Why You Should Care

  • The Wikimedia projects are neutral platforms where you should be able to speak and share freely.
  • People can speak freely only when the law protects neutral publishers and hosting providers.
  • Websites should not be required to police user-generated content.

The Wikimedia projects are built and maintained by extraordinary people around the world. They contribute text and images, develop and support editorial policies, and resolve disputes when they occur, including conflicting views over facts, relevance, or the copyright status of a work. The Wikimedia Foundation hosts and supports the Wikimedia projects, but it does not control what people write and contribute to the projects. The Wikimedia projects are neutral, open platforms where people are free to learn and share knowledge.

The legal basis for these great collaborative projects is the somewhat obscure concept of protection from intermediary liability that allows the Wikimedia Foundation to waive editorial control. Neutral online platforms and publishers are critical to the free exchange of knowledge, on Wikipedia and elsewhere. Wikimedia projects receive hundreds of edits per minute, totaling billions of edits since the projects were founded. As a nonprofit, the Wikimedia Foundation is  only able to host this much rapidly evolving content because of protection from intermediary liability. This protection provides a safe harbor, or legal exemption from liability, for hosting user generated content in many circumstances.

In the US and Europe, laws such as Section 512 of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act (CDA Section 230), and the EU E-Commerce Directive are essential to ensuring our neutrality. They provide crucial immunity from intermediary liability that allow the Wikimedia Foundation to host Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia projects as a neutral platform. If the law did not provide a safe harbor, many sites, including the Wikimedia projects, would not be able to host contributions from users. However, lawmakers have suggested to oblige intermediaries to actively monitor platforms, or even implement systems that automatically detect copyright infringement, which seriously harm free knowledge. That is why we oppose such new rules that restrict the ability to collaboratively collect educational content.

It is relatively rare that the Wikimedia Foundation is required to remove illegal content. Wikimedia community members work diligently to prevent copyright infringement or other illegal content on the Wikimedia projects and quickly resolve any other content issues. When the Wikimedia Foundation does respond to the handful of valid takedown notices we receive, we document them in our bi-annual Transparency Report.

Increasing a platform’s responsibility to monitor and proactively remove user generated content will make it impossible for free culture and open source groups to grow as an online community. We need to track new developments in this area of the law, explain how they affect neutral platforms like Wikipedia, and defend safe harbors when they come under attack.

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