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Pro golfer sues over Wikipedia entry

Pro golfer sues over Wikipedia entry

"A warm fuzzy" - Golfer Fuzzy Zoeller is creatively suing for the name of the editor of his entry.

Wikipedia is a fascinating creation. It contains millions of articles, and allows them to be edited live like open-source software to share information across the globe. Of course, that power can sometimes be abused - and that's exactly what pro golfer Fuzzy Zoeller is saying about his entry.

Apparently, one article writer took a little liberty with Fuzzy's past, talking about how the golfer was deeply involved in drugs and alcohol. The paragraph, which has since been removed, also discussed him abusing his family - a claim which both he and his family deny. Of course, it would be one thing if he were just claiming his own innocence - but Mr. Zoeller has no criminal records even hinting at these types of activities. For all intents and purposes, the claims are baseless.

Wikipedia, by its very nature, has a pretty bulletproof legal standing just in case things like this occur. In fact, it's impossible to sue the site for what its users post. However, Mr. Zoeller's golf money has been spent on some pretty slick attorneys - they first chased the ISP for an IP address of who edited the paragraph into the entry. With that in hand, they're suing the company that it came from (Josef Silny & Associates, a Miami education consulting firm) to find out just who added the information to Zoeller's Wikipedia profile. That person could then be liable for a pretty serious slander and defamation of character suit.

It has been assumed many times that because Wikipedia itself is bulletproof, that those editing the articles are by nature safe themselves. However, legal standing has always given Wiki that security by saying "it is the responsibility of the poster." It looks like now might be the time where that is really put to the test.

Have you got a thought on the suit? Let us know in our forums.

14 Comments

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Havok154 26th February 2007, 12:58 Quote
My feeling is, if you want to be in the "limelight", you should expect slander and defamation. Therefore, unable to sue over it. Likewise, being a celebrity means you may have paparazzi following you every second of every day. If you are going to flip out on these people because you have no privacy, then you shouldn't be allowed to be a celebrity or pro anything.

At most, he should just be able to request the entry be removed and ask for a public apology to be linked on the wiki entry for a certain amount of time. No monetary compensation or criminal charges.
DougEdey 26th February 2007, 13:08 Quote
Of course Wikipedia aren't going to be sued.

And I'll be surprised if the person who did it wasn't caught.
mikeuk2004 26th February 2007, 13:30 Quote
Wont hold up. Stupid thinking about getting money for something bad said about you on the internet.

So if I say hes an idiot on here, is he going to sue me :)
mclean007 26th February 2007, 13:50 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Havok154
My feeling is, if you want to be in the "limelight", you should expect slander and defamation. Therefore, unable to sue over it. Likewise, being a celebrity means you may have paparazzi following you every second of every day. If you are going to flip out on these people because you have no privacy, then you shouldn't be allowed to be a celebrity or pro anything.

At most, he should just be able to request the entry be removed and ask for a public apology to be linked on the wiki entry for a certain amount of time. No monetary compensation or criminal charges.
So because he happens to be a professional golfer, he deserves to have his privacy invaded and frankly quite horrible stories spread about him? Let's not forget - wikipedia is not some trashy gossip magazine. It is a well respected (albeit secondary) source of information, and many of its readers accept as gospel everything they read.

Fair enough, publicity *****s like Jade Goody, who chase fame for its own sake and out of greed, and achieve it through shameless self-publication, are being hypocritical if they later turn around and complain when they are rounded on by the very people who handed them their success. I have very little sympathy. Similarly, premiership footballers who behave like thugs, or who cheat on their wives or are done for drink driving, speeding etc. and have their faces splashed across the papers as a result deserve everything they get.

But, from what I can see, this guy has been victimised via wikipedia purely because he is a successful golfer who has earned modest fame and fortune as a result. He isn't a courter of controversy, has kept his nose clean, and (while he has to accept that being recognisable means paps will want to take photos and that, as a result, he will be watched to an extent) has the same right to privacy and to fair treatment as you and I. There is no counter-argument.
mclean007 26th February 2007, 13:52 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mikeuk2004
Wont hold up. Stupid thinking about getting money for something bad said about you on the internet.

So if I say hes an idiot on here, is he going to sue me :)
The guy is being a bit of an idiot, and has certainly taken this out of proportion. I would suggest that he should be satisfied with removal of the offending material.

There's a lot of difference, however, between saying someone is an idiot (which is a personal opinion to which you are entitled), and saying he is a drug abusing alcoholic wife beater. Any newspaper can call someone an idiot, but if they suggest he has been involved in criminal activity, or make specific allegations about his past, then there is a definite cause for a libel action.
quack 26th February 2007, 13:56 Quote
Well said mclean007.
Meanmotion 26th February 2007, 14:53 Quote
Good on him. It's a pretty f'd up thing to do and i think if they stand any chance of catching the perpetrator then they should pursue it.
Lazarus Dark 26th February 2007, 17:45 Quote
Unfortunately wikipedia is often misrepresented as a source of facts. Don't get me wrong, I go there all the time, especially to find out specifications for various technologies and standards. I find it is generally very accurate when it comes to tech. But for anything which can be disputed, political, religious or relating to known or influential persons, it should be taken with a grain of salt. Particularly a well known creationist teacher that I am fond of. His wikipedia article is heavily biased and distinctly antichristian and anticreationist. It really pissed me off. But what are you gonna do? The wiki community is generally leftist and biased.

So this guy should just get a life. Wikipedia is not fact. If anyone believes it is, they are uneducated and possibly of low intelligence. May as well sue the tabloids for misrepresenting you to all the uneducated welfare-sponging people who read that crap. Cause that always works, right?
mclean007 26th February 2007, 18:14 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lazarus Dark
But for anything which can be disputed, political, religious or relating to known or influential persons, it should be taken with a grain of salt. Particularly a well known creationist teacher that I am fond of. His wikipedia article is heavily biased and distinctly antichristian and anticreationist. It really pissed me off. But what are you gonna do? The wiki community is generally leftist and biased.
Now no-one deserves to have their religion or beliefs mocked, but don't you think this is just symptomatic of the fact that wikipedia is a repository of knowledge, not somewhere to write works of fiction? I think the wp articles on creationism and creation/evolution debate are pretty even-handed, given the enormous weight of scientific evidence on the one side, and the treacle of unfounded dogma on the other.

The wp community is very much about collating and storing knowledge, and my experiences of the site are very positive. You say wp users are generally leftist and biased, but I would strongly disagree. Wp users are generally reasoned, intelligent individuals who consider their points of view and are able to corroborate them with evidence. There is, of course, a bias towards scientifically demonstrable information over pure hypothesis, but that is no more than a function of the information itself - certain things are much more readily supported than others. For example, would you expect a wp page about the theory that the earth is flat and stationary and the sun, moon and stars revolve around it to carry the same weight as one about the factual properties and relationships between the heavenly bodies as we know them to be?

If by 'leftist' you mean free-thinking rather than dogmatic, egalitarian rather than prejudiced, in favour rather than against individual liberty, and seeking to extend rather than prohibit the availability of knowledge, then you are bang on the money in saying that wp users typically exhibit those traits. The internet generally has always been a place where these values flourish. But who wouldn't want to be a part of that?
TGImages 26th February 2007, 18:15 Quote
My wife and I are being sued by a local business on grounds of defamation and product disparagement. What we did was, essentially, in an opinion forum, state why we feel they are deceiving consumers about the source of their product (which they have yet to deny). We also exercised 2 of our 3 first amendment rights (in the US) by peacefully demonstrating against their practices. Long story short... we've learned alot about defamation and what are known as SLAPP lawsuits.

From our research, most cases (upwards of 90%) rule in favor of the defendants, and for those that don't, the plantiff very rarely gets back even what they spent on legal fees, let alone any additional compensation. The best defense (and ours) is the truth. If your statements are truthful there is no case. If your statements are not truthful, then it becomes a question of context. Are the statements in an opinion area? or are they being presented as factual and not "your belief". Then, if that is found true, damages can be awarded... you then have to prove damages. So, if Fuzzy can prove these claims he then has to shown where and how he was damaged in order to receive any award of compenstation. If, for example, the pro tour decided to not invite him to a tournament cause they read on Wiki that he used drugs then he would have a potential for compensation.

SLAPPs are a slang term where by those with money (usually corporations) use the legal system to drive away those voicing things they don't like. For example a consumer will complain that a company is selling sweat shop child labor clothes. The corporation doesn't want to admit to this or change it's ways so it'll sue on the ground of defamation with the belief that the little guy will either be scared and go away or not be willing to put up money to defend their position.

So far he, and his attorneys must have put quite a bit of money into this search... he probably won't even get that back.
mclean007 26th February 2007, 18:26 Quote
Of course, if he's a loaded pro sportsman, his goal might not be money - he might just want to nail the perpetrator and make him hurt - $100,000 in legal fees maybe nothing to Fuzzy (don't know, don't follow golf and had never heard of him before today so don't know how successful he is), but if the bloke who made the edits has to shell out a few thousand in fees + damages, maybe that will be some satisfaction to Fuzzy. I know it would be for me!
randosome 26th February 2007, 18:41 Quote
i think the world we live in is just sad
I mean, if i play golf, and its my hobby, and i get really good at it, and then i enter tournaments and are possibly the best golfer in the world
Why should my privacy be invaded, why should my every move be monitored, why should people rummage through my garbage - its just sad

If you don't want to be monitored, i don't think you should be, people complain celebrity's lock themselves up in big houses with large gates, but maybe that's just because the paparazzi are monitoring your every move

also claims like this, if unfounded could be very damaging to your career, and whoever posted this deserves to be sued
ralph.pickering 26th February 2007, 22:23 Quote
If he wins it'll be an interesting precedent. I mean if somebody sued the company I work for claiming that something defamatory was posted from one of our IP addresses at a particular point in time, there's not a hope in hell that I'd be able to pinpoint who did it. We just don't keep long term logs of Internet browsing, or any kind of IP tracking. And if, going forward, we'd be expected by law to provide that information - what kind of Big Brother system would we have to implement on our systems just in case? I suppose that's the way the world is going... it kinda sucks though.
Constructacon 26th February 2007, 22:35 Quote
If the consulting firm doesn't have such a Big Brother system now it certainly will by the time this is over. The biggest loser in this case will be the firm that the author came from as (I suspect) they'll never be able to prove who did it. However, the person in the office who is a known wiki editor will probably have a very short life expectancy with the company and they'll find something to fire him or her over shortly.

At the very least wikipedia.org will go on their list of banned sites along with all the others.
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