Wikipedia Cleared of Defamation

Lawyer for parent foundation worried about impact of recently dismissed lawsuit

By Jackson West
|  Friday, Aug 7, 2009  |  Updated 2:30 PM PDT
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Wikipedia Cleared of Defamation

Dave Winer

Wikimedia Foundation attorney Mike Godwin shouldn't have had anything to fear from a laughable defamation lawsuit based on a Wikipedia entry.

Literary agent Barbara Bauer wasn't happy about being called the "dumbest" of agents on a list title "20 Worst Literary Agents" posted to Wikipedia.

So Bauer sued the San Francisco-based Wikimedia Foundation, which oversees the website, for defamation -- even though an unaffiliated user of the online encylopedia was ultimately reponsible for creating and posting the item.

The case was dismissed by Judge James Perri of New Jersey's Superior Court based on the US Communications Decency Act's immunity from liability afforded to operators of online services.

And as a University of Santa Clara law professor pointed out, Bauer may have simply proven the poster's point in filing the suit.

However, a lawyer for the Wikimedia Foundation, Mike Godwin, took the lawsuit seriously, and mandated that the article, since deleted and replaced by a shorter version, not reappear.

Godwin should know better -- after all, he was the sage who noted that "As [an online] discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."

In other words, according to Godwin's Law, defamation is practically built into the system -- hence the liability exemption.

Photo by Dave Winer.

Jackson West hopes former literary agent John Hodgman catches wind of this case, as it would make a good Daily Show segment.

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