[Air-l] wikipedia and defamation

Dan L Burk burkx006 at umn.edu
Tue Dec 6 21:32:07 PST 2005

On 5 Dec 2005, Barry Wellman wrote:

> the current AOIR debate about wikipedia highlights another problem.
> It is quite easy to make legally defamatory statements on Wikipedia.

Or on listservs, or blogs, or Usenet newsgroups, etc., etc.  This is not a
very new or very unusual problem.

> Normally, the remedy is a law suit for civil damages.
> But if the author is anonymous, whom does one sue?

Outside the United States, one sues the publisher of the libel -- the
website or ISP or carrying the defamation.  This at a minimum creates an
incentive to remove the material from the system promptly.

Inside the United States, there are First Amendment and statutory
limitations on that remedy, so you will probably have no damages remedy for
online defamation.

> And yes, I know that defamation law suits are expensive and hard to do.
> But at least the legal remedy is there in principle -- when the author is
> known. But the Wikipedia approach is like someone flooding the mail with
> anonymous defamatory photocopies.

Again, no different than e-mail or newsgroups.  This question was mostly
worked out about a decade ago.  DLB

Dan L. Burk
Oppenheimer, Wolff & Donnelly Professor
University of Minnesota Law School
229 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455 USA
Voice: 612-626-8726
Fax: 612-625-2011
bits: burkx006 at umn.edu

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