Wikipedia threatens agency Wiki-PR with legal action

Law firm Cooley LLP sent Wiki-PR, an agency whose primary service is editing Wikipedia pages, a cease-and-desist letter on Tuesday on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation after the firm allegedly failed to comply with Wikipedia's terms and conditions.

NEW YORK: Law firm Cooley LLP sent Wiki-PR, an agency whose primary service is editing Wikipedia pages, a cease-and-desist letter on Tuesday on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation after the firm allegedly failed to comply with Wikipedia's terms and conditions.

Wikimedia, the nonprofit that runs Wikipedia and its sister projects, alleged that Wiki-PR has been engaging in paid advocacy editing and “sockpuppetry,” a term for using an online identity to deceive others, on the online encyclopedia. Last month, Wikipedia's editor community banned hundreds of user accounts it suspected were being paid to promote products or services.

“In your communications with me and the Foundation, you have stated your intent to work with the community to satisfy its conditions for lifting the ban. Yet, yesterday, you admitted that Wiki-PR has continued to actively market paid advocacy editing services despite the ban — consistent with evidence that we have discovered independently,” Patrick Gunn, the attorney representing Wikimedia, wrote. “This is deeply troubling and suggests that Wiki-PR is circumventing the ban at the same time it professes to engage with the community about complying with it.”

He added that the organization is “prepared to take any necessary legal action to protect its rights.”

In response, Wiki-PR is working with the Wikimedia Foundation and its counsel to “sort this out,” the firm's CEO, Jordan French, said in an email to PRWeek. He declined to comment further.

The letter followed an investigation by Wikipedia's volunteer editor community last month, after more than 250 user accounts belonging to editors who were being paid to promote products or services were banned from the site.   

Wiki-PR and its employees are prohibited from editing pages on Wikipedia while Wikimedia and Cooley continue to investigate the situation.

In an email to PRWeek last month, French said Wiki-PR does paid editing, but not paid advocacy. He contended that his firm turns down edits that conflict with Wikipedia's best interests.

“Although there was an investigation that questioned whether Wiki-PR used sockpuppets, it concluded we did not,” said French. “Rather, we were and are paid editors, paying other editors, which is not against the rules. Far from puppets of any type, editors that we pay ultimately have control over what they publish or edit on Wikipedia.”

On the agency's services page, the firm says that its “consultants help you abide by Wikipedia's community rules and guidelines. We respect Wikipedia and its rules against promoting and advertising. And we never directly edit Wikipedia ourselves.”

In a statement, the Wikimedia Foundation said it “will continue to closely monitor this situation and provide further updates in the coming weeks.”

A spokesperson from Wikimedia was not immediately available to comment on the process.

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