Charges against Wikipedia dismissed

A New Jersey court has dismissed defamation claims brought against Wikipedia by an US-based literary agent.

The ruling has been described as a "victory for free speech and user-generated content" by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which acted as legal counsel for Wikimedia, the operator for the popular online encyclopaedia.

In May, literary agent Barbara Bauer filed libel charges against the website after a user-generated Wikipedia entry allegedly described her as "the dumbest of the 20 worst" literary agents with "no documented sales at all".

Foundations for the claims were deemed baseless by Wikipedia's law firm Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, and last month judge Hon Jamie S. Perri, J.S.C. agreed, dismissing all charges.

Wikipedia argued it was immune from liability under the US Communications Decency Act, which asserts that websites can not be sued for online content generated by web users.

It claimed that the article in question stated Bauer's company, the Barbara Bauer Literary Agency, was named one of the 20 worst literary agents by Writer Beware, a blog warning writers of potential scams and fraud.

It also argued that there was no mention of Bauer being "the dumbest of the 20 worst" and that most of the 20 agencies named by Writer Beware have no sales to speak of, but charge writers upfront fees and administrative costs.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Communications Decency Act does not immunize all online defamation charges, but rather requires those making the defamatory comments to be held responsible and not the forums where the statements were made.

The ruling ensures that sites like Wikipedia, Craigslist and other user communities can continue to include user-generated content without living in fear of costly lawsuits.

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