Democracy Downloaded

A not-so-Fuzzy Zoeller

Posted by joevoeller on February 23, 2007

Allow me to veer away from politics for a bit to discuss this interesting new development in the land of Wikipedia.

Golfer Fuzzy Zoeller is turning to the courts to try and punish the mystery Wikipedia editor who added (allegedly) defamatory material to his entry. According to the AP, “the law” won’t allow Zoeller to sue Wikipedia. And he can’t sue the editor because he doesn’t know who he or she is. So what to do? Zoeller’s lawyer has gone ahead and filed suit against a Miami consulting firm that owns the computer that was used to make the edits.

This will be an interesting case to watch. And it’s a great example of how the law has not necessarily caught up with the digital age.

According to Zoeller’s lawyer, “courts have clearly said you have to go after the source of information.” But what happens when, as is often the case with Wikipedia, the source is anonymous? Zoeller’s lawyers have filed suit against the closest thing to the source they can find. Now it’s for the courts to decide.

But the legal and ethical questions don’t stop there. Let’s assume the orginal source is an employee of the Miami “education consulting firm” that is now being sued. Should he/she be fired? If the company loses in court, can she/he be held liable for any of the losses? Can the company even prove that he/she was the person who made the post?

Sitting comfortably outside the legal crosshairs, Wikipedia seems to be taking a laid-back view of it all. Responding to the case, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales simply says, “We try to police it pretty closely, but people do misbehave on the Internet.” In other words, Fuzzy, defamation might just be part of the rough and tumble of the new digital age. If you don’t like your entry, edit it.

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