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Wikipedia sued

Technology for Lawyers

Published: October 11, 2013

So I taught college for a few years. I told each class before it started that if any student cited to Wikipedia as a source for any paper submitted to me, that I would fail them for the course.

Not just the paper. The whole course. That’s what I think about Wikipedia.

So now a lawyer in D.C. is suing to have the online “encyclopedia” divulge the name of an editor that she, the lawyer, is accusing of posting false information about her. The editor is fighting the name disclosure under D.C’s anti-SLAPP laws.

SLAPP, for those who don’t know, stands for “strategic lawsuits against public participation.” Anti-SLAPP laws are considered privacy measures designed to keep litigants from revealing anonymous Internet posters, and to give people who believe that they are being sued over protected speech an avenue to an early dismissal.

The Wikipedia editors, who remain anonymous, lost a motion to dismiss under the city’s anti-SLAPP laws, and is trying to appeal. The plaintiff lawyer is trying to have the appeal dismissed as interlocutory.

The lawyer, Susan Burke, had sued anonymous editors who she believed had posted defamatory language about her. She had represented plaintiffs in a civil lawsuit against Blackwater, Inc. (now known as Academi LLC) over the deaths of several people in Iraq, a case that was settled in 2010.

While that civil suit was pending, a criminal case was also filed against Blackwater. The criminal case was dismissed in 2009.

In 2012, an anonymous editor changed Burke’s page to conflate the two cases, according to the complaint, which was filed after Burke couldn’t get any satisfaction dealing directly with Wikipedia.

After Burke corrected her page, another anonymous editor repeatedly changed her page to reflect that allegedly false information. This second editor was traced to a Starbuck’s in California. The first editor is fighting a subpoena, and the second is not.

The case itself will turn on the vagaries of D.C’s anti-SLAPP law, but the principle of fighting against inaccurate Wikipedia articles in court may start a precedent. Or, at least, I hope it does.