Wikipedia not liable for libel, rules French court

The Wikimedia Foundation is not responsible for defamatory comments published in its user-generated encyclopaedia Wikipedia, a French court has ruled. The comments had been removed quickly after being notified to the site operators.

Three men sought €69,000 in damages when the a Wikipedia entry identified them as gay activists. A French court ruled, though, that the company that publishes the encyclopaedia cannot be held liable for user contributions. The ruling afforded Wikimedia the same protection enjoyed by ISPs.

“Website hosts cannot be liable under civil law because of information stored on them if they do not in fact know of their illicit nature,” said French judge Emmanuel Binoche in his ruling, according to press reports.

Binoche said that a 2004 French law LCEN (Loi pour la confiance dans l’économie numérique) exonerated the company. He said that he had taken into account the fact that the articles in question had been censored quickly after Wikimedia was informed of it.

The judge said that website hosts were not under any legal obligation to investigate or monitor the information which is published through them.

The court made no ruling on whether the statements were of themselves defamatory.

The three men had demanded that Wikimedia identify the anonymous contributor who posted the article, but the court disagreed.

The men claimed that they had written Wikimedia an email demanding that the remarks be taken down, but Wikimedia denied having received it. The judge found that the material was removed quickly enough once the company received notice of it.

"The decision is very clear and we appreciate the fact the court acknowledges our role as an internet host, rather than an editor," said Wikimedia Foundation chair Florence Devouard, according to press reports.

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