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Wikipedia Wins Defamation Case 153

Posted by Zonk
from the wiki-this dept.
Raul654 writes "Yesterday, a French judge dismissed a lawsuit against the Wikimedia Foundation for defamation. The judge found 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.' According to the inquirer: 'Three plaintiffs were each seeking 69,000 euros ($100,000) in damages for invasion of their privacy after their homosexuality was revealed on the website.'"
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Wikipedia Wins Defamation Case

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  • Correction (Score:5, Funny)

    by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Friday November 02, 2007 @03:15PM (#21216039) Homepage Journal
    A correction has been posted:

    'Three plaintiffs were each seeking 69,000,000 euros ($100,000,000) in damages for invasion of their privacy after their homosexuality was revealed on the website.'"
  • by Huntr (951770) on Friday November 02, 2007 @03:19PM (#21216075)
    Specifically, this part of the Reuters writeup:

    "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," Binoche said in his written ruling released at the Paris civil law court earlier this week.

    Moreover, Web site hosts are not legally bound to monitor or investigate the origin of the information they store, he added.


    IANAL, but I wonder if this could have ramifications in the file-sharing world..
    • by p0tat03 (985078)
      Nothing has changed. I don't know of any (commercial) web hosts that actively scan for illegal content. They go by the tried and true "if someone complains, we'll take it down" formula, and it works well. The ruling simply reinforces this - web hosts are not responsible for illicit content until someone notifies them, after which they have a reasonable amount of time to remove the illegal content before being *actually* legally responsible.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ddrichardson (869910)

      IANAL either, but this line intrigued me:

      But a judge rejected their demands in a ruling reached on Monday, arguing that "the Wikimedia Foundation's responsibility ... has not been clearly established," a decision welcomed by the foundation.

      This suggests to me that that plaintiff simply didn't provide a good enough case against Wikimedia, rather than a decision that could become precedent. I'm sure someone with a better grasp of law can correct me.

      • by frp001 (227227) on Friday November 02, 2007 @04:04PM (#21216727)
        From what I read, there are 2 things:
        - The judge ruled that, despite its aspect, Wikipedia, is more like service provider than a newspaper or editor work (i.e. internet users publish their stuff on it, not the Wikimedia foundation)
        - The French law requires that illegal material must be formally notified to the provider by register letter.

        Apparently the plaintiffs did notify Wikimedia but not in the correct form.

        So, for what I understand both are true Wikimedia cannot be held responsible for what others publish. The can be if they have been informed published work is illegal and have not taken actions to remove it. It would then be the plaintiff's work to:
        - prove to material is illegal in some way (this where the making a better case of comes in)
        - prove that Wikimedia knew the work was illegal.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Keith_Beef (166050)

          If you can read French, then here is a much better article than the badly summarized version that Reuters published.

          http://www.lemonde.fr/web/article/0,1-0@2-651865,36-973824@51-974025,0.html

          Or ask the Babel Fish for help.

          In essence, the three sued Wikimedia for invasion of privacy and defamation.

          The judge ruled that Wikimedia administrators cannot be held responsible for opinions published, until the disputed content is brought to the administrators' attention by a letter sent by registered post wi

        • I guess the case would have had a different turn if it was in US? I guess according to US laws, the host is responsible for what is posted through it. I am trying to guess, what would have happened if some users had used Wikipedia to share information to co-ordinate Al-Qaeda attacks in US?? Who would be held responsible if something like that happened?
          • by DustyShadow (691635) on Friday November 02, 2007 @06:23PM (#21218489) Homepage
            Truth is a defense to a defamation claim in the U.S. so if they are actually homosexual then there would be no defamation claim because the statements were true.
            • AS far as I know, (and I don't live there so I'm quite likely to be wrong), in the US the obligation of proof in a defamation case is on the part of the plaintiff to prove the untruth. Over here, (Ireland), politicians and other sleazeballs have taken advantage of the fact that if a slander/libel case is called against you the obligation is on you to prove the truth of the allegations to criminal level, (ie. beyond reasonable doubt). Several of our politicos have abused this to hide well known allegations
            • Truth is a defense to a defamation claim in the U.S. so if they are actually homosexual then there would be no defamation claim because the statements were true.

              But the related torts of invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress would be the basis of a lawsuit if that were the case. Outing someone who didn't want to be outed is likely to be actionable under US law (and probably french too; the problem with the case here was who was responsible, not the outing itself).

        • If the law requires Wiki to change the article after proper notification, etc., wouldn't if be a lot easier and faster just to edit it themselves?

          Oh, that's right. They wanted money, not restoration of honor.

      • by Hemogoblin (982564) on Friday November 02, 2007 @04:41PM (#21217275)
        I don't know about the rest of your argument, but this court case was in France where they use the Civil Law system. There is no judge-made law and there is no "precedent".
        • There is no judge-made law and there is no "precedent".

          Don't know what country you're talking about, but here in the States judges don't make laws, either. They interpret laws. And everybody goes "oh, that's what that means" and life goes on.

          • I'll just refer you the wikipedia article on case law [wikipedia.org]. I know it's not the best reference, but it's good enough.

            Case law ... is that body of reported judicial opinions in countries that have common law legal systems that are published and thereby become precedent.

            Case law is judge-made law that interprets prior case law, statutes and other legal authority -- including doctrinal writings by legal scholars such as the Corpus Juris Secundum, Halsbury's Laws of England or the doctrinal writings found in the Recueil Dalloz and law commissions such as the American Law Institute.

        • by init100 (915886)

          there is no "precedent".

          That may not be entirely true. We have precedents in Sweden, but only the supreme court can set precedents.

      • I don't know the term in English, but this was a "référé" lawsuit, which means that the plaintiff claimed there was an emergency. The court was not deciding on the basic merits of the case, but rather deciding whether the alleged libellous statements were so bad that something had to be done ASAP. In any case, I don't believe the court would have awarded them any money (that would be for a normal lawsuit to decide), but they could have ordered WP to do delete the stuff from their DB (could lu
    • by cromar (1103585)
      Considering France's stance on p2p [theregister.co.uk] and compatibility between [usatoday.com] personal digital music players, I am not surprised by this ruling. I greatly admire them for their open-minded approach to these sorts of tech issues.

      Plus, their wines and cheeses are delicious ;)
  • by Raul654 (453029) on Friday November 02, 2007 @03:19PM (#21216085) Homepage
    (As the original submitter of this article) For the applicability in US law, you guys might want to listen to this session recording [archive.org] from Wikimania 2006.
  • by PortHaven (242123) on Friday November 02, 2007 @03:20PM (#21216113) Homepage
    If it was posted they were homosexuals and they weren't, that'd be defamation. But it states their "homosexuality was revealed on wikipedia". Which leads me to believe they are in fact homosexual.

    So how does revealing the truth equate to defamation?

    • by p0tat03 (985078)

      Interesting point. Defamation and libel only apply to lies, do they not? If someone is a convicted murderer, I can write that about him and he can't say crap - because it's all true. If, on the other hand, I falsely claim someone is a murderer, then clearly I'm liable for defamation suits.

      Better yet, since these homosexual men felt the revelation of their orientation was defamatory, what does that say about how they feel about their own sexuality?

      • by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Friday November 02, 2007 @03:32PM (#21216275) Homepage

        Better yet, since these homosexual men felt the revelation of their orientation was defamatory, what does that say about how they feel about their own sexuality?
        Probably not much. What it most likely tells you about is how their society perceives their sexuality. (Or, even more pedantically, how they think that society perceives it.) A gay person in the US military may be quite happy and well-adjusted about his or her orientation, but also realize that word of that getting out would have serious negative consequences.
        • Afaik what's required is that either there is proof or that you "admit" it yourself. Just being called gay is hopefully not enough.

          If it is, it would be quite a neat way to get rid of superiors so your career progresses faster.
          • by CorSci81 (1007499)
            Sadly it's not much more than that. One of my friends was booted from the Marines under "don't ask don't tell" when a fellow marine he'd had a relationship decided to file allegations that my friend basically got him drunk and made sexual advances when things weren't working out anymore.
          • Fair enough, but you needn't be booted for things to turn uncomfortable for you. All I'm saying is that there can be a significant difference between how a person feels about themself and how society feels.
        • Better yet, because they went to court, the whole world now knows about their homosexuality. This may also suggest that are imbeciles as well.
          • Possibly. It depends on who they didn't want to know and whether they'd already found out before the suit was filed, doesn't it?
        • by Myopic (18616)
          excellent point.

          cf. 18 year olds with 17 year old girlfriends/boyfriends; and marijuana smokers
      • by WaltBusterkeys (1156557) on Friday November 02, 2007 @03:42PM (#21216423)
        "Defamation" does not include the truth, but "invasion of privacy" and "public disclosure of private information" both do. Let's say that you had HIV, but it was under control with medication. You'd hope that you would have a cause of action against your doctor if he revealed that information to the world, right? Or if you kept it a secret that you were a victim of child abuse and somebody published a full-page advertisement in the local newspaper calling you out on it. It's not necessarily something to be "ashamed of" but it might not be something you want the world to know.

        Unless you're a public figure, the law in most states recognizes that there is true information that people have a right to keep to themselves. See, ironically, Wikipedia on invasion of privacy [wikipedia.org].
        • by guruevi (827432) <evi@NOSpam.smokingcube.be> on Friday November 02, 2007 @08:45PM (#21219997) Homepage
          In the case of your doctor or shrink you most likely have an agreement with or the doctor has an agreement with his boss/union/whatever to not publish those facts or your records with your personal information still attached or recoverable from it. In case of them, it still wouldn't be defamation but a breach of privacy/contract or even government compliance (HIPAA in the US) and you can call them on that.

          I know from experience because I do work in a research imaging environment and if a case is published with imaging (which is with or without the permission of the subject), special filter programs have to be ran on the imaging (although the imaging is exported without any possible ties to the subjects' information) as to remove the skull bone or other information (implants, injuries...) in the picture that could be used to recover your facial image or identify you.

          Now if somebody were to get a hold on your private information from your doctor/shrink and publish it, you can call them out on theft or something else that has to do with illegally obtaining your information and your doctor on negligence. You still can't use defamation if it's true. Now if you tell your friend something in private and he has decided to publish that information or tell it further I doubt you can take any steps against that (IANAL) since you told him and you trusted him not to tell anyone, but he broke your trust. Since there is no contract (unless you get a contract between your friends) then all he knows and says further is hearsay.

          The tricky part about hearsay is that he (the publisher) can't verify if what he heard is true upon publishing so he might be defaming you. If you only told him, then you can say in court you didn't and what he says isn't true since nobody else knows, it would be his word against yours in favor of you => defamation. However if he has proof of what you told him is true, then it isn't defamation. If the information is publicly available from a reliable source, then it's not defamation but a repetition of facts and thus free speech or the source is defaming you which you can start a suit against said source.
      • by magarity (164372) on Friday November 02, 2007 @04:25PM (#21217075)
        what does that say about how they feel about their own sexuality?
         
        They think its totally gay.
      • Different countries have different laws and legal traditions, the truth is not a defense everywhere. What I wonder is if being outed is defamation in France, then wouldn't suing for defamation be defamatory to the gays as well?
      • This was in France, and laws regarding speech are very different, starting with the absence of a "first amendment."
        I'm not 100% clear on the legal definition of "defamation" on one hand, and "diffamation" on the other, but they need not mean the exact same thing; they probably don't.
    • by Raul654 (453029) on Friday November 02, 2007 @03:27PM (#21216201) Homepage
      Truth is an absolute defense against libel/slander/defemation in some - but not all - jurisdictions. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamation#Truth [wikipedia.org]
      • Only one I see mentioned is the Philippines. Am I missing something?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Diss Champ (934796)
      IANAL, but while in the USA the truth is an absolute defense against charges of libel and such, that is not true everywhere. Indeed there are plenty of places in the world where the truth will get you in a heck of a lot more trouble than pretty much anything you can make up.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by king-manic (409855)

      So how does revealing the truth equate to defamation?

      This isn't a universal defence. In many countries (for example Canada), you can be successfully sued for defamation even if your accusations/statements are true. Defamation is classified as statements lowering the "esteem" of a person. True of false. Defamation must consider Context and must meet reasonable standards. So a single story on how Paris Hilton is a slut may be okay, two dozen of them may allow a successful defamation law suit.

    • That was my first thought as well... perhaps French law is different? Anyone know?
    • From TFA:
      "The U.S.-based Wikipedia Foundation, which is behind the popular compendium, was sued by three French nationals over a Wikipedia article that said they were gay activists."

      The second FA uses the exact same wordings: "homosexuality was revealed on wikipedia". But if I were you, I would really not believe it :) Why?
      "Binoche did not rule on the whether the information contained in the article was defamatory and dismissed the plaintiffs' claim for damages."Emmanuel Binoche being the judge.

      It looks mor
    • by sm62704 (957197)
      They weren't suing for defamation, they were suing for invasion of privacy.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kabocox (199019)
      If it was posted they were homosexuals and they weren't, that'd be defamation. But it states their "homosexuality was revealed on wikipedia". Which leads me to believe they are in fact homosexual.

      So how does revealing the truth equate to defamation?


      Revealing something that a person considers private information and putting it in wikipedia or another format for the entire world to see should be legally wrong. If it isn't illegal today, it will be.

      For example, my favorite color is green. That's a fact. I don'
      • For example, my favorite color is green. That's a fact. I don't want some one to look me up in wikipedia and find out my sexual preferences or my favorite color or anything else that I consider private information.
        Well, since you didn't post as AC it's a bit late for that, eh? Now we all know your favorite color.
        • by kabocox (199019)
          For example, my favorite color is green. That's a fact. I don't want some one to look me up in wikipedia and find out my sexual preferences or my favorite color or anything else that I consider private information.

          Well, since you didn't post as AC it's a bit late for that, eh? Now we all know your favorite color.


          Nah, I'm safe because this is slashdot, and few use slashdot for actual factual information. Besides that was the "safest" example that I could come up with. Favorite colors change alot. I like gree
          • by Loligo (12021)
            >Dangerous information like religious or sexual preferences I haven't stated now have I?

            Using words like "teal" will certainly make people wonder about that sexual preference thing..

            At least you didn't say "mauve" or "taupe" or "chartreuse", then you'd have people running for Wikipedia.

              -l

            • Using words like "teal" will certainly make people wonder about that sexual preference thing..

              At least you didn't say "mauve" or "taupe" or "chartreuse", then you'd have people running for Wikipedia.
              Being metro does not make one homosexual.
          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by Darby (84953)

            Nah, I'm safe because this is slashdot, and few use slashdot for actual factual information


            Yeah, whatever, Green liker.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by protolith (619345)
        Wikipedia should be viewed as a men's room wall, people write stuff on the wall, some is useful, some isn't, the editors should be viewed as the janitors that mostly clean off the piss stains, I wouldn't hold account the owner of the men's room, or the janitors for not cleaning something embarrassing or plain wrong, unless it has been pointed out to be removed or fixed and they refused to correct the info.

        The individual that used wiki as a place to air somebody else's laundry should be the one held account
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by kabocox (199019)
          Wikipedia should be viewed as a men's room wall, people write stuff on the wall, some is useful, some isn't, the editors should be viewed as the janitors that mostly clean off the piss stains, I wouldn't hold account the owner of the men's room, or the janitors for not cleaning something embarrassing or plain wrong, unless it has been pointed out to be removed or fixed and they refused to correct the info.

          The individual that used wiki as a place to air somebody else's laundry should be the one held accounta
          • An encyclopedia should have standards of what personal/private information that they will not publish about people.
            Wikipedia does have standards [wikipedia.org]. If you find anything in a Wikipedia article that violates the policies on biographies, feel free to remove it from the article.
        • by Smallpond (221300)
          I'm confused. Could you rephrase that as a car analogy?
      • I'm not sure about the laws in your country, but in some European countries, when you become a person of "public interest" (some kind of celebrity, politician, etc), you give up a few privacy rights. For example, it is no longer illegal to take a snapshot of you and publish it without your consent (which is quite seriously punished if you're some Joe Average and someone thinks it's funny to take an odd picture of you and use it in some kind of meme). That also includes certain parts of your private life, li
      • by FLEB (312391)
        You can't, and shouldn't, be able to legally strongarm true facts about yourself out of the public discussion, should they come to light. Otherwise, every person's reputation is moot-- it's just a positive-spun PR that's worthless in aiding any decisions at all. If your unsavory reputation precedes you, then you shouldn't engage in unsavory practices. If you would argue that your practices aren't unsavory, then be proud of them.
        • by tepples (727027)

          You can't, and shouldn't, be able to legally strongarm true facts about yourself out of the public discussion
          Including one's bank account number and government benefits number?
          • by FLEB (312391)
            That's not "information" so much as an access key. Completely different.
    • by LMacG (118321)
      > If it was posted they were homosexuals and they weren't, that'd be defamation.

      Why?
      • I was wondering the same. Being gay is not illegal in France afaik. Now, if they were claimed to have some sort of illegal sexual preference, I could understand that it would well be in the area of defamation, but being gay?
    • by Hao Wu (652581)
      I think this was a planned extortion of Wikipedia. They "outed" themselves in those entries.

      Why be suspicious? Simple- All they had to do was deny that they were gay. Sure, that may be lying- but it's also "lying" not to be "out" in a way.

      Gay or not, I think they planned this.

    • Perhaps if a wikitroll posted "$NAME is gay" on a bunch of articles, and just happened to be right in the case of the plaintiffs?

      - RG>
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 02, 2007 @03:21PM (#21216121)
    Bet the judge went back to his chamber, looked up what 'defamation' is on wikipedia, and came out and made his ruling...

  • Strange (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by chill (34294)
    Hell, if I had a nickel for every time some AC posted "You're a fag!" in response to an edit or post that they didn't like, I'd make Bill Gates look poor. The normal response is "Fuck off, AC!" or "No, YOU'RE a fag!".

    These douchebags, however, decided to sue. Who do they think they are? Americans?
    • I would like to think that the slur wouldn't be taken so literally by any commonsense court. These guys were being called out for being homosexuals. It doesn't seem to be in the same manner as using a slur that normally is interpreted as being homosexual in some fashion. Mostly it's just a random slur.

      That would be like me sueing someone for calling someone a bitch... I don't think they mean to insinuate that the other person is a female dog.
  • Irony (Score:5, Funny)

    by Nairanvac (912343) on Friday November 02, 2007 @03:35PM (#21216331)
    Anyone else find it ironic that they all sued for 69,000 euros?
  • ...who are these three "notable" homosexuals, that the articles about them can survive more than two days.
  • Fortunately this meets the criteria for notability. http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/10/31/0328239 [slashdot.org]
  • They can't be too concerned with the public declaration of their sexuality on the site if they are willing to come at Wikimedia in court. Might as well shout it from the rooftops. Haven't they ever hear of Barbara Streisand?
  • by pipatron (966506)
    So... some information is missing here. Who was it?
  • While appreciate that there's a judge that won't hold a website like WP that relies on third-party contributions, I find it ironic that Angela Beesley [wikipedia.org] has been trying to delete her own biographic entry six times in the last two and a half years:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Votes_for_deletion/Angela_Beesley [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Angela_Beesley_(2nd_nomination) [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Angela_Beesley_(3rd_nomination) [wikipedia.org]
    htt [wikipedia.org]

    • Actually, she only nominated the article the 1st and 3rd times. The rest of the deletion attempts were by other editors.
  • 'Three plaintiffs were each seeking 69,000 euros ($100,000) in damages for invasion of their privacy after their homosexuality was revealed on the website.'
    ... not that there is anything wrong with that. [tv.com]
  • Forced outing (Score:4, Interesting)

    by athloi (1075845) on Friday November 02, 2007 @03:54PM (#21216581) Homepage Journal
    This is where a conventional encyclopedia, with experienced editors, outshines wikipedia (one of the many places). An experienced editor will usually reject forced outing of people, or revealing that they're gay when they'd rather keep that private, because it rarely adds to the factual content of the article and can interrupt the parts of their lives that should be private. Shame on wikipedia. Although I agree with the courts, I see this forced outing as a bad call for wikipedia to have made.
    • No: shame on the editor(s) who added that information. As the ruling said, Wikipedia can't be held liable for information added by its editors.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Dumbledore is suing J.K. Rowling for declaring "I always thought of Dumbledore as gay!"
  • Anyone here up for a countersuit? I think there has to be some kind of anti-discrimination law that states that you're in the wrong if you call it defamation when someone claims that you're gay.
  • Wait what? (Score:2, Insightful)

    Too lazy to RTFA, but from the summary, a thought occurs:

    If you're gay, and you're trying to hide it, and someone online says "OFMG U R TEH GAYZ", do you
    A, say "Haha, you're stupid. No I'm not.", or do you
    B, sue them for revealing your secret?


    Someone should see if this works on the government. "OFMG U R TEH WIRETAPPING US D:"
    • by hurfy (735314)
      C. "So you just got pwnd by a queer..."

      Gay or not, that usually shuts them up quick. I think that is the one they were going for also. Unfortunately they weren't quite up to the game against wikipedia so they should have stuck with choice A alright.
    • It could be worse. They could have been defamed by revealing that they were French.
    • There is, at least in Europe, a span between something being a secret, and something being public. We could call it "private". There are several homosexual members of the parliament whose sexual orientation is not really a secret. They live together with their lovers, the press know it, and for the more prominent members (such as possibly our prime minister[*]) the man on the street knows it as well.

      But the press generally doesn't write about it, until they appear as a couple at an official event, in which
  • How can it be defamation if it's true?
  • hope these people never discover encyclopedia dramatica!
  • "The U.S.-based Wikipedia Foundation, which is behind the popular compendium, was sued by three French nationals over a Wikipedia article that said they were gay activists."

    Notice there is an error - it is the Wikimedia Foundation. It's a shame there isn't an "edit this page" link on Reuters' article so I can correct this!

    Of course, I'm sure in the past Reuters has been only too happy to publish/distribute articles about Wikipedia's lack of accuracy..

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