$10 million lawsuit against Wikipedia editors withdrawn, but plaintiff intends to refile
Yank Barry, pictured here, has launched a lawsuit against over 50 Wikipedia editors.
On the same day the Wikimedia Foundation announced it would offer assistance to English Wikipedia editors embroiled in a legal dispute with Yank Barry, the lawsuit has been dismissed without prejudice at the request of Barry's legal team—but only as a "strategic" move so that they can refile the lawsuit with a "new, more comprehensive complaint."
Barry, who was a musician in the 1960s and 70s before becoming an entrepreneur and philanthropist, launched the action against five editors who he alleges participated in a "conspiracy" to "engage in the wrongful acts of defamation and invasion of privacy" against him and his charity, the Global Village Champions Foundation, which is also a named plaintiff.
The defendants—who are identified by pseudonyms (Richard Fife, Nate Gertler, Ethan Urbanik, John Nagle, and "Does 1–50", a total of 54 editors) because Barry's legal team does not currently know their real names—are being targeted based on their edits to the discussion page related to his Wikipedia article.
Barry claims that their comments cost him (at minimum) $10 million dollars: "My page was so ridiculously false and made me sound like a terrible person and people believed it causing deals to fall through ... I finally had enough." The offensive posts are quoted on pages 6–8 of the court filing.
However, his legal team moved to dismiss their own lawsuit because they feared that the defense was about to launch a SLAPP motion. While SLAPP is normally used by plaintiffs, California has a unique version of the law that "provides for a special motion that a defendant can file at the outset of a lawsuit to strike a complaint when it arises from conduct that falls within the rights of petition or free speech." Part of this motion freezes all discovery and would have stopped Barry's legal team from amending their lawsuit.
According to Philip Dapeer, an attorney for Barry, "We were receiving no cooperation from the defense, we made no secret of the fact we were planning to amend the complaint and we sensed their lawyers were stalling for a reason. ... Withdrawing the complaint was a tactical move on our part and should not, in any way, be construed as retreat."
This defense team included attorneys paid for by the Wikimedia Foundation through its Defense of Contributors program. Of the four named editors, three will be represented by Cooley LLC, the same law firm engaged by the WMF in successfully defending Wikivoyage editors against Internet Brands in 2013, while the fourth has gone their own way and engaged the California Anti-SLAPP Project.
||In our opinion, this lawsuit is an effort to try and chill free speech on the Wikimedia projects. ... we will always strongly defend [Wikipedia's] volunteer editors and their right to free speech.
|— Michelle Paulson
Both are coordinating closely with each other and the WMF, which has strongly condemned the legal action. "In our opinion, this lawsuit is an effort to try and chill free speech on the Wikimedia projects", wrote WMF legal counsel Michelle Paulson. "[T]his lawsuit is rooted in a deep misinterpretation of the free-form truth-seeking conversations and analysis that is part of the editorial review process".
The WMF has previously demonstrated vociferous support for Wikimedia contributors being legally targeted for their editing. Just four months ago, the Foundation announced its support for a Greek Wikipedia administrator who was being sued on the basis of a single sentence added in one of Liourdis' 22 edits to the article, which reported that Greek politician Theodore Katsanevas was castigated as a "disgrace" in the will of Andreas Papandreou. At the time of his death in 1996, Papandreou was Katsanevas' father-in-law.
As mentioned above, the WMF also supported two editors who were sued in 2012 for their role in moving Wikivoyage into the Wikimedia movement. While the case was dismissed, a counter-suit led to the WMF declaring "victory" in February 2013. Ryan Holliday, one of the two defendants, commented then that "[t]hroughout the ordeal I was amazingly impressed by the professionalism, hard work, and dedication of both WMF and Cooley".
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