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Ivo Kruusamägi

Is suing Wikipedia a worthwhile idea?


From time to time we all probably have read or heard about the attempts to close or censor Russian Wikipedia, however so far it has not been successful. The question is, could someone in Estonia succeed in what Putin has not succeeded in?

In January this year for the first time an Estonian Wikipedian was taken to court for his editing. The claim was directed against the chairman of Wikimedia Estonia Ivo Kruusamägi and two Reform Party politicians. To put it in a nutshell the Estonian businessman and a local party sponsor Parvel Pruunsild stated his dislike of the Wikipedia article about him and filed a claim in Court to get it changed.

More specifically, the Wikipedia article about him referred to the fact that Mr Pruunsild had a connection to the highly controversial pension reform that came into existence in Estonia in 2021. People were then allowed to take out their pension savings, and in September of that same year, around 1.3 billion euros exited retirement accounts. Earlier, in 2019 the news publications were expressing suspicions about Pruunsild’s bank potentially earning millions of additional income due to this reform, which he had been eagerly supporting.

The lawyers hired by Mr Pruunsild made several attempts to remove this info section from Wikipedia, that mention he had some connections to the reform, by deleting it as anonymous editors (for example here). As administrators rejected all attempts to erase that information, the lawyers decided a month later that it was time to bring this to the court. “This is slander, pure and simple," the businessman commented in the Estonian paper.

Let it be mentioned that the information in the Wikipedia article was based on the newspaper source (Eesti Ekspress) and it was correctly cited in the article. Should Mr Pruunsild have started refuting the information he considered slanderous from a newspaper article? This step, however, was skipped. But among the people who had raised suspicions he chose two politicians from the opposing party and sued them as well.

Before the lawsuit was filed we were given 24 hours to remove the paragraph from the article. They probably expected that Wikipedia would obey their orders, but the opposite happened. We arranged a flood of media coverage about the topic and hired one of the best lawyers in the country on SLAPP cases. Now everyone knows Mr Pruunsild was connected to the pension reform and also that he has sued Wikipedia. It is not really good PR by any standards, is it? And his chances of winning came close to none as the case was rather dubious, to begin with.

We pointed out in the media: “Wikipedia, like any other encyclopedia, publishes summaries of original sources. Those who do not like it are free to turn to, for example, the newspaper and demand they overturn their claims, and if they manage to convince the paper to do that, Wikipedia will report that the paper first said one thing about them and then something else".

Although, from Wikipedia's point of view, it would be very convenient to destroy Mr Pruunsild’s claims in court and it would be a good warning for the future it would inevitably involve a large expenditure of time and money. So in March, when Pruunsild's lawyers offered a compromise, according to which they would withdraw the lawsuit, it was accepted. It was also agreed that both parties would pay their own expenses. Of course, there was no reason to expect that they would apologize or pay the expenses themselves. Obviously, their costs were significantly higher, in our estimates at 5,000 - 10,000 euros. Too bad no one mentioned to Mr Pruunsild earlier that Wikipedia can be edited for free, you just have to follow the rules.

After the case started, the Wikipedia article was quickly expanded and the topic was brought up in the media. The article section that was requested to be removed is now longer than the original article. Also, those people who perhaps had not read the relevant newspaper articles years ago are now familiar with the topic and know about his connection with the pension reform. Additionally, a section has been added to the article regarding the court case itself. It will probably be expanded in the future, because the court case against two other defendants, the former Prime Minister of Estonia Andrus Ansip and the former minister Jürgen Ligi, continues. We are yet to see how he plans to demonstrate the claims, that a businessman may do something to earn money, as slander.

As Englishmen like to say: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. What better promotion campaign for Wikipedia could there be?

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