As a way of recognizing the over 10,000 Wikimedia users in support roles — such as those in community administrator, arbitrator, email response, or project governance functions — the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) is proposing the Legal Fees Assistance Program. This program represents one way for WMF to show its appreciation for these users who volunteer their time to oversee and administer the Wikimedia projects.
Through this new discretionary program, we hope to help pay the legal defense fees of eligible users in support roles in the unlikely event they are named in a legal action as a result of their work on a project. With the assistance of the WMF Finance Department and the Legal and Community Advocacy Department, we might seek to connect such users with experienced lawyers and help pay for the costs and fees incurred in their legal defense.
Assuming an eligible user meets the criteria identified in the program, at WMF’s discretion, funds from the Legal Fees Assistance Program may pay for the user’s legal defense, and the program can use WMF’s network of experienced lawyers across the globe to find an attorney versed in both the law and the values of the Wikimedia community for the person under attack.
Of course we realize that this program does not reach all of the users who contribute to the content that powers the Wikimedia projects. Even if the Legal Fees Assistance Program can’t cover everyone, we want to continue trying to help editors, photographers, and other contributors facing legal threats on a case by case basis, as described in Defense of Contributors.
While we want this program to help eligible users, the Legal Fees Assistance Program can also have a positive effect on the legal environment in which the Wikimedia movement operates. By helping to pay for legal defense fees and costs, the program could help advance important legal questions relevant to the community as a whole by challenging dangerous and unfounded legal theories, rather than letting them go unanswered.
We think the program is an important step, both for users in support roles and for the greater legal environment. Let us know what you think. Read the policy itself and the FAQ, and share your opinion on the Request for Comment we’ve prepared in 7 languages.
Geoff Brigham, General Counsel