along with attorneys at Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, are defending Wikimedia submitting a motion to dismiss the suit against the Foundation. The Foundation says that the First Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights and New Jersey law protect the contributors from any legal action.

Wikimedia attorney, Mike Godwin
Image: Alice Lipowicz.

Specifically, Section 230 of the act states, "no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider. No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected."

Bauer claims that her agency informed Wikimedia of the false allegations, and requested that they be removed. She also claimed that Wikimedia refused to remove the information when requested. Bauer further states that the contributors involved with her Wikipedia article "conspired to defame Plaintiffs and interfere with their prospective economic advantage."

Mike Godwin, attorney for the Foundation states that the point of Wikipedia is to return the knowledge it provides, to a worldwide culture.

"We provide a platform through Wikipedia for smart citizens to give their knowledge back to a larger culture. Our ability to offer citizens that platform is what's at stake in this case," said attorney representing the Foundation, Mike Godwin in a EFF press release on May 2, 2008.

Despite the claim of freedom of speech, Wikinews has learned that on the same day, Godwin requested that the edits and the article on Wikipedia relating to Bauer, be deleted by a community action. Godwin also stated that the Foundation has "filed court papers in which we stated that the article is no longer available."

"I've been trying to keep 'Office actions' to a minimum (partly in reaction to some fairly heavy-handed WP:OFFICE stuff in the past), and it would be helpful to be able to say that any given action was taken by the community, not by the Foundation," said Godwin on Wikipedia's Administrators' noticeboard on May 2, the same day of the EFF's press release. 'Office actions' are changes directly authorized by the Foundation which are made to content on any of the Wikimedia projects. The edits are made by staff members working for the Foundation's head office located in San Francisco, California. Edits of this nature are generally "removals of questionable or illegal Wikimedia content following complaints," according to Wikipedia's policy on 'Office Actions.'

A few minutes after, MaxSem, a Wikipedia administrator, deleted the edits related to the deletion request of Bauer's article as a "courtesy" stating that there would be "legal problems" if the edits were not deleted.

Wikinews originally intended to publish an article at the start of the court case, although it was deleted from the article by Wikinews administrator Brian McNeil, who said that it was deleted "per consultation with Mike Godwin" as the posting of any material relating to Bauer, on Wikimedia sites, could be considered contempt of court. The deleted copy of this article was then leaked to Wikileaks, who released a press release saying that the Wikimedia Foundation censored Wikinews. At the time of this The Register reported that "Wikinews - like its sister site, Wikipedia - bills itself as a place without bias. Ostensibly, it's a democratic news source that never answers to a higher power. But that's just a setup for the latest act in the world's greatest online farce." The Register has a long history of denigrating Wikimedia projects.


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