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German court says Wikimedia is liable for article contents after they're published (updated)

Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
November 27, 2013
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The Wikimedia Foundation positions Wikipedia as a hub for unfettered knowledge, but it's now obligated to police that content in the wake of a newly published German ruling. Stuttgart's Higher Regional Court has determined that the organization is liable for Wikipedia articles. While Wikimedia won't have to screen content, it will have to verify any disputed passages and remove them if they're known to be false. The court isn't telling Wikimedia how to handle this verification, although the legal presumption of innocence will still apply. We're not expecting a chilling effect on Wikipedia given that takedowns will only be necessary in a handful of circumstances. However, it gives Wikimedia's moderators an extra level of responsibility -- they'll now have to pull some content quickly to minimize the chances of lawsuits.

Updated: Wikimedia has clarified the ruling. The court sees Wikimedia as a service provider that, on a basic level, isn't liable for content. However, the site will only maintain its immunity so long as it pulls any content that allegedly violates German laws. If it declines, it risks opening itself to legal action.

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