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Wikimedia Foundation seeks declaratory relief in response to legal threats from Internet Brands

(Jan. 3, 2013 Update: On December 21, 2012, Internet Brands filed its Answer to the Wikimedia Foundation’s Complaint. Internet Brands’ Answer “generally and specifically denies each and every material allegation of the Complaint,” and asserts a number of affirmative defenses.  A copy of Internet Brands’ Answer can be found here.)

(Dec 14, 2012 Update: the Court overruled Internet Brands’ demurrer (“motion to dismiss”), finding that the Wikimedia Foundation’s complaint was “properly pled.” A copy of the Court’s December 14, 2012 order can be found here. As a result of the Court’s ruling, Internet Brands must now answer the Wikimedia Foundation’s complaint. Internet Brands must file its answer to the complaint within ten (10) days of its receipt of notice of the Court’s ruling.)

(Dec. 7, 2012 Update: Internet Brands filed a reply brief in support of its demurrer (“motion to dismiss”) to the Wikimedia Foundation’s state court complaint. A copy of the reply brief can be found here. On December 11, 2012, the Wikimedia Foundation objected to Internet Brands’s reply brief on the grounds that it was improperly filed. The Wikimedia Foundation asked the Court to disregard Internet Brands’s reply brief and strike it from the record. A copy of the Wikimedia Foundation’s objection can be found here.)

(Nov. 28, 2012 Update: The federal district court in Los Angeles has now issued its written order on Ryan’s anti-SLAPP motion and motion to dismiss. A copy of the order is available here. The order is consistent with our prior report following the hearing on November 19. While we had hoped that the court would reach the merits of Ryan’s anti-SLAPP motion, the dismissal of the entire suit nonetheless represents a victory for Ryan and volunteer James Heilman (who was also named in the suit).

Meanwhile, the Wikimedia Foundation is proceeding forward with its lawsuit against Internet Brands in San Francisco. Internet Brands has filed a demurrer (motion to dismiss), the hearing for which has been postponed to December 14. The court has issued a tentative ruling on that motion, which is available here. In the tentative ruling, the court indicates that it is inclined to rule against Internet Brands. We will update you further after the hearing.)

(Nov. 19, 2012 Update: Ryan Holliday appeared in federal court to argue the anti-SLAPP motion he filed on September 26, 2012.  Because Internet Brands abandoned its claim under the federal Lanham Act (the federal claim that asserted Ryan had helped to start a new travel wiki called Wiki Travel Guide), the court found no basis for continuing to keep federal jurisdiction over the case and dismissed it without ruling on the anti-SLAPP motion.)

(Nov. 5, 2012 Update: On Monday, November 5th, the Wikimedia Foundation filed its opposition to the Demurrer filed by Internet Brands in the Superior Court of the State of California County of San Francisco.)

(Nov. 2, 2012 Update: On November 2, 2012, Ryan Holliday and Internet Brands jointly asked the Court to continue the hearing on Ryan’s anti-SLAPP motion and motion to dismiss from November 5, 2012 to November 19, 2012, to allow the parties time to discuss a possible resolution. The Court granted the request. A copy of the parties’ request to the Court can be found here. A copy of the Court order granting the request can be found here.)

(Oct. 23, 2012 Update:  On Monday, October 22, 2012, Ryan filed his Reply to Internet Brands’s Opposition to Ryan’s anti-SLAPP motion and motion to strike.  A link is here.  The Court is scheduled to hear Ryan’s motion on November 5, 2012.)

(Oct. 15, 2012 Update: IB has filed a demurrer (motion to dismiss) the Foundation’s lawsuit for declaratory relief on the ground that it does not contest the relief requested and so there is no controversy to adjudicate.  The hearing on the demurrer is set for November 19.)

(Oct. 12, 2012 Update: Internet Brands filed its Opposition to Defense Special Motion to Strike and Motion to Dismiss in United States District Court. A link is here. Ryan’s response is due on 10/22.)

(Sept. 26, 2012 Update: On Wednesday, September 26, 2012, Ryan filed an anti-SLAPP motion and motion to dismiss.  This motion seeks dismissal of all the claims against him now pending in federal court and also asks for an award of attorneys’ fees against Internet Brands.)

(Sept. 20, 2012 Update:  On Sept 19, 2012 Ryan filed papers to remove (transfer) Internet Brands’ lawsuit from state court (Los Angeles County Superior Court) to federal court (the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Those papers are publicly accessible, and a PDF copy can be found here).

(Sept. 13, 2012 Update: Today we filed an amended complaint in our San Francisco lawsuit to correct the inadvertent misstatement about Heilman being an administrator.  We initially thought we could do this by filing a document called an errata, but that proved not to be allowable in state court.   Our amended pleading will in all respects be the same as before, but will now omit some language that called Heilman an  “administrator.”)

(Sept. 5, 2012 Update: one of the community members named by Internet Brands in their summons has uploaded the documents he was served on Wikimedia Commons, available here)

Today the Wikimedia Foundation filed a suit in San Francisco against Internet Brands seeking a judicial declaration that Internet Brands has no lawful right to impede, disrupt or block the creation of a new travel oriented, Wikimedia Foundation-owned website in response to the request of Wikimedia community volunteers. Over the summer, in response to requests generated by our volunteers, the Wikimedia community conducted a lengthy Request For Comment (RFC) process to facilitate public debate and discussion regarding the benefits and challenges of creating a new, Wikimedia Foundation-hosted travel guide project. The community extended the RFC at the Wikimedia Foundation Board’s request to allow for greater community input, and to encourage input from Internet Brands. Once concluded, the RFC process revealed the community’s desire to see a new travel project created. The Wikimedia Foundation Board supports the community’s decision and is moving forward with the creation of this new project.

Unfortunately, Internet Brands (owner of the travel website Wikitravel) has decided to disrupt this process by engaging in litigation against two Wikitravel volunteers who are also Wikimedia community members (one of those community members posted a copy of the summons they received, available here). On August 29, Internet Brands sued two volunteer administrators, one based in Los Angeles and one in Canada, asserting a variety of claims. The intent of the action is clear – intimidate other community volunteers from exercising their rights to freely discuss the establishment of a new community focused on the creation of a new, not-for-profit travel guide under the Creative Commons licenses.

While the suit filed by Internet Brands does not directly name the Wikimedia Foundation as a defendant, we believe that we are the real target. We feel our only recourse is to file this suit in order to get everything on the table and deal head on with Internet Brand’s actions over the past few months in trying to impede the creation of this new travel project.

Our community and potential new community members are key to the success of all of our projects. We will steadfastly and proudly defend our community’s right to free speech, and we will support these volunteer community members in their legal defense. We do not feel it is appropriate for Internet Brands, a large corporation with hundreds of millions of dollars in assets, to seek to intimidate two individuals.

This new, proposed project would allow all travel content to be freely used and disseminated by anyone for any purpose as long as the content is given proper attribution and is offered with the same free-to-use license. Internet Brands appears to be attempting to thwart the creation of a new, non-commercial travel wiki in a misguided effort to protect its for-profit Wikitravel site.

The Wikimedia movement stands in the balance and the Wikimedia Foundation will not sit idly by and allow a commercial actor like Internet Brands to engage in threats, intimidation and litigation to prevent the organic expression of community interest in favor of a new travel project, one that is not driven by commercial interests.

The mission of the Wikimedia Foundation is to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally. We are devoted to creating and nurturing free knowledge projects supported by volunteers. Our actions today represent the full stride of our commitment to protect the Wikimedia movement against the efforts of for-profit entities like Internet Brands to prevent communities and volunteers from making their own decisions about where and how freely-usable content may be shared.

Kelly Kay, Deputy General Counsel

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