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back to article Jimbo Wales: Wikipedia servers in UK? No way, not with YOUR libel law

Jimmy Wales has claimed that he couldn't have founded Wikipedia in the UK because the nation's libel law adds unpredictability and "friction" to hosting the world's largest unreliable collection of factoids. It's an echo of the notorious claim made by Prime Minister David Cameron that Google could not have started out in the UK …

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Stop

It does not matter where the servers are!

To fall foul of UK libel law requires only that one of the people responsible for the site resides in the UK. Where the servers are is totally irrelevant!

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Err, no

For English (really, England and Wales, but pedantry, you know) libel law to apply it matters only that publication takes place in England. The loading into a browser is publication.

Therefore it matters only that a reader of a libel is in England for the libel to have been committed in England.

True, if the servers aren't here, no money is here etc. then winning a case won't do all that much good. But it's still a libel which can be sued for.

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Boffin

Libel

Wales is right that there's a huge difference between libel laws in the US & the UK. In the US, no matter how much some statement may defame another, if the statement is true, it's not libelous. Under UK Law, even true statements can be libelous.

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Facepalm

Re: Libel

Where do you get your misinformation -- Wikipedia?

> Under UK Law,

Libel is only a crime in some of the UK, in Scotland we call it Defamation. However whichever UK court you appear in truth is an absolute defence. Here is a link to an Out-Law article that covers most of the bases:

http://www.pinsentmasons.com/PDF/DefamationLawAcademicFreedom.pdf

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Libel

It's not just whether something is true or not. In this country Libel laws assume you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent, and you can't get legal aid to defend yourself. So you will just get large corporations suing people to stop valid criticisms of them.

Just ask The McLibel Campaign

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Re: Libel

"Just ask The McLibel Campaign"

Private Eye are the experts here.

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Re: Libel

> large corporations suing people to stop valid criticisms of them.

Robert Maxwell managed to suppress exposure of his evil for most of his career with the threat of financial ruin for whistle-blowers. In other cases e.g. deb[ the amount of costs that can be awarded to the pursuer is limited, and cannot be racked up to a level that the defendant cannot afford to continue.

We all owe a lot to Private Eye

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Re: Libel

No, libel laws assume innocence until guilt is proven.

As in, if you say i'm a thief I am considered to be innocent of that charge, and you are considered to be slandering me until you produce proof that your statement is true. If you can't do that because i'm not a thief then that's your lookout.

It would be a stupid system that allowed you to make any claim you wanted without evidence. I can't see how anybody but our newspapers would benefit from a system where you have to prove that you are innocent of claims someone else makes about you.

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Re: Libel

Peter2 - Does this sound like Innocent until proven guilty:

Because of the antiquated presumption of falsity, libel law requires the defendant to do all the heavy work of proving either the truth of their allegations; or that their publication constitutes fair comment; or that they were protected by some form of privilege – such as the absolute privilege of a parliamentarian, or the qualified privilege of some journalists. There is no requirement for the claimant to establish the falsity of the allegation; nor are they required to show that it has caused them any tangible harm or that the defendant has made any allegations recklessly or maliciously.

(Taken from www.libelreform.org)

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Boffin

@Mark 78 Re: Libel

I think you have got the role of defendant and claimant mixed up - this basically says that if you say I am a thief, then I can accuse you of libel on that basis alone. You then have to prove that I am a thief to defend the court case - if I actually am a thief, but you can't prove it, then you have committed libel.

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Re: @Mark 78 Libel

And truth is an absolute defense to libel.

Which leaves the only people wanting significant reform to the libel laws being newspapers and a few internet trolls, as so far as I can see. I can't see why anybody else would want to change the laws on this when they are clearly benefiting us.

I personally think that newspapers fear being hit by punitive damages in libel cases more than they fear being ordered to publish an apology by the press complaints commission. (and that apology will be before page 35 and more than font size 1, honest!)

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Re: @Peter2 Libel

When you say they are "clearly benefiting us" I don't see that.

If I was to say something (which is true, and i have evidence to back it up) about someone who has a lot of money, I would be bankrupted by the current system before it got to court, as I could not get legal aid and it would be very unlikely that anyone would take it on a no win no fee basis.

I think you'll find that under the current system it's not the truth but money that is an absolute defence to libel. Just look at the original example of McLibel a few posts above. They proved a lot of what they said was true, but they lost the case on a few points which they could not fully prove, some of which has been proven since. They were beaten because they were forced into paying for numerous witnesses to travel across the world, and putting their wholes lives on hold for years while it went through the process.

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Re: @Peter2 Libel

So the solution is to allow anybody to make any accusation such as my example of being a thief with no punishment, and it's the responsibility for the person who's innocent to disprove the accusation that they are a thief in a court of law at their expense?

So if a large newspaper ruins your reputation with a baseless accusation and leaves you unable to get a job because any employer googling your name gets a newspaper article saying that your a thief, that's fine and dandy and it's the accused's responsibility to bring a court case and prove that accusations made are baseless? How the hell are you supposed to disprove that your a thief to a standard required in a court or law?!

That would have the effect of allowing any accusation to be made without a shred of evidence being required, do you think that the removal of any penalties for telling lies or fabrications would have a positive or negative effect on the standard of material coming out of the Daily Mail et al?

Common sense dictates that the person making the accusation has to prove it. It's the very basis of our law that somebody is innocent until they are proven guilty.

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Anonymous Coward

It's gotta be better than the US?

Seems like the feds will pull any server or poison root DNS servers to take down anyone they dont like.

Can at least stay out of their reach by hosting in the UK with a .uk domain

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Re: It's gotta be better than the US?

Having just seen the DotCom raid video release today then I can only wonder the outcome if wiki had a entry Hollywood did not like, let alone any fear of the DNS entry.

Does seem a bit odd though that two .uk sites can be covered by different laws mearly based upon the server location.

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However will we get along?

Imagine not being allowed to make unsubstantiated allegations like "Jimbo Wales sucks wet farts out of dead pigeons" without fear of being asked to prove it?!

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Anonymous Coward

[Citation Needed]

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Re [citation needed]

See comment by Robert Long 1, 12:27 GMT. Any question?

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FAIL

Knowhere

I thought that might be a hidden gem, but actually it's a hidden turd. At a first glance, it comes across as a site for sk8tr boyz to vent their teenage angst, and moan about their localities without being informative or helpful. I shan't be giving it a second glance.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Knowhere

"In fact, Britain has had several online encyclopaedia projects that anyone can contribute to. One is the Knowhere Guide, which has been online since 1994. It is archived at the British Library, but doesn't have a Wikipedia entry."

If anyone cared, they could create a Wikipedia entry. The way the article is written, it looks like a complaint, I would think the author had the skills to create an entry for it.

Having taken a look at the Knowhere Guide I'm surprised it hasn't quietly died.

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Anonymous Coward

When Wikipedia's f*cks up, it's never Wikipedia's fault

Spoken like a true Wiki-fiddler

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"world's largest unreliable collection of factoids"

Part of me likes that sentence, and relishes the effect.

The other part checks the Wikipedia pages on our solar system, and science in general, and finds that the sentence does not really apply - at least not until some creationist gets a hold of editing rights.

Then I remember all the hoopla that occurs systematically around any topical subject, and I can't help but feel that it applies perfectly.

In other words, yes, Wikiland still has a way to go before the label "reliable" can be applied.

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Mushroom

Re: "world's largest unreliable collection of factoids"

I don't really care about people, living or otherwise; I often go to Wikipedia for programming references (the articles on the multilayer perceptron and the Shunting-yard algorithm are very good) and the odd science article. I took a look into H2G2 and it doesn't have near the same depth in either; so you can keep your "Wikipedia done right", I'll have Jimbo's Wonderland over it any day.

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Re: "world's largest unreliable collection of factoids"

In other words, yes, Wikiland still has a way to go before the label "reliable" can be applied.

Unlikely, since it's based on UDP*. Building a BGP** layer on top might make it a little better though.

* Unreliable Dictionary Protocol

** Byzantine General Protocol

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Anonymous Coward

Wait...

....they let that douche-bag live in the UK? This is the sort of thing we should be given a referendum on - we don't want him!

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Re: Wait...

Why not? Presumably he pays tax here... and now that I think of it he probably pays tax in the US as well. That must sting a bit.

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It's not that there is libelous material on Wikipedia....

.....it is the fact that if some were put up, Wikipedia could be dragged through the UK courts for something that their editorial model cannot control. It is that potential that prevents Wikipedia from operating in the UK.

Of course, I'm not saying that all the articles are squeaky-clean....

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Re: It's not that there is libelous material on Wikipedia....

"Wikipedia could be dragged through the UK courts for something that their editorial model cannot control."

That's because their editorial model is "yeah, whatever". It's not the law's place to support every lazy business model that comes along (*cough*Googlebooks*cough*Youtube*cough*).

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Our libel laws ARE broken

Say what you like about the Wiki-group (subtly creepy and slightly annoying, IMHO) but they're absolutely right about our dodgy libel laws. When a Saudi businessmen sues a US publisher over his ALLEGED terrorist financing, why on earth would he choose the UK to file the case? Because our libel laws work in his favour, that's why.

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Wrong conclusion

You say that it's " a tacit admission that some of the material published by Wikipedia is legally contentious."

Or it could be that it's only legally contentious in a country with some of the worst libel laws I've ever seen? Hence the statement from Jimmy?

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Anonymous Coward

Not Cambridge

Cambridge is not the first place to build out to:

Try googling "Silicon Gorge":

http://blogs.culture.gov.uk/main/2011/01/bristol_the_uks_answer_to_sili.html

Bristol is where silicon is at, the region has twice the number of silicon designers to Cambridge!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not Cambridge

Is that due to Inmos legacy in some way or another?

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Trollface

Re: Not Cambridge

Maybe it's due to the amount of trolls that live there ?

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Anonymous Coward

Include IMDB in the article

People contributed to that and it was British. This started off in 1990 before Wikipedia was set up in 2001; then Amazon bought IMDB in 1998.

There has been one lawsuit (an actress claiming that revealing her age has affected her career prospects).

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Fair enough, but how can this situation be fixed

Fair enough, but how can this situation be fixed. Firstly does it need to be fixed with regards to libel laws as I'm thinking not. Secondly I wonder why Google could not of started (or somebody like google) in the UK as I fail to see how libel laws could of been a shortcomming for them at the start.

That said I was also under the impression that the Holland was very suited towards privacy and in that may of been a better fit for wiki at the start. Given the pirate bay was a EU entity that could not of started in America then I would say there are pro's and con's and in that each country is unique in what it offers and does not offer in so much that some are helpful and some are not for some and are compeletely reveresed for others.

Also I'd say that bandwith costs and server costs for wiki were far more competitive compared to the UK at the time as well, that in itself is a huge factor I would of thought.

As a aside I was once told by a friend that if you realy want to libel somebody then do it in court as your protected then and that hitting the person was a good way to get your stage to libel them without recourse. Not the best advise all those years back and one I have not used, but does somewhat put the whole libel aspect into focus.

I also appreciete that for the country that we gain more income from libel tourists than we do from any possible wiki tourists we may or may not be missing out upon due to the servers location and with that I can only start to get a grasp of Mr Wales frustration at the question even being asked and is probably comparable to McDonalds being asked why there is no outlet at the north or indeed south poles perhaps.

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Anonymous Coward

Truth hurts

Jimmy Wales is quite correct. Even if the allegation is not false, the cost off fighting the suit in the UK can be ruinous so all the "wronged" person has to have is more money than the other guy. Someone said you a naughty person? Claim a libel and bankrupt them, most people will simply pull the claim (even if ture) as they can't afford the defence.

There is nothing to stop Wikipedia getting sued in the UK, libel tourism is a thriving business here and our judges (like USA ones) love to rule on things where they really should have no say.

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Re: Truth hurts

In practical terms, if they have no assets in the UK there's nothing to be gained by suing them here. Or at least, there won't be if the jurisdiction(s) that they do hold assets under are not willing to kow-tow to UK libel law by enforcing the judgement of a UK court.

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Joke

Re: Re: Truth hurts

But the UK has a bi-lateral extradition treaty with the USA. Jimbo could be sent for to answer questions. You know just like the Feds did for the NatWest three ...

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Re: Truth hurts

Actually, UK rulings = damages recoverable in assets throughout the Commonwealth. But UK libel rulings are no longer recoverable in the US.

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Factoids?

Gee, reading that line one would think the author has Wikipedia and Uncyclopedia confused.

Some articles and editors should be culled from Wiki as they are not authoritative or reliable but to dismiss the WHOLE of it for a few flaws.

Its a decent enough tool for getting a general grasp of a subject. You should complement whatever you read in there with some hard sources. The same thing you should do when you read a paper book. You think non-digital authors don't have biases, prejudices and errors in judgement?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Factoids?

ALL encyclopedias have errors in them. At least with Wikipedia it is always at the back of your mind that what you are reading may not be 100%. So you are more likely to look up the original sources.

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Re: Factoids?

You are right. Seems to me from this and other of Andrew's posts on Wikipedia he has a bee in his bonnet about Wikipedia. Maybe he's a founder of one of the other services he mentions? For my part Wikipedia is a great first hit for some background.

Perhaps there's some truth to AO's allegation that Wikipedia is a cult. But the advantage of that status is it became well known. Network effects [see Wikipedia for definition!] are important in any enterprise: Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Wikipedia. If the enterprise does not have a ground swell it may have many virtues but being the first thing people think of in the relevant scenario is not one of them. We may be intelligent but we have limited on-the-spot recall so need these network effects in order to be productive.

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So basically...

Modest British efforts have remained modest, while a bombastic American pornographer (and the Mail Online) have conquered the world.

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Wikipedia is like any other information source

Anyone who wathes the news or reads the papers should assume that the uncontentious or easy to verify stuff is probably right (lying about england's medal tally, for instance, would be pointless and easy to spot).

The harder to verify something is (eg. Fine points of cutting edge science research or 'he said - she said' points about a person's reputation) and the more controversial (eg. Creationism - however silly it is that the controversy exists) the more careful you should be with the info.

Does that make it worthless? Not to me. Would I rely for a critical decision on anything from wikipedia without verification? No.

Do the presumed flaws in their organisation mean they should shut up about Britain's absurd libel laws? Hell no.

And for the person who said that server location didn't matter because british libel laws claim essentially global jurisdiction the key is that britain would have a hard time enforcing any judgement to gag wikipedia when the servers are abroad.

If they're here? Easy. Uk based servers are unequivocally subject to uk based laws.

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Re: Wikipedia is like any other information source

"(lying about england's medal tally, for instance, would be pointless and easy to spot)."

You've not seen the Daily Express today, then :)

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Re: Wikipedia is like any other information source

I haven't!

I've also apparently forgotten that 'England' aren't competing.

And now you've replied I can't even quietly edit and pretend I never said it.

Embarrassing.

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BS

I am amused to see that the corridor between Cambridge and Old Street (source: Google Maps) passes through Bishops Stortford. There is BS between Cambridge and Silicon Roundabout. Who would have thought it?

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