Italian Court Rules The Wikimedia Foundation Is Just A Hosting Provider For Wikipedia's Volunteer-Written Articles
from the could-come-in-handy-one-day dept
Many of us tend to take the amazing resource of Wikipedia for granted: it’s hard to imagine online life without it. But that doesn’t mean its position is assured. As well as continuing funding uncertainty, it is also subject to legal attacks that call into question its innovative way of letting anyone create and edit articles. For example, in 2012 a former Italian Minister of Defense sued the Wikimedia Foundation in Italy for hosting a Wikipedia article he alleged contained defamatory information. He had sent a letter demanding that the article in question should be removed, without even specifying the exact page or where the problem lay, and filed the suit when the page was not taken down.
In 2013, the Civil Court in Rome ruled that the Wikimedia Foundation, which hosts Wikipedia, cannot be held liable for the content of Wikipedia articles, which it does not control. Unsurprisingly, the former minister appealed, and the Court of Appeals in Rome has just handed down its judgment, which is in favor of the Wikimedia Foundation:
In a ruling that provides strong protection for Wikipedia’s community governance model, the Court once again recognized that the Wikimedia Foundation is a hosting provider, and that the volunteer editors and contributors create and control content on the Wikimedia projects. The Court also made clear that a general warning letter, without additional detail about the online location, unlawfulness, or the harmful nature of the content as recognized by a court, does not impose a removal obligation on a hosting provider like the Wikimedia Foundation.
the Court took notice of Wikipedia’s unique model of community-based content creation, and the mechanisms by which someone can suggest edits or additions to project content. It found that Wikipedia has a clear community procedure for content modification, which Mr. Previti should have used to address his concerns. He could have reached out to the volunteer editors, provided reliable sources, and suggested amendments to the article, instead of sending a general warning letter to the Foundation.
According to the post on the Wikimedia blog, the article about the former minister will remain online, and Previti will pay the Wikimedia Foundation some of the expenses incurred in defending the lawsuit and appeal. That suggests the matter is now over. The ruling is good news in other ways. As well as recognizing the validity of the the community-based creation model, it also affirms that the Wikimedia Foundation is a hosting provider, not an organization that controls the articles themselves. That’s important in the context of the proposed EU Copyright Directive, currently under discussion. Article 13 of the Directive would require upload filters on major sites that are actively involved in the publishing of material. The Italian Appeals Court ruling may help to shield Wikimedia from such an impossible requirement if it is still present in the final version of the EU legislation.