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Wikipedia The Courts

Wikipedia Editors Hit With $10 Million Defamation Suit 268

Posted by Soulskill
from the citation-needed dept.
New submitter Andreas Kolbe writes: "Businessman, philanthropist and musician Yank Barry and the Global Village Champions Foundation are suing four Wikipedia editors for defamation, claiming they have maliciously conspired to keep Barry's Wikipedia biography unduly negative. The Daily Dot article includes a copy of the legal brief and quotes Barry as saying, "My page was so ridiculously false and made me sound like a terrible person and people believed it causing deals to fall through. I finally had enough."
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Wikipedia Editors Hit With $10 Million Defamation Suit

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  • Who is that? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @02:22AM (#47312857)

    And why does he matter?

    Seriously, has anyone here even heard about this guy before today? Yank Barry sounds more like an invitation to some ribbing than a name...

    And, and here's the next question, how could this lawsuit fly? Anything short of outright libel is pretty much in the "don't care" area. Last time I checked Wikipedia was a privately owned entity. So, if push comes to shove, whatever is expressed there is an opinion. And last time I checked you're entitled to one in the US, and also to saying it.

  • Re:But is it false? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sg_oneill (159032) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @03:17AM (#47313055)

    Defamation means that the information is false.

    No, it refers to speech that unfairly harms the reputation of someone. Truth is a *defence*, but its not the same thing.

    In most countries a statement being true is usually enough for the complaint not to stick but often a truth being used in a deceptive way can also qualify as defamation. Conversely often "Genuinely held belief" can be a defence for it (although often couple with an injunction to fix the error)

    Heres an example. Lets say Barack Obama has Asthma. I dont know if he does, but lets just pretend for the sake of this example. Lets also say that he really doesn't listen to his doctor and instead of using a preventitive he instead huffs on a ventolin puffer all day. Its something doctors consider poor asthma management and even counterproductive.

    Now heres a defamatory statement: Barack Obama abuses drugs. Assuming the "puffs ventolin all day" fact is true, then this statement is true.

    But its also defamatory, because a "reasonable person" (the usual standard in law) would deduce from the he's smoking blunts and blowing lines of coke. In other words I've unfairly hurt his reputation and created a false representation by telling the truth. And in Britain, and many other countries that would be defamation. But in the US? Judge probably won't even hear the case.

  • RTFA (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @03:44AM (#47313135)

    Once again......

    That's what it looks like today -- after months of editwarring, followed by 2+ weeks of people trying to "fix" it, because of the bad publicity brought by the lawsuit.

    Use the "History" tab yourself. It was an ugly war, and no one else noticed it until Barry made legal threats.

    And oh, BTW, Wikipediocracy people discovered [wikipediocracy.com] that a couple of the guys trying to attack Barry had also been doing COI editing of other Wikipedia articles. In addition, UC Berkeley's "official Wikipedian-In-Residence" Kevin Gorman has been taunting Barry on Twitter. All petty, small-minded bullshit. But typical Wikipedia.

  • Re:Progress (Score:5, Interesting)

    by retroworks (652802) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @04:16AM (#47313225) Homepage Journal

    Agreed. I have no problem with Wikipedia editors being sued. I recently ran across a Wikipedia biography of El Salvador ex-presidente Jose Napolean Duarte which was written atrociously, basically accusing him of being a dictator behind a military coup. I corrected the article, noting he was actually popularly elected (a mayor of San Salvador, not a military coup leader), ousted in a coup, and then brought back in a counter coup, and then again popularly elected. Had to repost it twice, it kept getting "reverted" (it did get fixed but someone has since added "His military regime is noted for large-scale human rights abuses and massacres amongst the civilian population, supported by the Reagan Administration and the Central Intelligence Agency" to the first paragraph). Sure, Duarte was criticized for accepting the invitation of the second coup, but most people feel the human rights abuses were the work of the first junta and those opposed to the Salvadoran land reforms proposed by Duarte. But who has time to fight an idiot editor?

    This could get modded "off topic", I guess, but IMHO Wikipedia should encourage defamation lawsuits against its volunteer editors. The main problem is that people with extremely hostile views edit more perniciously, and moderate editors don't have time to fight about it. Unfortunately, that's a remedy of the rich, not for people who don't have the means to sue for defamation.

  • by Mr. Somey (1200447) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @04:33AM (#47313263)
    I'm not sure the Streisand Effect applies in this case. He's not actually trying to hide unpleasant or embarrassing aspects of his past - what he seems to want is for the article to reflect his own version of those events, or at least to contain his version (or "spin" if you prefer) in some way. And since he's a marginal figure to begin with, he's really in one of those "any publicity is good publicity" situations.

    And these days, among the people whose allegiance Barry seems to value most (i.e., former professional boxers and their fans), attacking Wikipedia is hardly seen as a bad thing to do - just the opposite in fact, and you could probably say that for a wide range of people and professions, especially celebrities. Wikipedia has always been seen by many of them as an illegitimate, irresponsible, self-appointed power-grab by anonymous nobodies - because after all, it is - and the passage of time (and the continued unctuous malfeasance of Wikipedians) has only cemented that impression in their minds.

    It's all rather unfortunate, but also inevitable, given the way Wikipedians often behave.
  • Re:But is it false? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by crossmr (957846) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @04:52AM (#47313301) Journal

    They should be glad they aren't in South Korea.
    After moving here and giving the laws a good read, it's quite interesting.

    Truth isn't a defense here. Simply saying something negative about someone is sufficient for defamation, and the only defense is "public interest". If you can prove it was in the public's best interest to know that information you're okay.

    Further defamation is part of criminal law here. 2 years for defaming someone with a true statement, 5 years for a false statement. There is a separate law for defaming the dead with a false statement.

    Korea also has public insult laws on the books. So if you insult someone publicly so that others can hear it, that's also a criminal offence.

    To a certain extent, the laws are somewhat interesting. they have a "keep your nose in your own business" kind of quality about them. I'm not sure what would happen to a thing like wikipedia if it was hosted here.

  • by aaaaaaargh! (1150173) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @05:11AM (#47313335)

    Yank Barry is a fucking asshole, and the "Global Village Champions Foundation" is a bunch of retarded morons.

    You may quote this entry on Wikipedia in case you need a citation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @05:21AM (#47313355)

    It's not free time. It's just that these organizations already have a PR department.
    If Wikipedia starts to generate what they consider bad publicity it becomes a priority and suddenly they have several 8 hour/day positions available to maintain the page.
    In between the forum posting and Wikipedia editing they can continue to write press releases and other things that doesn't require immediate response.

  • Re:Who is that? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by oobayly (1056050) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @07:07AM (#47313689)

    What was more interesting was reading the comments for that article. Out of the 9 comments, one commented on the Nobel Peace Prize, one commented on show business (I didn't really understand the comment). The remaining 7 were scathing about the journalism, used the standard "well what have you done" argument and questioned the journalists motives. Interestingly enough, all 7 users have only made a single comment each. Clearly that article hit a nerve.

  • by Andreas Kolbe (2591067) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @08:39AM (#47314051)
    One problem is that people will typically read the Wikipedia article first, and allow it to colour their perception. Big mistake if the article is biased to begin with, and a sort of kafkaesque situation for the victim. Wikipedia has known problems in this area, see e.g. Revenge, ego and the corruption of Wikipedia [salon.com] by Andrew Leonard; The tale of Mr Hari and Dr Rose – A false and malicious identity is admitted [newstatesman.com] by David Allen Green; the story of Taner Akcam, Any political filth or personal libel can be hurled at the innocent [umn.edu], by Robert Fisk (originally published in The Independent); or that of Philip Mould, Mayfair art dealer Mark Weiss in disgrace after admitting poison pen campaign against rival Philip Mould [telegraph.co.uk], by Gordon Rayner.
  • by Andover Chick (1859494) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @08:51AM (#47314117)
    Non-profits are being used more and more as to either promote for-profit causes or enrich non-profit executives. This is why major non-profits and college presidents are earning million dollar plus compensation. Global Village Champions sounds like a perfect example of this. Separately, Yank Barry is a convict who did prison time for extortion, now he's trying to use his muscle on Wiki volunteers. How pretty of a picture does he expect?
  • by sandbagger (654585) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @09:14AM (#47314257)

    Bingo.

    I remember once working on a Wiki article about a film that was increasingly in depth and cited various written original scorches, interviews et cetera. A lot of work went into it. One day a kid replaced it all with his undergraduate essay.

    The whole thing.

    Of course we tried a revert but his buddies —all students — have a lot more time to spend on this than others did so naturally they "won". The fanboys basically win at Wikipedia and an MMORPG is an excellent way of summarizing it.

  • Re:But is it false? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @09:28AM (#47314371)

    There's nothing in the Wikipedia article that hasn't been printed in the press about Barry.

    That isn't the standard for determining libel. In the U.S., the standard (for public figures, presumably would apply to Wikipedia entries) is that the information is published with actual malice [wikipedia.org], which, contrary to the term's name, does not legally require malicious intent. Instead, it only requires that those who published the information knew the information was false OR published it "with reckless disregard" for whether the information was true or false.

    In other words, if a media story appeared in the past that accidentally included false or misleading information (which was later corrected or clarified), but Wikipedia's editors insisted on RE-publishing the false information without regard to whether it was true or false (and did so in a reckless or deliberate fashion), they could be guilty of libel... even if the information had previously appeared in another source.

    Further, even if the information is TRUE, it is also possible for a suit to be brought under a false light [wikipedia.org] tort, particularly if true information is taken out of context to make it deliberately misleading. (Also, the implications must be "highly offensive" to a reasonable person.) Many courts look less kindly on false light suits than in the past, but it still can be relevant in some cases.

    I don't know whether either of these is likely in this particular case, but just because someone else has said something about someone in the past doesn't mean you can always publish it without any consequences in the future.

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