Litigation involving the Wikimedia Foundation

The Wikimedia Foundation has been involved in several lawsuits. Some of them have gone in favor of the Foundation, others have gone against it.

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

Outcomes in favor of the plaintiffs

In May 2011, Louis Bacon obtained a court order against the Wikimedia Foundation to compel it to reveal the identity of the editors who defamed him on Wikipedia. However, the order was obtained in the UK, and is therefore unenforceable in the United States.[1][2]

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 The Wikipedia article's content was ruled defamatory because the link supporting its claims was no longer active, a phenomenon known as "link rot." Jacob Rogers and Allison Davenport wrote about the legal decision, "it does not impose any new editorial standards on individual Wikipedia contributors."[3]

Outcomes in favor of the Wikimedia Foundation

Barbara Bauer, a literary agent, sued Wikimedia Foundation (which owns Wikipedia) for defamation.[4][5] She claimed that a Wikipedia entry branded her the “dumbest” literary agent.[5] But the case was dismissed because of the Communications Decency Act.[6]

Professional golfer Fuzzy Zoeller, who also felt he was defamed on Wikipedia, did not sue Wikipedia because he was told that his suit would not prevail in light of the Communications Decency Act.[7] He then sued the Miami firm from whose computers the edits were made, but later dropped the case.[8]

In 2007, three French nationals sued the Wikimedia Foundation when an article on Wikipedia described them as gay activists.[9][10] A French court dismissed the defamation and privacy case, ruling that the Foundation was not legally responsible for information in Wikipedia articles.[10] The judge ruled that a 2004 French law limited the Foundation's liability, and found that the content had already been removed.[9][10] 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."[10] He did not rule whether the information was defamatory.[9][10]

Sylvia Scott Gibson, author of Latawnya, the Naughty Horse, Learns to Say "No" to Drugs, sued Wikipedia for describing her book.[11] Her suit was dismissed.[12]

Other alleged defamation

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 Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy. The content was present in the article for four months.[5][13] Seigenthaler called Wikipedia a "flawed and irresponsible research tool," and criticized the protection the Communications Decency Act provided to Wikipedia.[5]

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.[14]

DMCA takedown notices

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

Two other articles also came under the purview of Wikipedia's office actions because of the DMCA: Damon Dash and Conventional PCI.

FBI seal controversy

In July 2010, the FBI sent a letter to the Wikimedia Foundation demanding that it cease and desist from using its seal on Wikipedia.[15] The FBI claimed that such practice was illegal and threatened to sue. In reply, Wikimedia counsel Michael Godwin sent a counter notice to the FBI claiming that Wikipedia was not in the wrong when it displayed the FBI seal on its website.[16] He defended Wikipedia's actions and also refused to remove the seal.[17]

NSA lawsuit

In March 2015, the Wikimedia Foundation, along with other groups, sued the National Security Agency over its upstream mass surveillance program.[18]

See also


  1. "US billionaire wins high court order over Wikipedia 'defamation'". The Guardian. May 9, 2011.
  2. "U.S. Law Protects Anonymous Speech, Not Billionaires". Forbes. May 10, 2011.
  3. "A German court forced us to remove part of a Wikipedia article's 'history.' Here's what that means". Wikimedia Foundation. April 11, 2019. Retrieved May 22, 2019.
  4. "Wikipedia goes to court to defend defamation immunity". The Register. May 7, 2008. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  5. Beaumont, Claudine (May 11, 2008). "Wikipedia fights defamation lawsuit". Telegraph. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  6. "Bauer v. Wikimedia". Citizen Media Law Project. May 2, 2008.
  7. Beaumont, Claudine (May 11, 2008). "Wikipedia fights defamation lawsuit". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved September 6, 2012.
  8. "Zoeller v. Josef Silny & Associates". Digital Media Law Project. Retrieved December 26, 2017.
  9. "Wikipedia cleared of defamation". The Inquirer. November 2, 2007. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  10. "Wikipedia cleared in French defamation case". Reuters. November 2, 2007. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  11. Gibson v Amazon complaint
  12. Sylvia Scott Gibson et al v. (Document 142) on Justia
  13. "FindLaw's Writ – Ramasastry: Is an Online Encyclopedia, Such as Wikipedia, Immune From Libel Suits?". December 12, 2005. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
  14. "AAFM ® Legal Complaint FOR Defamation, Libel and Fraud To Wikipedia/Wikimedia Legal Offices". AAFM. Retrieved June 15, 2013.
  15. "Letter from FBI to Wikimedia" (PDF). July 22, 2010. Archived (PDF) from the original on August 18, 2014. Retrieved August 16, 2012.
  16. "Letter from Wikimedia to FBI" (PDF). July 30, 2010. Archived (PDF) from the original on August 18, 2014. Retrieved August 16, 2012.
  17. 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.
  18. Ingram, David (March 10, 2015). "NSA sued by Wikimedia, rights groups over mass surveillance". Reuters. Retrieved August 28, 2015.
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