A daily routine for my colleague, Leah Rice, and for me is to visit www.mashable.com and a few other social media and public relations sites. We’re always seeking our daily dose of social media and PR updates. Rice brought to my attention an article by Mashable writer, Ben Parr titled, “Wikipedia to Add New Level of Editorial Insight.” Parr’s blog post referenced a similar article, “Wikipedia to Limit Changes to Articles on People,” byNoam Cohen of The New York Times.
Wikipedia is one of the 10 most popular sites on the Web. Unlike the standard encyclopedia, written by expert sources, Wikipedia articles are entirely community-built, often without restrictions. About 60 million Americans visit Wikipedia every month. In fact, some people no longer reference the encyclopedia but instead choose Wikipedia as a source for information (something, however, that I do not recommend as one’s only form of research).
Parr and Cohen discuss how within the next few weeks the English language version of Wikipedia will begin to add a layer of editorial review on articles about living people. The new restrictions are called flagged revisions. Soon, before anyone is able to update the Wikipedia page of a living person, a senior editor will have to approve the change before it goes live.
Cohen’s article provides multiple reasons why this new level of editing is so important for Wikipedia.
Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, has this to say about the revision stage of Wikipedia: “It is a test. We will be interested to see all the questions raised. How long will it take for something to be approved? Will it take a couple of minutes, days, weeks? We have really become part of the infrastructure of how people get information and there is a serious responsibility we have.”
What lawyers should ponder is whether this new level of security will affect Wikipedia’s potential legal responsibilities. I read a 2008 article byJohn Timmer titled, “Judge puts defamation lawsuit against Wikipedia to the sword.” In this case, the Communications Decency Act protected the online resource from defamation liability for content its users posted.
According to intellectual property attorney, Kim Jessum of Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, Web sites are usually off the hook for libel and copyright infringement lawsuits when third parties post content. This usually includes comments posted by readers to various Web sites and updates to wikis.
However, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, does not specifically address wikis as they did not exist in 1998. (Note: the DMCA does not override libel laws.)
It will be interesting to see how the approval of Wikipedia revisions by senior editors plays out in the legal arena.
Gina F. Rubel, Esq., is the owner of Furia Rubel Communications Inc., a public relations and marketing agency with a niche in legal communications. A former Philadelphia trial attorney and public relations expert, Gina is the author of Everyday Public Relations for Lawyers and the co-author of 6 Essentials for Success in Business and Life. Gina and her PR firm have won numerous awards for legal communications, public relations, media relations, strategic planning, corporate philanthropy and leadership. She maintains a blog at www.ThePRLawyer.com and is a regular contributor to The Legal Intelligencer Blog. You can find her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/ginafuriarubel or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ginarubel. For more information, go to www.FuriaRubel.com.