Legal Issues

by Glyn Moody

Filed Under:
intermediary liability, italy, wikipedia


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.

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  • identicon
    3D Face Analysis, 28 Mar 2018 @ 9:19pm

    Corporations want thr best of both worlds

    Many social media sites (like Craigslist, LinedIn, Reddit and YouTube) will claim that they are just "hosting providers" and not "publishers" who control the data. Thus they are immune to defamation lawsuits. All is good.

    But if a scraper copies user-generated content from those sites, all hell breaks loose. These corporations would sue the scraper for "copyright infrigement" even though they do not control or own any of the user content. They want to sue others claiming that they "own" or "control" the content but they don't want to get sued claiming that they not control any content. They claim control only when it benefits them and disclaim any control when it harms them. Talk about hypocrisy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 29 Mar 2018 @ 12:36am

      Re: Corporations want thr best of both worlds

      No, as usual in these types of comments, talk about changing definitions of things to suit you.

      Nothing about a hosting provider going after misuse of the content they host means that they somehow now own or are responsible for creating the content. Every provider has rules of access, and they will go after those who violate those rules. That's true whether someone rents hosting space to set up their own website from scratch, or whether they use a pre-existing platform.

      The truth is really this - people like you wish that they could go after easy, cash-rich targets when something annoys them, rather than go after the people actually responsible for the content you object to. That's all this is - you want easy results with high payouts, not any form of actual justice or effective policing. That's why definitions like this are important, we want people held responsible for their own actions, not those of random others because you happen to be an easier target.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Mar 2018 @ 11:25pm

    "That suggests the matter is now over."

    It's not over until vampire billionaires say it is, and in this case he is not involved, but anyone of those 7000 could be involved then wiki would be done, over adios, gone for good austa la vista baby, the margin is whim, basically we are all doomed unless we expunge all IP rights, it is abuse of all humans for them to exist.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 29 Mar 2018 @ 7:21am

    Wikimedia is usually quite diligent in fixing wrong stuff that's brought to their attention, usually before it leaves the volunteers that contribute to the article. Inaccuracies and false content will get properly corrected. Maybe this guy is just angry at the truth and want it Streisand? Er, removed?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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