back to article Wikipedia sued for publishing convicted murderer's name

A man who served 15 years for the gruesome murder of a famous German actor is taking legal action against Wikipedia for reporting the conviction. Attorneys took the action on behalf of Wolfgang Werlé, one of two men to receive a life sentence for the 1990 murder of Walter Sedlmayr. In a letter sent late last month to Wikipedia …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Streisand Effect

    Hah, they are going to love the beautiful Streisand effect that is already coming to bite them back.

    I probably would never have heard of this disgusting pair of criminals.

    Now I am perfectly aware that some piece of scheisse Wolfgang Werle and his half-brother Manfred Lauber were the ones who gruesomely murdered Bavarian actor Walter Sedlmayr.

    Go ahead and sue me, mofos.

  2. Thomas Glover

    I'm confused...

    He was convicted, Wikipedia merely stated that. What possible law could they have broken?

  3. JohnG Silver badge

    Optimistic lawyers

    "As your article deals with a local German public figure (such as the actor Walter Sedlmayr), we expect you are aware that you have to comply with applicable German law."

    When connecting from Germany, the English Wikipedia site appears to be hosted in the Netherlands, which has not been subject to any German law for more than sixty years.

  4. Arctic fox
    Paris Hilton

    Grauniad problems?

    Streisand surely?

    Paris because she knows all about Rs

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Looks like he is unrepentant

    Part of the punishment for doing wrong is being treated like the bad guy... because he is the bad guy... I suspect (and hope) the German courts will see that as ridiculous as I do. If anything I wish the German courts would put him back in jail since it seems he didn't learn the first time around.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Public record

    Last I heard, the law in most countries states (roughly) that once an individual is convicted of a crime, their name as said convict becomes public record and can be published in the press or other factual publication.

    True, Wikipedia do use the 'factual' moniker in it's loosest possible interpretation, but merely stating a fact that's in the public domain anyway can hardly be against the law, can it?

    Paris... coz she'd be confused too.

  7. Anonymous Coward


    so I can take it as read that you're happy to condone the internet registration of convicted sex offenders (as happens in certain US states)?

    I find it a bit untenable to compare state repression to an an individuals right to privacy (blast! I knew I should have avoided studying ethics). I'm afraid I just can't find an acceptable reason for this. Straw Man - maybe you're just trying to make the commentards think?

    Example: Authoritarian state hiding online evidence of it's crimes to it's citizens, or, the entire world.

    Example: A convicted offender who seeks a quiet life after having served their time for an offence.

    Do you really beleive that there's a similarity before the two? Or do you truly beleive that they should be weighed at the same level? Really? How many El Reg staff have...I dunno...drunk and disorderly convictions involving scaling Nelson't column while pissed? Fancy those up online for anyone to see? *After* the shower-based fun in the clink? And with Wiki-images? even if they blur your face (heh, regretting that tattoo now are we)?

    Come on Dan, sort it out.

    And here was me thinking that for any society to be liveable in there had to be a distinction between absolute privacy and complete freedom of information. If you're responsible for oppressing or killing millions or "your" citizens then fine. You ain't gonna get much privacy anyway. But you do seem to infer that a criminal act dictates who you are for the rest of your life, in addition to waving a "complete freedom of information" card to justify surpassing legislative and penal process. I doubt he was released without a hell of process...but hey, you work for the Reg. Obviously you know best ;).

    Anyhoo...a justification would be nice.

    PS. GO: 'coz' I know when I check tomorrow half the comments will be along the lines of "hangings not good enough for them".

    *Wishes there was a "wrong way go back" icon"

  8. Ole Juul Silver badge

    A method whereby . . .

    Perhaps they have a patent on the facts of this case.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    private vs public

    before he killed someone he was a private individual, but if you kill someone (particularly someone in the public eye) & get found out and convicted by no stretch of the imagination can you be considered a private person anymore. even if said conviction was getting on for 20 years ago

  10. Anonymous Coward

    oh, wah, wah

    I murdered someone and now i want my privacy back. well, yeah, it was some years ago, and i'm not denying i did it, but what the hey; if Paris can be a virgin again, i can be innocent, too.

  11. Beanzy

    He's a convicted criminal.

    The fact is he's a convicted criminal who committed a murder. If people need to ignore this to facilitate his rehabilitation, or give him the benefit of having served his time, then they should do so with all the facts and not be blind-sided by ill thought-out laws which put his future ahead of the truth or others right to be fully informed.

    A nonsense law-suit which should not just be thrown out but hopefully lead to a revision of the local law in question.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Conviction "spent"?

    I believe that in Britain public records of convictions are wiped after a period (fifteen years?) in order to accommodate rehabilitation. Of course, he spent that period or most of it in prison, and may still be restricted as an ex-felon (parolee?), but in principle the "public record" defence of the publication may be shaky. Of course the "local jurisdiction applied to international forum" aspect still pertains.

    The point about spent convictions is sometimes made anecdotally as preventing the obituary of some much loved family matriarch mentioning her conviction for prostitution during WWII.

    I am not a lawyer, this is not advice and you have not been charged for it.

  13. Optymystic

    Closet Justice?

    It is difficult to see how a system of justice can fulfil its functions if its processes cannot be recorded and publicised. That is why courts normally conduct their affairs in public and are deemed to have departed from a principle of open justice when they do not as when they shield identities for child protection or alleged national security reasons

    So I guess those arguing for a right to privacy overriding Wikipedia's factually correct and freedom of speech defence would appear to be arguing that there is a time when Wikipedia can do this and a time when it cannot, perhaps at the end of the sentence period. This could be done but it does not sound very practical. My view is that the plaintiff has a simple solution, if he wants privacy. He can change his name so that he has a different name from that murdering scrote who committed the awful crime. If he insists on hanging on to his name I cannot see how he can be very sincere about wishing to make his personal history private. After all Wikipedia is not publishing his name address and telephone number.

    In the UK the issue revolves around the public's right to know where paedophiles live. We can see how that is a difficult balance between the right of an individual to create some kind of life after a sentence, the public cost of protecting them and the right of the public to have information about known risks.

    The Queensland bent politician case demonstrated the irrelevance of what country something is hosted in and in the cloud it is no longer even meaningful to say where information sits, so the what jurisdiction question is fairly irrelevant.

  14. Anonymous Coward


    Surely it would be easier for Wolfgang Werlé to change his name if he wants privacy? If he didn't want the name Wolfgang Werlé to be associated with murder, then Wolfgang Werlé shouldn't have murdered somebody.

    Perhaps "Wolfgang Streisand" is available?

  15. Flugal

    Don't mention the war!

    The Nazis are private citizens now, so it would be wrong to mention any crimes they once did.

    Also..."Famous German actor" isn't that a contradiction in terms?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    What about the freedom of speech and the ability to have censorship free Internet? Far more important than a convicted murderer's individual right to anonymity I would say.

    Of course this is nothing to do with financial gain either as the Oct. 27 cease-and-desist letter, couldn't possibly demand compensation for “emotional suffering.” Oh wait - it does.

  17. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    The victim is still dead

    I am quite sorry that Wolfgang Werle and Manfred Lauber are unhappy about being convicted criminals, but I believe that Walter Sedlmayr is even more unhappy about being dead.

    Nothing can change being dead, so I fail to see why being a murderer should be ignored.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    @ Perikles

    Nice one - attacking a strawman with ... a strawman. Your parents must be so proud.

  19. Narlaquin

    @AC - oh, wah, wah

    >> I murdered someone and now i want my privacy back. well, yeah, it was some years ago, and i'm not denying i did it, but what the hey;

    You are Glenn Beck and I claim my £5

  20. Apocalypse Later


    There is no such thing as bad publicity. The Streisand effect works both ways. This guy will shortly have his own reality show.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    bloody hell.

    Not everyone on the planet has your stupid laws.

    Stop trying to get us to obey them

    Free speech is a nice idea as long as its coupled with responsibility.

    Your bloody silly laws allow Neo-Nazi and KKK hate speach and similar.

  22. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    As of today...

    ... Google reports about 890,000 hits for Wolfgang Werlé.

    Nice try Wolfgang!

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not a new story?

    a quick search shows that this was case was an issue back in late 2008.

    Because of the way wikipedia stores the intermediate revisions the debate seems to be on two topics

    1) do these people need to be named in wikipedia

    2) do the revisions of the article where they were named have to be deleted from view - to some extent rewriting history.

  24. David Lee


    If i make comments on the interweb about a German i am suddenly subject to German law? Ridiculous!

    How about if I where to mention someone who was convicted in Germany for murder but who is British, a random example being the actor Leslie Grantham of East Enders 'fame' who murdered a German taxi driver in 1966.

    However, how soon before that becomes a reality in European law? I remember there was talk that under some new EU laws a person commiting an act in one country that is legal could be arrested and deported to a country where that act is not legal.

    (sorry for being was a while ago i read it and I havent had morning coffee yet!)

    However, lets not mention the prominent German murderers from the 1940s...

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a load of nonsense

    This guy is too old for a Mary Bell Order. No-one over 18 deserves this type of permanent anonymity, and German law is wrong to grant it. British law has its flaws (eg the recent nonsense with Trafigura), but this lawsuit has to be resisted by Wikipedia at all costs.

  26. Pete 2 Silver badge

    free speech ? first amendment ??

    One thing to be clear about - this only applies to a tiny minority of the world's population. Something like 5% (measured by headcount). Even then, that 5% is still restricted in the type of speech that is considered "free" and it also varies within different parts of the country. To bleat on about how other parts of the world have their own sets of rules is such a parochial attitude.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here's a question

    If Wolfgang Werlé were to change his name, would Wikipedia be allowed to publish his new name (which arguably has nothing to do with what happened in 1990)?

  28. technome


    Eleven comments and only one of intelligence

    Thank you Perikles.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Future life ... severely impacted

    "rehabilitation and his future life outside the prison system is severely impacted by your unwillingness to anonymize any articles dealing with the murder of Mr. Walter Sedlmayr with regard to our client's involvement,"

    Well - luckily Wolfgang Werlé didn't impact on Mr Sedlmayr's efforts at a future life.

    Wait .. what?

  30. Doug Glass

    Bad Call

    He should have been sent to Texas for proper "rehabilitation".

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Perikles

    So the convicted murderers have rights - but so does everyone else. Their right to privacy might be in conflict with public interest e.g. the rights of their neighbours to know when they are living next door to a convicted murderer. As it happens, i used to live in Erding, where Werle lives. German law may allow identities of criminals to be hidden in this fashion but thankfully, that law doesn't apply worldwide.

    What is funny: Werle's lawyers who sent the cease and desist letter are called "Stopp and Stopp".

  32. Juillen 1


    I've no problem with Wikipedia mentioning a name that is in the public record (i.e. convicted of a crime, etc), and associating that name with that activity (that is, after all, history).

    Where I'd draw the line is if they started putting their personal details, such as address and phone number online; this is where a matter of record is differentiated from one of those insidious registers that NuLab are so proud of.

    If you get to have your name removed from public record by action of lawyer, that's simply rewriting history to suit politics; a lie. Which has no place in a site that at least (sometimes) attempts to be a record of events.

  33. lukewarmdog

    On the other hand

    If he wins.. all of us can rest easy knowing that whatever crimes we commit now will not come back to haunt us in the future.

    Mines the one with bits of the wife in the pocket.

  34. Anonymous Coward

    Re: Wolfgang Werlé, convicted for the murder of Walter Sedlmayr

    I read this story about Wolfgang Werlé, one of two men who convicted in connection with the 1990 murder of Walter Sedlmayr, and I could not agree more that Wolfgang Werlé, who received a life sentence for the murder of Walter Sedlmayr, ought to have his name, Wolfgang Werlé, immediately expunged forthwith from any print or electronic media whatsoever in which the name Wolfgang Werlé, the name of one of the murderers of German actor Walter Sedlmayr, is mentioned in conection with the death of Walter Sedlmayr, the man murdered by Wolfgang Werlé, who was later convicted of the killing of Walter Sedlmayr.

  35. Mike007

    @Perikles Sea S

    I think you need a fair and balanced approach - there's a difference between reporting something because its newsworthy/noteworthy and reporting something just because of whatever twisted justification you have for vigilante action (for example those lists of offenders that are published by the yanks for the sole purpose of encouraging additional unlawful punishment)

    take a more common example, let's say you know someone called Alice who served a few months for assault, take 3 example situations:

    1. the local newspaper mentions the conviction on the day it happened in a small note in some side column in the middle of the paper - relevant minor local news, perfectly fine reporting of facts

    2. you happen to be talking to someone on the subject of living conditions in prisons (perhaps talking about another news article about how prisons are like hotels?) and you say "oh Alice served a few months a while back, she might know just how nice it is in there" - it's relevant and non-malicious, perfectly fine

    3. you start posting leaflets through all of Alice's neighbours letterboxes telling them they have a violent criminal who has served time for assault living next door to them - thats completely out of order (this is basically what some police forces are doing with publishing those lists of people who have served their time and been judged safe to live in the community and released)

  36. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Americanization (sic)

    "latest example of a party reaching halfway across the globe in an attempt to deprive the world of content that may or may not violate the laws of a single jurisdiction"

    You mean the way the USA invariably does?

    "If such actions succeed, they will largely gut free speech rights such as those guaranteed by the First Amendment,"

    Assuming that the First Amendment is relevant which assumes that the article is indeed "published" in the US. Or maybe it's held on a mirrored server in another country where this amendment isn't legal - or is that another case of the USA trying to export its own laws to other countries?

    Article written like a true American, sigh :-(

  38. Steven Jones

    Next in Line?

    Presumably The Register will now be in line for a threatening letter from this bunch of lawyers.

    It would be nice to know if there is any truth that German law does enforce the suppression of historical facts like who was convicted for murder or if the lawyers are overstating the case. On that same issue of airbrushing historical records, does this same German law enforce the retrospective censorship of historical records - would an online archive of media reports from the period also have to be censored?

    The more you go down this line, the worse the implications.

  39. Ralph B

    What's the Glenn Beck angle?

    Is this the right place to examine the vicious rumour that Glenn Beck was actually responsible for the murder of Walter Sedlmayr? I don't claim to know the truth -- only that the rumour floating around saying that Glenn Beck murdered Walter Sedlmayr should be discussed. So I'm going to do my part to try and help get to the bottom of this.

    Why won't Glenn Beck deny these allegations? I'm not accusing Glenn Beck of murdering Walter Sedlmayr - in fact, I think he didn't! But I can't help but wonder, since he has failed to deny these horrible allegations. Why won't he deny that he actually killed Walter Sedlmayr?

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    war criminals

    The logical extention of this privacy argument would be that war criminals (naci, serbian etc), after serving their sentences, could demand that their names should not be mentioned in connection of the crimes committed.

  41. Frank Bitterlich

    What a surprise...

    ... another lawyer who doesn't understand the internet. And I'd risk a guess to say that the lawsuit wasn't the idea of Werlé but rather of his lawyer.

    I wish them good luck, especially with the upcoming lawsuit "Werlé vs. The Internet Archive".

  42. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge


    "Nice one - attacking a strawman with ... a strawman. Your parents must be so proud."

    For some reason, that conjures up an image of a new character in Tekken.

    Ready... Fight!

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    @ AC "Surely"

    Unfortunately, in Germany, changing your name is close to impossible, unless you have a name that may seem very close to a four letter word.

    For instance if you name was Wolfgang Ficker (I think everyone knows the English version) this could be a reason, Wolfgang Werlé, apart from the fact that it looks French (which in reality should be a valid reason... SCNR) is not and there is virtually no way you can do this in Germany.

    But I do agree, that eve nthough I have the utmost repect for the Germany law (being a Kraut myself), but if someone gets convicted of a crime of this magnitude, it should not be an issue to have the name mentione in the public media.

    The strange thing about this though...

    Even though the trial records are for public viewing, it is not permitted to publish it in the mass media.

    I suppose they want to try to avoid slander this way. because once you are a person of public interest, this all changes drastically....

  44. ShaggyDoggy

    German laws

    yes they have lots of laws preventing the, erm, re-publication of their history, can't imagine why

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The punishment is supposed to fit the crime

    Wikipedia is indirectly extending the criminals punishment beyond his sentence. If you get arrested for possessing a small amount of pot when you're 15 but 20 years later, the first entry when I google your name is a record of your criminal behaviour, I image you'd be a little upset.

    <waits for billions of point-missing commentards whinging about pot possession versus murder>

  46. Thorsten

    @Thomas Glover

    Under German law, you shouldn't print the full name. German reports on the murder would usually list him as "Wolfgang W.". "Usually", because there are exceptions, e.g.

    And since I'm not a lawyer, I'm just as confused as to when (or whether) it's ok to print the full name...

  47. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart


    Soooo.... this is just the trivial prcursor to much biggrt things, a german wants all mention of a crime he commmited expurged from the public record, soon Adolf Hitler will be known as the man who buit the autobhan in Germany.

    If you can't stand the heat, don't do the crime

  48. DavidK

    Can't Wiki just tell them

    to refer to the reply given in the case of Arkell v. Pressdram?

  49. Steven Jones

    @AC 12:10

    The point that you are manifestly missing is the general one of the right of the State to censor the public record. Of course it is open to the legal system to decide what enters the public record in the first place,. There is a reasonable case for juvenile offenses being kept secret (which they are in the UK and many other regimes), in which case they never reach the public record in the first place, but remember the adage "not only has justice got to be done, it has to be seen to be done".

    Go to a local library in the UK, look up the files of local newspapers (whilst we still have those) and you will find court cases going back through history. Of course nobody is much interested in minor convictions (unless you make yourself a public figure), but in any event, if it is information that is part of the public record, rather than what might reasonably be considered private information, then tough, live with it.

    None of this is any reason to allow the publication of new personal data about a convicted individual. For instance, the publication of , addresses, telephone numbers, new photographs and so on where there is no public interest. Once a person re-enters private life then there are issues of privacy and secutiry that apply, and certainly those who actively seek to persecute individuals beyond what the legal system deems to be a fit punishment need, themselves, to be answerable to due process. But that is a world away from censoring the public record which is exactly what this is about.

    Jennifer Granick has it about right on her EFF blog.

    "At stake is the integrity of history itself. If all publications have to abide by the censorship laws of any and every jurisdiction just because they are accessible over the global internet, then we will not be able to believe what we read, whether about Falun Gong (censored by China), the Thai king (censored under lèse majesté) or German murders. Wikipedia appears ready to fight for write once, read anywhere history, and EFF will be watching this fight closely. "

  50. Graham Marsden


    > so I can take it as read that you're happy to condone the internet registration of convicted sex offenders (as happens in certain US states)?

    I suggest you look up the actual meaning of "Straw Man Argument" because this is a classic example.

    That Wolfgang Werlé was convicted of the murder of Walter Sedlmayr is a matter of historical fact. It happened, it was recorded, full stop.

    What you are implying, however, is that Wikipedia mentioning this is the same as the German Authorities now publishing his name and address so that anyone can check where he lives, which is nonsense.

    Should the Germans go back through all Court Records, newspapers, media broadcasts etc and redact the name of every criminal whose sentence has been completed because they are now a "private individual"?

    I don't think so.

  51. Gordon861

    Don't Mention The War

    Next they will be telling people to remove all mention that the Germans tried to invade all of Europe in the 1940's because they have served their sentence now.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE:Conviction "spent"?

    Spent convictions just mean that (1) You don't have to fess up to them on things like job applications (although anything requiring a CRB will require you to list spent convictions) and (2) until spent a conviction will be held against you if you are convicted of something else.

    For reference: in the UK any conviction resulting in a prison sentence of greater than 30 months will *never* become spent. I do not know how things work in Germany though.

    However, whether spent or unspent the matter has still occurred. To AC 12:10 - Yes if you have been done for pot possession 30 years ago you might be unhappy about it being mentioned on a Google search but hey, you did it, you got caught *it happened* so just man up and deal with it. Which is exactly what the murderer Wolfgang Werle should do. Except he murdered someone. Which is worse than smoking pot. To those of us that don't read the Mail that is.

  53. copsewood

    Wikipedia, organisation and offices

    An organisation that doesn't want to abide by the laws of a country shouldn't locate offices and provide employment there. Then someone living in Germany would have to sue Wikipedia based on law where Wikipedia is based; if Wikipedia have no Germany office there is nowhere to serve the papers within the jurisdiction of German law. Perhaps if Wikipedia wants a German language edition they can license the rights to the name to a local organisation which would set site policy based on law within the German speaking country where they operate,e.g. Austria or Switzerland. If the German language edition organisation isn't responsible for the English language Wikipedia they can't be sued over the publication policies of another organisation which grants them a trademark license.

    This all suggests to me that Wikipedia shouldn't be a single organisation.

  54. Dazed and Confused Silver badge

    Removal from the public record

    What after fifteen years they go around all the libraries and burn all the old news papers in case there are court reports in them?

  55. Mike Richards Silver badge

    Beautiful phrasing guys

    'The dispute is the latest example of a party reaching halfway across the globe in an attempt to deprive the world of content that may or may not violate the laws of a single jurisdiction. If such actions succeed, they will largely gut free speech rights such as those guaranteed by the First Amendment, '

    The irony of that section just keeps on giving...

  56. david 12 Bronze badge

    I support the Germans

    At what point does the NAME of offender become relevant? Only at the point where the blood-thirsty crowd wants to be right bastards.

    And now a bunch of Britishers and Americans are insisting on their "right" to know the identity of a murderer in jail half-way around the world?

    Of course, I'm the odd one who believes that evil is done by people like us, not by the "evil other", the politicians, the jews, the gypsies, so I believe that more evil is done by the mob after making those people wear yellow stars and pink triangles.

    And just a point: "The Register" is not disinterested here. Like all of the media, "The Register" reports stories. Respect for individuals doesn't hurt me: it does hurt "The Register".

  57. dsdsd


    I do not see this case as a deformation of character because they were sentenced to life in prison for murder. Being sentenced for murder is self defamation. Werle brought this all on himself because he committed a crime. It is truth that they were sentenced to life in prison and it doesn’t matter if they think they are innocent. I don’t think we should have to hide an act of murder to the public. I think it is valuable information for the public to have access to, and this is one example of why the First Amendment was put into place. The United States and Germany have very different views on this matter but since Wikipedia is based in the United States they do not and should not respond to this request made by Werlé’s lawyers. Floyd Abrams a prominent First Amendment lawyer in the United States said in a New York Times article “is easily, comfortably protected by the First Amendment.” I think that if this type of information is concealed it is dangerous to the well being of the general public because they are unaware of what these people have done.

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