Could Wikipedia get sued?

I remember reading a comment on the National Review’s group blog of one of their writers (I don’t remember who) either taking umbrage at Wikipedia’s entry on them, or on one of the other writers. (S)He then said something along the lines of, “maybe someone with a thinner skin should sue their asses off.”

Which brought up an interesting question: if someone didn’t like what Wikipedia said about them, would that person be able to sue anyone? If so, who? The writer responsible? The administrators? The owners of the bandwidth?

(I know, I know, you can FILE a suit almost any time for any reason… I mean, sue and have a halfway reasonable chance of winning.)

IANAL but concievably Wikipedia could be sued for libel if certain criteria were met. Anytime a website has moderators who monitor content posted by users, that site becomes a de facto publisher of material, and could conceivably be held responsible in court for the contents. The problem is proving libel. It rests on the allegedly libeled party to prove their case, and that can be very difficult to do.

There’s some good information about all this at this website.

In Wikipedia, though, each page has a history and every single change can be traced back to an IP address, if not a real name. An IP address can be traced back to an ISP, and ISPs keep logs of who was assigned which number when.

Does that help Wikipedia any?

It doesn’t let them off the hook if they exercise any control over the content. If people can just post willy-nilly all day and Wiki never touches it, not even to correct spelling errors, then I think they are off the hook.

But any dabbling at all, and they become the publisher, not just the host.

At least, that’s how I read it, but as I said IANAL. (I’m a snowboarder.)

One of the defenses for a libel suit (or at least an action that will reduce any damages against you) is if the ‘publisher’ promptly makes a correction when informed of the false statements, and gives them equal prominence as the original statements.

Given the nature of Wikipedia, anyone (including the libeled person themself) could go on there and post a ‘corrected’ version. And it would be just as prominent as the original version.

That the person did not do that, but chose to file a lawsuit instead, would probably impress a Judge unfavorably.

good point, t-bonham

Only if the subject of the article is allowed to have the final word, which is unlikely. I saw a case where someone was trying to change an article about themselves and all it did was start a series of reverts where other people kept putting back the original version.

And of course, the fact that Wikipedia is not exclusive to the United States is a point that seems to escape a great many people. The libel laws of other nations are generally different from those of the US.

As I said, every change is trackable to a specific person (or at least to a specific machine controlled by a specific person). The payed Wikipedia staff doesn’t get any special treatment in this regard.

The Nation Review
wanna sue for

ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

that is a short list. As I understand it, there are no paid staff members at Wiki. Free software, donated hardware and a lot of dedicated volunteers. I am not certain of this, but that is what I remember reading. :smiley:

The fact that the publisher is potentially liable does not automatically absolve the originator of the remarks. I was merely pointing out (some of) the criteria that would need to be met in order to sue Wikipedia, which is what the OP was about.

Snowboarder Bo: Understood. I was simply reiterating what is probably a circumstance unique to Wikipeida: The absolute trackability of individual changes and their association with individual people/machines.

rbroome: I thought some people got money through the Wikimedia Foundation. Anyway, it’s tangental to my point.