Internet Law

DC lawyer pursues suit to unmask authors who changed her Wikipedia page

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A Washington, D.C., lawyer is pursuing a defamation lawsuit that seeks to unmask two anonymous writers who edited her Wikipedia page.

Lawyer Susan Burke tells the ABA Journal the anonymous Wikipedia editors wrongly alleged she had been sanctioned by a federal judge whom she had never appeared before. The judge was overseeing the prosecution of Blackwater security guards but did not preside in Burke’s separate civil suit against the private security contractor’s employees on behalf of the families of Iraqi shooting victims. The National Law Journal (sub. req.) has a story on Burke’s suit.

Burke says she wonders if there is some connection between the Wikipedia editors who inserted the false information and Blackwater Inc. Part of the reason she suspects Blackwater, she says, is because of friction with the company’s founder, Erik Prince, during a deposition in the civil case.

Her aim, Burke tells the ABA Journal, is to find out who posted the information and whether he or she has any connection to Blackwater or Prince. If there is no connection, Burke said, she might be willing to dismiss the suit.

The two Wikipedia editors are identified only as Zujua and CapBasics359. According to the NLJ account of Burke’s suit, Zujua edited Burke’s Wikipedia page in 2012. Burke removed the false information, but CapBasics359 removed Burke’s edits several months later to restore the incorrect information, the suit says.

Zujua fought Burke’s Wikipedia subpoena and is appealing a lower court’s refusal to quash. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has postponed a Sept. 19 hearing to get additional briefing from the parties, according to The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.

Zujua argues the appeal is allowed under Washington’s law barring strategic lawsuits against public participation. Additional briefing will be on the merits of the judge’s refusal to quash the subpoena.

The identity of CapBasics359 is still unknown, although Burke’s lawyers know he logged in at a Starbucks in California, the NLJ says.

Burke’s lawyer, William O’Neil, told the NLJ his client filed suit for a couple reasons. “The frustration of dealing with Wikipedia led her to file the suit, mostly in an effort to find out who was doing it,” O’Neil said.

Zujua is represented by Christopher Hajec of The Center for Individual Rights. “We view this as having the effect of chilling the free speech rights of other Wikipedia editors who will hesitate to edit on matters of public concern for fear of being sued if they make a mistake,” he told the NLJ.

Burke, who was a solo before joining Katz, Marshall & Banks, received a 2013 “Women Doing Good” award from Self magazine for her legal work on behalf of victims of sexual assault in the military, according a law firm press release. Her work was profiled in a documentary called The Invisible War, which told the stories of service members who reported retaliation for reporting rapes. She is also lead counsel on behalf of Abu Ghraib torture victims, according to her law firm bio.

Updated on Sept. 20 to provide additional information and on Sept. 23 to include information from an interview with Susan Burke.

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