[Foundation-l] Interesting legal action

Mike Godwin mnemonic at gmail.com
Fri May 20 22:00:15 UTC 2011

David Gerard writes:

Over the last several years, the UK libel laws have been a strong
> consideration in WMF carefully maintaining *no* local business
> presence in the UK. The legal environment here is toxic for anyone who
> doesn't have to put up with it.

I've discussed this precise issue (informally) with Twitter's general
counsel, and we agree that the exposure for Twitter in the UK is
significantly different than it would be for the Wikimedia Foundation. I
mean, of course you can libel someone in 140 characters -- we've all seen it
happen. But the role of Twitter in relation to tweets is much more like
(say) a phone company's role than it is like WMF's or even Google's.

Twitter is an excellent company to put this analysis to the test -- it has
the legal resources to challenge a libel lawsuit (or a hundred, or a
thousand), and the role it plays as a communications medium is, if not
unique, then certainly pretty unusual.

I'd look at legal precedents involving SMS/texting in the UK -- that may
tell you what Twitter is thinking.

The risks for WMF in the UK (and, indeed, throughout the EU as a function of
UK membership in the European Union) remain pretty significant, largely for
all the reasons that Wikipedia is something different from Twitter.


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