Wikipedia wins landmark privacy lawsuit in France

A French court has ruled that Wikipedia could not be held responsible for content posted by its users in a landmark ruling for the Internet giant, officials said Friday.

Three plaintiffs were each seeking 69,000 euros (100,000 dollars) in damages for invasion of their privacy after their homosexuality was revealed on the website, which is written and edited by thousands of anonymous contributors.

But a judge rejected their demands in a ruling reached on Monday, arguing that “the Wikimedia Foundation’s responsibility … has not been clearly established,” a decision welcomed by the foundation.

“The decision is very clear and we appreciate the fact the court acknowledges our role as an Internet host, rather than an editor,” said Florence Devouard, chair of the Wikimedia Foundation’s board.

Founded in 2001, Wikipedia is an “open-source” Internet encyclopedia, which is to say anyone with access to a computer can edit it. The Foundation’s task is to work out ground rules and editorial policy and raise funds to pay for IT investments and development projects.

Devouard said the contested information was added anonymously to a Wikipedia article before being “quickly withdrawn, even if it remained accessible for a while through the site’s records.”

One of the plaintiffs “sent an e-mail which we never received before turning to his lawyer,” she said.

“When we are informed of this type of mistake we always try to react in the following hours to withdraw such information,” said Devouard, who is based near the central French city of Clermont-Ferrand.

With eight million articles and counting, in 250 languages from English and Arabic to Tagalog or Wolof, Wikipedia says it is used each month by more than 100 million people.

Although its accuracy is reportedly on a par with the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Wikipedia has also faced a mounting battle against misinformation and information vandalism.

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