The next SCO suit

The next SCO suit

Summary: Wikis are no better than the people who make them.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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Wikipedia class actionThe SCO suits were an attempt to shut down open source based on the idea that everything is owned, or comes from something that is owned, and so the use of any code requires payment to someone.

While that lawsuit is winding down, a new threat is now emerging. It's a class action against Wikipedia, aimed at ending open source information by demanding that "someone take responsibility" for everything published on the Web.

This is just as much a threat to the Internet as the SCO suits. SCO was about open source code, code that is shared and held in common. Wikipedia is about open source information, knowledge that is held in common.

The "scandal" involving John Seigenthaler gave him far more satisfaction than he would have gotten if he had been lied about in, say, The New York Times. The lie was taken down. Wikipedia apologized, The take-down got more publicity than the original lie. The liar was found and lost his job. 

The aim of this class action lawsuit is not to gain redress of grievances, but to get Wikipedia shut down and (more important) prevent anything like it from ever appearing again.

The solution to the idea that some people lie is two-fold. One part is to use multiple sources, as journalists and students are both taught to do. Don't take anyone's word for truth on faith. The second is to give Wikipedia a business model, something it lacks today, a revenue stream (advertising) that would let it pay its editors, and keep people from burning out.

All that would be stopped in its tracks if this lawsuit were to prevail. The best way to prevent that is for the community to react as it reacted to the SCO suits, by rejecting their premise, by seeing where the greed really lies, and by condemning all those involved (including their fellow media travelers).

Wikis are no better than the people who make them. Deal with it. No warrantee is given nor implied. This is inherent in the open source paradigm. What's true for software should be true for words, too.

Topic: Open Source

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25 comments
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  • Would the New York Times be held responsible in the same situation?

    I believe that they would. Wikipedia has more readers than the Times.

    This is totally different from SCO claims which are probably a last minute act of desperation before the slip into history.

    Brian Chase did not post that on his website, Wikipedia did. This was a simple mistake that anyone could have made? Then why did it take 4 months to get it removed? I can see letting it blow over if the error was pointed out and then immediately removed, but 4 months is nowhere close to immediate. In this case The Times would be held liable and if the courts decide that Wikipedia was wrong then Wikipedia should also be held liable.

    Perhaps Wikipedia needs to be made an example of. Free speech is a great thing if you don't abuse it. If we let anyone freely abuse it then we stand to risk losing it all together.

    Deal with it Dana.
    balsover
    • Not quite the same

      [i]"Wikipedia has more readers than the Times"[/i]

      Yes, but none of those readers would read as much of Wikipedia as they'd read of the Times, certainly no-one could read Wikipedia 'cover-to-cover'.

      [i]"I can see letting it blow over if the error was pointed out and then immediately removed, but 4 months is nowhere close to immediate"[/i]

      It [b]was[/b] removed as soon as the error was pointed out to them (Seigenthaler could have done it himself immediately).

      I agree with your basic sentiment, Wikipedia is ultimately responsible for what is published on their site, but a certain amount of reasonableness needs to be applied.

      I think they just need to increase the level of moderation and increase the level of poster ID.
      Fred Fredrickson
      • Really?

        I don't read the Times cover to cover, I don't even do the crossword puzzle. I guess that makes me illiterate. :) Wikipedia is larger than the Times so it would be more of an effort to do that if someone tried it. That's not really a meaningful comparison.

        >It was removed as soon as the error was pointed out to them

        That is not what I am reading. I did not pull the 4 month time frame out of the air Fred. If he was able to remove it himself and did not do so then I guess that the court will take it into account.

        > reasonableness
        Of course that is what the court is for, to determine who is at fault and if necessary what damages are owed.
        balsover
        • Yeah, really.

          The four month time frame came from when the error
          was introduced to when it was removed.

          And yes, Siegenthaler could have removed it himself. It's
          Wikipedia. Anyone can remove anything, and as long as
          they cite a good reason, it'll probably stay that way.
          Sotek
    • who are you talking about?

      when you say "wikipedia" posted something--exactly who are you
      talking about? The New York Times is a company. A WIKI is editable
      by everyone and is the responsibility of everyone, that means its
      free, and that also means that if you see something that is wrong,
      you should fix it rather than whine about it. The people who need
      to "deal with it" are people who don't understand fundementally
      what a wiki is and how it works.
      earlyadopter
      • Responsibility of "Everyone" == Responsibility fo "no one"

        Someone should always be responsible. In the case of a Wiki, it's the person who posts the information.

        Communities can easily turn into mobs. It can happen in the real world, and it can happen online. I'm not saying Wikipedia is a mob, far from it. But there are plenty of bloggers out there who post destructive misinformation, and cross-link a circulate that misinformation like a mob.

        I'm a huge believer in free speech, but with every right comes responsibility. A person who speaks anonymously refuses to take responsibility for what he says.
        Erik1234
        • anonymous posts

          I think these are two different things- you can post anonymously-
          or contribute to a wiki- and when you don't say who you are,
          people have to take whatever is said with a big grain of salt- its
          throws the responsibility onto the reader- to beleive or not believe
          whatever is said based on what they know to be true- When you
          post as yourself- you are claiming some authority and you are
          taking responsibility for what you say-- it seems to me we need
          both.
          earlyadopter
          • Grains of Salt

            If the general populace understood this there wouldn't be any problem.

            But the fact of the matter is they don't, and anonymous poster can be very destructive without fear of being held accountable.

            Maybe what's required is for the community to rally against people who abuse their ability to post anonymously. I just don't think it will work.
            Erik1234
        • anonymous posts

          I think these are two different things- you can post anonymously-
          or contribute to a wiki- and when you don't say who you are,
          people have to take whatever is said with a big grain of salt- its
          throws the responsibility onto the reader- to beleive or not believe
          whatever is said based on what they know to be true- When you
          post as yourself- you are claiming some authority and you are
          taking responsibility for what you say-- it seems to me we need
          both.
          earlyadopter
      • Someone runs wikipedia, not everyone on the internet

        it doesn't matter if Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse are allowed to post on Wikipedia, they do not run it. The information is not a commentary or satire, it is presented as fact.

        Nothing is free sport. Even free speech has a price. You are the one that misunderstands reality.
        balsover
        • context

          The information on Wikipedia is only presented as "verifiable", not as "truth." if something lacks a source, it should be removed - and is by many vigilant editors.

          wikipedia should be put into context when using it as a resource. primairily it serves as a starting point for further research.

          if a coffee shop puts up a bulletin board, they're ultimately responsible for what goes on it, but you can't sue them if some random person walks by and puts up a poster with libel on it.
          glocks out
  • Technology getting ahead of law?

    I don't think so in this case.

    Clearly someone has to take responsibility for what is posted online, whether it's a Wiki, bulleting board, RSS feed, whatever. The poster is primarily responsible, but the owner and host of the site also bear a significant responsibility just as a newspaper journalist, editor and publisher are all responsible to varying degrees for what is published in a newspaper.

    The site owner is responsible for ensuring ther are enough moderators to enforce control over what is posted, they can't simply allow anyone to publish anything they like. If that means tighter controls on poster ID and verification, then they'll have to do it.

    Incidentally, I really like Wikipedia. I use it a lot and have also posted there.
    Fred Fredrickson
  • The Problem is Anonymity

    People will say and do anything if they think no one knows who they are.

    People posting to public sites, especially ones that anyone on the internet can read, should be required to identify themselves.
    Erik1234
    • No and No

      First off everything you post on WikiPedia is trackable back to an IP address which is can be traced back to you. If you don't think it can be just ask some of the people being sued by the RIAA.

      Second, The United States was founded on writtings of our founders which were published under various such writing the most famos published under the pseudonym of "Publius,".

      Our founding fathers did not envision a press as a huge corperate entity that hides behind lawyaers and rats anyone whom offends Korperate Amerika/Neo AristoKracy out.

      To claim that freedoms our founding fathers envisioned are not freedoms is not only Un-American but is also probably Cummunistic/Facist/ any istic you want.
      Edward Meyers
      • History

        I'm pretty ignorant about history, so anyone reading this would take this with a spoonful of salt, but...

        1. I'm not positive our founding fathers would have wanted people using the techniques they used to overthrow the British to overthrow them. But then they might, they were (and rightly so) a pretty anti-government (or maybe untrusting of government) group.

        2. I don't think our founding fathers envisioned the internet. The internet enables massive amounts of information (or disinformation) to be almost instantaneously distributed for near zero cost. Printing materials costs money and takes time. That's not a quality check, but it does keep people from completely arbitrarily distributing (mis)information to the world.

        I think if the founding fathers felt the right to anonymity was important, they would have included it in the Constitution or in the Bill of Rights. If it's there, please point it out.

        I think this is a much more subtle question of balancing the benefits that anonymity yields against the destruction wrought by those who abuse it. Personally, I think the damage is out-weighing the benefits. If our society was a little brighter and actually took an anonymous posts with a big grain of salt, it would be different.
        Erik1234
        • They Didn't Use It Just To Overthrough The British Govt

          They used it to ratify the US Constition also.

          The Supreme Court Already Ruled on this several times this is just one of the rulings...

          http://www.constitution.org/ussc/514-334b.htm

          "After reviewing the weight of the historical evidence, it seems that the Framers understood the First Amendment to protect an author's right to express his thoughts on political candidates or issues in an anonymous fashion."

          They did include it in the bill of rights by making the press free and by making speech free. You can not have a free press if you must always disclose your sources. Now a court may compell you to disclose your sources under certain circumstances (National Security- EG the press discloses the name of a CIA Operative the source is a high ranking aid in the White House), but that is at the discretion of the courts... but that is also different situation.
          Edward Meyers
          • Clarification

            Ok, let me clarify my point a bit.

            I don't think anonymous speech should be banned. I think sites should require posters to identify themselves, and I don't think an IP address is adequate. It identifies a computer, not a person.

            In the case you cited (thank you for doing that, btw) I agree with the court's opinion, but disagree with the reasoning in Justice Thomas's concurrence. His interpretation of free speech is too broad. Granting full rights to anonymous speech/press would essentially be granting the right to commit slander/libel.

            In addition, when a journalist uses an anonymous source, the journalist is taking a measure of responsibility for the content.

            The spirit of anonymous speech is that it is supposed to serve as a shield against retribution, not as a license to commit libel. Anonymity is a concept that can be supportive of free speech, but it can also be destructive.

            Although I think the founding fathers thought of it as separate, I think the case against anonymous speech logically falls more closely to the accused's right to confront the accuser. Accusations made anonymously can be as destructive to an individual or organization as a criminal accusation.
            Erik1234
          • Re: Clarification

            "I don't think anonymous speech should be banned. I think sites should require posters to identify themselves"

            Doesn't that mean the speech isn't exactly anonymous anymore?

            I think it would be better for sites such as Wikipedia if the source of material was better identified to the reader (whether it comes from an identified or anonymous source). That way people could actually post anonymous speech and we the readers would be in a better position to judge whether it is something we can put some trust in or view with some skepticism.
            sullivanjc
          • Self-policing vs. Government Policing

            If a website chooses to forbids anonymous posting, or privately tracks identities (beyond IPs) in case issues arise, that's very different from the government banning anonymous speech.
            Erik1234
          • A Few Points

            First you are employing faulty logic. "I don't think anonymous speech should be banned."

            At least you are claiming such here but...

            "I think sites should require posters to identify themselves, and I don't think an IP address is adequate. It identifies a computer, not a person."

            So here you are indeed advocating that websites should track and keep a log of the identity of the posters. So you are in fact advocating banning anonymous speech on the internet.

            Second, the IP address was more than enough to identify Brian Chase, the poster of the fake bio. He indded was tracked back through his IP address http://www.smh.com.au/news/technology/caught-red-handed/2005/12/12/1134235996862.html

            The chap who had the fake bio posted was tiffed becuase he went to the ISP and tried to get them to identify him...

            a little background here;

            "This past July, a hardcore pornographer, Titan Media, filed a subpoena against SBC
            Communications seeking the identifying information of 59 SBC Internet subscribers.
            Since that time, Titan has offered a most generous amnesty program: those ISP
            subscribers it suspects of piracy can go to their website and buy porn, and in exchange
            Titan won?t identify them. Gracious indeed."

            This what SBC testified to in congress: http://www.senate.gov/member/ks/brownback/general/FinishedDocs/Tech&Telecom/BrownbackDRMHearingStmnt.pdf

            The DMCA has been abused by several companies, including this company with this buy our porn blackmail scheme, so the ISPs aren't so quick on the draw to hand over the names and addresses associated with IP addresses. The want to see a court order and even then they will try to fight it.

            Third, you are confusing defamation laws with criminal laws. You are also confusing state laws with constitional laws. Constitional laws take precedent over federal laws which take precedent over state laws which take precedent over local laws when in conflict. Defamation laws are state laws. The right to face your acuser in court is a constitional law.

            Defamation laws vary from state to state but in all cases public figures have less protection under those laws than do private citizens. Public figures must prove malice. This chap is a public figure... this is also why someone would write a bio on him.

            This FAQ lays the law out pretty cleanly: http://www.eff.org/bloggers/lg/faq-defamation.php

            Regardless section 230 of the Federal Communications Deceancy Act shields web space providers and hosts anyhow from the content.

            see here: http://news.zdnet.com/2100-9588_22-5984880.html

            The law says you have to go after the person who posted the material and not the web sapce provider. Unless the law is changed Wikipedia isn't liable and wouldn't have to do anything. The fact that they did accomadate this guy shows that they were concerned about it and take defamation seriously.
            Edward Meyers