Wikipedia v. Bauer
By Lisa Burns
On June 6, 2008, the Superior Court of New Jersey will hear Wikipedia’s argument to be removed from the lawsuit Barbara Bauer Literary Agency vs. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. (“Wikimedia.”) Ms. Bauer has sued Wikimedia for defamation and interference with prospective economic advantage.
According to court documents, statements were published on Wikipedia referring to Ms. Bauer as, “The Dumbest of the Twenty Worst,” and that she has “no documented sales at all.” The plaintiff asserts that Wikimedia was informed of the false and defamatory statements, but that Wikimedia refused to remove the statements from Wikipedia.
Wikimedia claims that it cannot be held liable for the publication of the article on the Wikipedia website or anything contained within it, because of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 of the act states, “Operators of Internet services are not to be construed as publishers (and thus not legally liable for the words of third parties who use their services).” Wikipedia claims it qualifies for protection under the CDA. Wikimedia also asserts that the claims should be dismissed because they are barred by the first amendment. According to the deposition, the court must decide whether the statements are defamatory.
The plaintiff asserts that Wikimedia published the statements, but did not create or develop the statements.
According to a complaint filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Ms. Bauer claims that the statements about her on Wikipedia are false and defamatory, and that Wikipedia refused to remove the statements from the site, despite the fact that the founder of Wikipedia has stated publicly that the website is accountable and mistakes are removed in minutes.
The case against Wikipedia is raising eyebrows across the world; publications in England have been covering the case since January. Defenders of Wikipedia do not believe the online encyclopedia needs to take responsibility for the disparaging remarks made about Ms. Bauer on its website because Wikipedia did not write the statements; they only published them. Defenders of Barbara Bauer believe that Wikipedia should be held responsible for the damaging remarks and further state that Wikipedia does have editorial control.
Wikipedia is one of the twenty-two defendants Ms. Bauer is suing for defamation, tortuous interference with prospective economic advantage and conspiracy to defame. At this time, Ms. Bauer and Wikipedia declined to comment on the case.