The legal department of the Wikimedia Foundation runs a year-round internship program for law students and recent law graduates. Between three and five positions are available every spring and fall semester and over the summer. The interns assist the Foundation’s six attorneys and get a chance to experience the workings of an in-house legal department at a non-profit, user-driven Internet company whose projects like Wikipedia are visited by 500 million people, making them the fifth-most popular web property world-wide.
The program was started in 2011, and to date, there have been 27 interns. Ranging from first year law students to recent graduates, interns have hailed from the following schools: Berkeley, Columbia, the University of Colorado, Cornell, Georgetown, Harvard, Hastings, Michigan State, the University of Minnesota, Santa Clara, Stanford, and Vanderbilt. As of this year, the program is also becoming more international. This fall, the program will have its first intern from the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, and the author of this blog post comes from Bucerius Law School in Hamburg, Germany.
The Wikimedia legal department handles complex legal situations that touch on a broad range of topics, and the interns support this effort: We work on dozens of different projects, from small drafting assignments to extensive research memos. In tackling these projects, we gain experience in a wide variety of legal practice areas, such as copyright and trademark law, privacy, non-profit governance and public advocacy. We work with copyright and trademark law, privacy, foundation governance and public advocacy. The community aspect of the Wikimedia Foundation adds another layer of complexity to our legal projects — the Wikimedia community and movement values must be taken into account and prioritized in finding any legal solution to an issue.
In a typical week, an intern could deal with U.S. federal tax law, Kenyan data protection law, Indian copyright, Indonesian trademark registration and the Florida law on corporations. In a time when governmental actions like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) or the U.S. National Security Agency’s PRISM scandal threaten the Wikimedia projects and the free knowledge movement, we also help the Foundation navigate current political issues and we assist in executing the courses of action that are supported by the volunteer Wikimedia community.
And our work yields visible results. Many postings on the Wikilegal database – while not legal advice – are created with the help of preliminary intern research. For an example, see the memo on “Flags and logos from international organizations”, originally prepared as preliminary thoughts for community input by a Berkeley Law student (now alumnus) during his 2L internship in the spring of 2012.
Recently, we interns invited our counterparts from tech companies and like-minded organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area to the Wikimedia office, hosting an expert panel on “Law, Tech and Social Change”. What’s more, one of the Foundation’s current lawyers, Stephen LaPorte, was a former intern and is a Wikimedian.
On a personal note, one of the best things about this internship is that I know that I am ‘on the good side.’ My coworkers and I work to defend and expand freedom of expression and we help provide access to free knowledge for the entire planet. And all that with the support of thousands of volunteers from all around the globe. If you would like to know more about the legal intern program at the Wikimedia Foundation, you can read about the current open positions, or you can contact the Wikimedia Foundation legal internship program coordinator Michelle Paulson for more information.
Lukas Mezger, Legal Intern, Wikimedia Foundation