Victory in Italy: Wikimedia wins lawsuit against former Minister of Defense

Photo by Andreas Tille, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Today, we are happy to announce that on Feb. 19, 2018, the Court of Appeals of Rome ruled in favor of the Wikimedia Foundation in Previti v. Wikimedia Foundation. This ruling protects the community editing model and enables the work of all the volunteers in the Wikimedia movement.

In 2012, Cesare Previti, a former Italian Minister of Defense, sued the Wikimedia Foundation for hosting a Wikipedia article he alleged contained defamatory information. Mr. Previti sent a general letter demanding that the article be deleted without clearly identifying what content was defamatory or a link to where it was hosted, and subsequently filed the suit requesting its removal when the Wikimedia Foundation did not take it down.

In 2013, the Civil Court in Rome ruled in our favor. The court held that as a hosting provider, the Wikimedia Foundation cannot be held liable for the content of Wikipedia articles, which it does not control. The court also noted that both the Foundation and the Wikipedia sites themselves provide information about the open and collaborative nature of the encyclopedia.

Mr. Previti appealed the decision, claiming that the Foundation did not just host information created by third parties, but also actively participated in the creation and management of content. The Court of Appeals of Rome has now affirmed the lower court’s decision.

In a ruling that provides strong protection for Wikipedia’s community governance model, the Court once again recognized that the Wikimedia Foundation is a hosting provider, and that the volunteer editors and contributors create and control content on the Wikimedia projects. The Court also made clear that a general warning letter, without additional detail about the online location, unlawfulness, or the harmful nature of the content as recognized by a court, does not impose a removal obligation on a hosting provider like the Wikimedia Foundation.

Finally, the Court took notice of Wikipedia’s unique model of community-based content creation, and the mechanisms by which someone can suggest edits or additions to project content. It found that Wikipedia has a clear community procedure for content modification, which Mr. Previti should have used to address his concerns. He could have reached out to the volunteer editors, provided reliable sources, and suggested amendments to the article,  instead of sending a general warning letter to the Foundation.

As a result of the court’s ruling, the article will remain on the projects, and Mr. Previti will pay the Wikimedia Foundation some of the expenses incurred in defending the lawsuit and appeal.

This ruling is a victory not just for the Foundation, or editors of Italian Wikipedia, but for Wikimedians everywhere, and their ability to make accurate, well-sourced information freely available. Wikipedia is created, edited, supported, and managed by its global community of volunteer editors, contributors, and translators. The Wikimedia Foundation’s status as a hosting provider allows it to provide a platform for these volunteers to share their work with the entire world in nearly three hundred different languages. Decisions like this one, which recognize and reaffirm that status, are important for the growth of open source communities in general, and especially the future dissemination of free knowledge on the Wikimedia projects.

Jacob Rogers, Legal Counsel
Emine Yildirim, Legal Fellow

The Foundation would like to extend special thanks to Marco Berliri and his team at Hogan Lovells, who assisted us with their excellent representation throughout this case.



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