Former Wikipedia Foundation GC on Wikipedia's place between copyright liability and free speech

Today, websites including Google and Wordpress are protesting two bills by symbolically blacking out parts of their sites. Wikipedia, the online, user-generated encyclopedia, is taking it even further, by shutting its entire website--except pages related to the bills--for an entire 24 hours. The blackouts are meant to draw attention to the Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R.3261) and the Protect IP Act (S.968). The bills seek to prevent piracy online by giving intellectual property owners the power to get court orders that can require search engines to stop linking to an offending site or prevent advertisers from continuing to advertise on the offending site.

Wikipedia is clear that its protest of SOPA and PIPA does not mean that Wikipedia is in violation of copyrighted content, noting that: "Wikipedians are knowledgeable about copyright and vigilant in protecting against violations: Wikipedians spend thousands of hours every week reviewing and removing infringing content. We are careful about it because our mission is to share knowledge freely. To that end, all Wikipedians release their contributions under a free license, and all the material we offer is freely licensed. Free licenses are incompatible with copyright infringement, and so infringement is not tolerated."

This echoes what former general counsel of Wikipedia, Mike Godwin, who left the company in October 2010, said when we profiled him in our August 2008 issue of Super Lawyers -- Corporate Counsel Edition. When he joined Wikimedia Foundation, Wikipedia's parent organization, he was fascinated by the impact that Wikipedia had on copyright liability and free speech--something that clearly continues today. An excerpt from the piece:

"We expressly disown our content," he says. "The legal framework set up in the '90s protects publishers from liability for content they did not produce. ... The thing we set out to do philosophically--provide free content and not own it--actually provides us with a lot of legal protection."

Since Wikipedia includes articles about people who are still living, the protection is tested often. "I do a lot of explaining," Godwin says.

The explanation includes an invitation to join the Wikipedia community. "Add your voice to it; correct the record," he tells critics. "We'll show you how."

To read the entire article, click here.

For more details on Wikipedia's SOPA initiative, visit this page.