Raue LLP successful against Wikipedia

Raue LLP successfully represented the internationally renowned linguist Prof. Alexander Waibel in a dispute against the Wikimedia Foundation before the Berlin Regional Court (Case No. 27 O 12/17). The subject of the lawsuit was the German-language Wikipedia entry about Prof. Waibel, which contained false claims about him.

In its landmark ruling of 28 August 2018, which has become non-appealable, the Berlin Regional Court ruled that the Wikimedia Foundation, as an indirect infringer, is liable for the unlawful infringement of personality rights. To support factual claims, it is not sufficient for a Wikipedia entry to merely refer to television programmes or press articles in which the claims were first made or further disseminated. The decisive factor for the classification of a source as reliable is not the user guidelines of Wikipedia – according to the Berlin Regional Court in the oral hearing – but the rules established by the courts, according to which only reports from privileged sources, such as communications from authorities or recognized press agencies, can serve as evidence of an assertion. In particular, if the person concerned has denied an allegation, it may no longer be presented as an established fact in Wikipedia. The fact that the Wikimedia Foundation, as the operator of the platform, does not create the content itself and therefore cannot determine whether the authors have fulfilled their duty of care in their research is – according to the Berlin Regional Court – at their expense due to the structure of a free encyclopedia chosen by them. As soon as the Wikimedia Foundation becomes aware of a violation of personal rights, it is obliged as a host provider to prevent such violations in the future.

The plaintiff in the proceedings, Prof. Waibel, is Professor of Computer Science at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (CSCE) in Germany and at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Pittsburgh, USA. He is also Director of the International Center for Advanced Communication Technologies (InterACT) at both universities. His research interests include speech recognition, language processing and language translation.

The entry in the online encyclopedia “Wikipedia” – according to the operator Wikimedia Foundation the largest encyclopedia in the world – contained the incorrect claim that Prof. Waibel had researched on behalf of American secret services, in particular for the American government program Total Information Awareness. Prof. Waibel has repeatedly publicly opposed these false allegations, which were broadcast for the first time in the ARD programme FAKT. Nevertheless, the Wikimedia Foundation refused to remove the false factual claims from the Wikipedia entry.

(31 October 2018)