Google, Wikipedia Sued By Politician Confused About How The Internet Works

from the nice-work dept

In the US, when someone threatens to sue a site like Google or Wikipedia because of postings made by its users that are defamatory, you just point them to section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that makes it clear that service providers aren’t liable for what their users say — a law that makes a lot of sense. Courts have been getting faster and faster at throwing out those types of cases. Unfortunately, it sounds like Canada doesn’t have a similar law (or case history). In Vancouver, a former Green Party staff member is apparently suing Google, Wikipedia and a Canadian political website over postings on all three that he felt were defamatory. The guy is quoted as saying: “I’m determined that the people who have acted so irresponsibly will find that there are consequences.” That’s nice… but if that’s the case, why isn’t he actually suing those responsible? He’s suing the tools providers. Does he sue the phone company if someone says something bad about him over the phone? There’s simply no reason to sue the tools providers instead of those actually responsible. The end result, of course, is that he’s only going to get a lot more attention drawn to the fact that a lot of people don’t think very highly of him and expressed that opinion in online forums. That hardly seems likely to improve his reputation.


Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Google, Wikipedia Sued By Politician Confused About How The Internet Works”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
61 Comments
Geeb says:

Not sure about the phone company analogy

Phones are connection-oriented, one-to-one (usually) communication channels. You establish a connection with someone you want to speak to, with the phone company providing a platform to make this possible.

The user-generated content issue is about using a platform to broadcast information to multiple people, at whatever time they choose to receive it (connectionless, in the lingo). A much better analogy would be the home-made cable shows that are apparently popular in the US. (Well, I’ve seen it on Wayne’s World, so it must be true.) Even more so if they’re then made available on demand, as mainstream shows are on cable here in the UK.

If Wayne said that XXX blows goats on his cable show and, crucially, that cable show wasn’t being broadcast live (i.e. the company had the opportunity to edit it), who would get sued? I would guess that this has happened, so someone should be able to answer this one.

If it’s Wayne, then that’s a much stronger analogy. If it’s the cable company, at least you’ve got something else to complain about!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not sure about the phone company analogy

In the case of the cable show, there are decency laws that require them to censor it, yes, even on cable they can’t say “fuck.”

The internet could be described as a ‘delayed many-to-many communication channel.’ Delayed, because it has to be stored to be accessed, and many-to-many, because the interactions of many people affect what many people see, both through links to other sites which affect Google PageRank and through editing pages like Wikipedia. Other than that, no, there is no reason Google or Wikipedia should be sued. In order to control what is on their respective sites their companies would no longer be profitable in the extreme. With the billions of pages on Google and millions of articles on Wikipedia, not to mention the fluid nature of both (changes are rapid and always occuring, with MANY edits per second on Wikipedia alone) to police that would be intractable. This is similar to phone networks, in order for a major phone provider to censor everything they would have to monitor possibly millions of calls.

Logic Dictates says:

Re: Not sure about the phone company analogy

Again, lousy analogy. They’re not suing the company airing the cable show (website), they’re suing the company linking to it.

Your weak analogy would be better served if you agree that it is appropriate to sue “TV Guide” for the goat blowing remark.

Geeb says:

Re: Re: Not sure about the phone company analogy

> They’re not suing the company airing the cable show (website), they’re suing the company linking to it.

Ummmm…. comments on blogspot, an article on wikipedia and a Canadian forum. Sounds like content more than linking.

Still inappropriate to shoot the messenger, of course, but it’s not *quite* as stupid as sueing someone for a link.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not sure about the phone company analogy

Whether or not the phone connection is 1 to 1 conversation, that is not the point of this. It’s an issue of responsibility. Wikipedia can not be held responsible for every single defamatory article within it’s database, it’s like trying to hold America accountable for a stupid American tourist, it’s ignorant. Not only that, but as the article notes, he’s wanting to punish those who are responsible, yet he’s going after the wrong people.

On top of all this, he’s a canadian =P. That just makes it all worse.

Gunna says:

Absolutely the way people should think, logically. A tool is a tool…period…end of discussion. Canadians are just weird, but here in the states we have some pretty weird thinking ourselves. I heard something similar going around the legislative branch concerning guns. They want to hold the manufacturer responsible for crimes committed with the tool. We are a free people, lets be free. Haven’t our young men for decades died for us to have it. Let’s be free that’s all I’m saying.

Adam Geffner says:

The real person to sue

Everyone…

You’re really missing out on the real culprit here. Everyone should just sue Al Gore, since HE invented the internet!

Ok.. in truth, that perceived claim is a bit bogus anywhere, as he never really claimed to have “invented” the internet, but said

“During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.”

Anyhow… Sue him, sue everybody! And waste more taxc payers time and money in the process… Just great. Stupid lawsuits.

Canada Rules says:

Re: Tools

Fuck you Tools…
Don’t blame me for that comment.
Blame techdirt for publishing this article which allows idiots like you and me to share our opinions on a free and open forum.
But then again, by your comment about Canada, I take it you are an American…and therefore do not a whole hell of a lot about anything.

Brad Eleven (profile) says:

Not sure about the phone company analogy

Some anonymous coward volunteered this useless and inaccurate information:

In the case of the cable show, there are decency laws that require them to censor it, yes, even on cable they can’t say “fuck.”

Really? And where are these? Hint: Not in these United States.

There is no censorship, per se, in the US. The FCC can fine broadcasters after the fact, IFF they receive complaints. That’s it. The FCC does not act in the absence of complaints regarding broadcasting standards.

As for the cable shows, I can see how local decency laws could be used as a threat to local cable providers. I can even see a local cable provider caving in–or claiming that these decency laws are forcing them to self-censor.

No way these would stand up in court. Common carrier argument wins every time. It’s an issue of scale: A common carrier can’t afford to police the content, even if it’s small, because this prevents it from growing–and providing a necessary service.

That is, a common carrier isn’t just an entity with a lot of traffic for a lot of customers. The traffic has to be deemed as necessary service–thus the common carrier’s efforts to police the content would impair or interrupt the service.

Finally, censorship is never, ever required in the US. See also Freedom of Speech. The only legal censoring is done by the content provider, period.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not sure about the phone company analogy

“There is no censorship, per se, in the US. The FCC can fine broadcasters after the fact, IFF they receive complaints. That’s it. The FCC does not act in the absence of complaints regarding broadcasting standards.”

Actually, the FCC has zero control over cable television. Tehy can’t even fine cable. If Cartoon Network wanted to have one of it’s characters scream fuck at 4 in the afternoon, it could, and the FCC could do jack to stop it.

The FCC only has jurisdiction over BROADCAST channels (read: those picked up with a television antenna.)

The reason cable networks don’t air certain words comes down to self-censorship, not any government mandate.

ThreeToedSloth says:

Re: Re: Not sure about the phone company analo

And the fact that if Sponge Bob screamed the f-word at his retard buddy, cartoon network would probbly be slapped with a class-action lawsuit by 28,000 parents.

“My poor 12 year old child was traumatized! He’d never heard that word before, and we’ve had to take him to therapy because of this”

yeah… right!

Jacket says:

Responsibility...

The thing that made me laugh about this whole thing is that this Canadian dude said, [para’d] “the people responsible for this need to be shown it’s wrong.”

The people responsible for the statements are the ones who posted them, ffs.

As to the analogies, the way I see it is this:
It’s the same as suing a nightclub for allowing riffraff in, who then start a fight with you. If the club-staff didn’t do enough to stop the ruckus once they were alerted to it, *then* I suppose there’s a liability. Even then, you’ve got to prove who was at fault to determine who gets rightfully kicked out.

That would kinda be the point in suing the people who made the statements in the first place. Once they’re proven to have made libellous statements, *THEN* you can remove the content. Until then, why would the service provider censor something which, until that key point, may not be libellous?

Man A: That guy blew a goat.
That guy: No I did not, that’s a lie.
Man A: No it’s not, ‘s truth.
That guy: Prove it, or I’ll sue.
Man A: Prove you didn’t.

You make the call…

The Dukeman (profile) says:

similar issue

When an article like this one appears on this site, it always reminds me about the man who has been suing a women’s revenge web site claiming that incorrect and defaming data about him has been posted in a public forum. What gets overlooked in many of these cases is that the web sites generally refuse to identify the members that post these comments, so he cannot sue them. While the part of his suit that holds them liable for the content has been thrown out, he has persisted because the site still refuses to provide the data he needs to sue the person at fault: the user that posted the comments. This issue has been glossed over by many “news discussion” sites in order to get quick discussions going on the ‘stupidity’ of the man for suing the wrong people.

goodsport says:

Do lawsuits ever work?

Other than making lawyers rich and defendants poor, does suing a site for dissemination of misinformation ever benefit the plaintiff. It was like that old joke where Pres Johnson wanted people to accuse his opponent of zoophilia. They responded that of course he did not do it…Johnson replied I just want to get him on TV denying it. Once they associate someone with a crime true or false that may be all people know about the person. So I ask again- does it really work in this guys favor to elevate so called ‘misinformation’ to where he is associated with it? There are numerous examples out there- swift boat ads (without substance or proof), Clinton’s Whitewater fiasco (where he was cleared), Bush’s so called lying about WMDs (when everyone else -both parties, believed the same reports and voted for the war but were somehow not called liars), 9/11 conspiracy ideas that defy physics, you name it – once you plant that idea in people’s heads that is all they link together where even when it was proved utter hogwash people remembered it and to some degree associate it. I think this is the worst thing this guy can possibly do for his career.

Little Worm (user link) says:

Crookes has truths to hide

Crookes famously fails to indentify any factual errors in what he claims to be libel. He also loves to threaten bloggers with lawsuitas for merely having a hyperlink to a site which he claims has libel on it, though he does not say what that libel is. In another case he filed in BC (yes, he is busy) he actually is suing in part for linking to a site, which links to a site which he says has libel on it somewhere. Yes, that’s TWO hops.

Libel law in Canada is a mess which heavily favours the plaintiff. And, most iimportantly, there are no penalties for abusing the law.

By saying what I did above, Crookes could very well send this site a legal letter demanding that you erase this comment and post an apology (he does this often). If you refuse to do either, and even if you did, he could then file a lawsuit anyway, irritate you for a year or two, and then back out. He could even take you all the way through trial, lose, and merely pay _some_ of your costs.

In a case Crookes filed last year, one of the defendants was recently released from the case (Warren de Simone) by the judge because he was innocent and did not belong in the suit.

Crookes penalty? Crookes had to pay half of the poor person’s costs.

Half?

The problem Crookes has is that while he did a good thing — he lent the GPC lots of money — he also bargained his way into a position of having a lot of unelected power in the Party. He was in a complete conflict of interest in that he was managing many aspects of the Party, able to influence how the Party spent its money, while also having a pecuniary interest in the Party. That is a big no-no, and caused a lot of talk. His response? Sue people until they regret discussing the matter.

If we learned anything from Adscam, it is that the governance of political parties is a matter of public interest.

Sorry about being anonymous, but I am a chilly little worm.

Erton Sadlamdna (user link) says:

this is about political free speech, not about who

Here’s some other perspectives on this story.

The issue really isn’t whether the host bears liability. Not once they have been notified, anyway, and exercised some moderation powers, as most of the defendants here did. In that case they’ve taken it on themselves.

The real issue is whether, if unsatisfied with the moderation, the individual who feels wronged (or pretends to) can proceed to sue the moderators (despite having accepted their intervention) and get identifying information about everyone who’s expressed a political opinion.

If they can, there’s nothing to prevent China or Russia from filing similar suits. We have no problem presumably with handing over IP numbers of people breaking actual criminal laws, but thin civil cases? It exposes every global dissident.

To really understand this case and how insidious it is, you have to look at the actual nature of the content. It’s all politics. The “gang of Crookes” are not accused of stealing anything, they were accused of taking over a political party undemocratically.

http://openpolitics.ca/GPC+Council+Crisis

http://uncrooked.pbwiki.com/the%20lawsuit%20documents

http://p2pnet.net/story/12037

http://technorati.com/tag/Wayne+Crookes

If Crookes gets everything he wants, that’s the end for any serious political debate on the net. Not just in Canada but anywhere a BC libel suit can compel service providers to hand over identiyfing information.

N. M. A. Tode (user link) says:

more lawsuits!

Update: Crookes has now sued Michael Geist, a Canadian legal scholar who criticized his suits as a threat to freedom of political speech in the Toronto Star, and Chris Tindal, who was Crookes’ roommate at a Green Party convention and wrote a column on the controversy. Both simply for linking to openpolitics.ca where the full story of Crookes’ involvement in the Green Party of Canada is told in gross detail.

cracky says:

the gang now includes Harper

A lot of people seem to be assuming facts about this case. Here’s the full story, from yet another article on this. Seems the lawsuit has done nothing to hide the case or the comment.

http://yawiki.org/proc/Wayne_Crookes

Meanwhile the Yahoo suit was also thrown out since, despite being the largest single donor ever to a political party that is most popular in BC, Crookes could not find one single person from BC willing to say they saw the Yahoogroups post which was private. Tells you how many good and grateful friends he made bringing this party into existence, which suggests his critics may have some point.

Anyone who runs a forum or wiki and wants to protect them selves from abusive use of outside-the-US English speaking countries’ laws should probably read this analysis from UK that explains how to set up policies so you can use the “Reynolds defense”
http://uk.openingpolitics.org/index.php?title=Reynolds_defense

To show how truly idiotic and anti-democratic libel laws are in Canada, the Prime Minister Stephen Harper has filed another one of these political libel suits against the official opposition party to shut them up in a bribery case. Here’s what the suit is over. It looks like typical political stuff.

“Harper knew of Conservative bribery”
http://www.liberal.ca/story_13642_e.aspx

The Liberals haven’t taken it down so they are standing by it.

No need to provide the other side of the story, because if the guilty party responds with a libel suit instead of the truth, you can be absolutely sure that the story is exactly as it was presented by his opponents. He’s guilty as hell, and it’s the opposition’s job to catch him. Let’s hope the judge says so.

Apparently this happens all the time in Canada. Wikipedia says that this “political libel” suit is legal *only* in Canada.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/political_libel

David Kessler (user link) says:

Suing sites that host libel

It is PUBLISHING a libel that is the tort, not writing it. Can a newspaper that publishes a libelous letter weasel off the hook by claiming that they didn’t WRITE the letter but merely published it?

And before anyone responds by saying that with websites the process is automatic – rather than volitional – I would ask the following question: does anyone FORCE those websites to post comments automatically? No? Then they remain responsible for what they publish just as newspapers are.

Calton says:

Wikipedia is a piece of garbage

I am sick of Wikipedia. They have high priced lawyers and are so far ahead of their victims, because this is the deal. Their own administrators write most of those bios. If a victim writes to them about the falsehoods, even writes to them dozens of times, they just ignore the victim. No, they are not going to give the victims the names of the posters, and they are most assuredly going to have their own administrators rub salt in the wound with more lies about the victims.
Wikipedia is just a forum for big business to put the little guy out of business. Any business can go on and make up any story about the competition. There is no morality and no social conscience in the offices of Shepard, Mullin, Richter and Hampton, their attorneys.
They are not concerned with the damages that will occur to our society, nor the high unemployment rate worldwide, caused in part by their scheme to make everyone poor. When you damage an individual’s reputation, all the vendors who served that individual will be getting less business from him because he is making less money, and the trend just goes in a downward spiral. All Wikipedia cares about is getting donations from big foundations and their officers all have chalets in the South of France.
I don’t recommend suing them. I recommend breaking their legs–it’s cheaper, and all you need is a baseball bat. Forget the lawyers, they are losers,and the judges are paid off. Break their legs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Responsibility...

actually an accurate analogy would be if a person sent an anonymous letter to the editor to the new york times about you giving head to 57 goats in central park that later gets published. you proceed to sue the newyork times because they published the false information in a media that they curate(and thus are legally responsible for the content on).

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »