In a victory for free speech and user-generated content, a New Jersey judge has dismissed baseless defamation claims against the operator of Wikipedia. In a recent ruling, the judge correctly found that federal law immunizes the Wikimedia Foundation from liability for statements made by its users.
This case began when literary agent Barbara Bauer sued Wikimedia, claiming the organization was liable for statements identifying her as one of the "dumbest of the twenty worst" agents and that she had "no documented sales at all." EFF and the law firm of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton represented Wikimedia, and moved to dismiss the case in May, arguing that under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, operators of "interactive computer services" such as Wikipedia cannot be held liable for users' comments.
Section 230's blanket protection of sites like Wikipedia does not mean that alleged defamation on the Internet cannot be challenged in court. Instead, the law requires that litigants direct their efforts at the speakers themselves and not the forums where statements were made. This means that sites like Wikipedia, Craigslist, and other online communities can continue to include user-generated content without living in fear of costly lawsuits.
Since it was signed into law over a decade ago, courts across the country have consistently applied the protections of Section 230 broadly, fulfilling Congress' intent to foster online interactive communications. We're pleased to add this case to the list.