Legal and Community Advocacy/Legal Fees Assistance Program

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The Legal Fees Assistance Program of the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) has been established to help secure funds for legal assistance in appropriate cases for Wikimedia users who serve in a community administrator, arbitrator, email response, or project governance role that is specified in this document. For ease of reference, this document will use the term “support role” to describe these specified roles.

The Legal Fees Assistance Program is intended to help with the costs of a legal defense arising from a support role in the unlikely event that a user should face legal action for their actions in such a role. This program aims to help users in support roles to have high-quality legal representation, which otherwise may have been beyond their means. WMF enjoys access to a network of outstanding lawyers and litigators across the globe who specialize in Internet law and other legal areas. Although legal challenges are unlikely, we want to assist eligible users in support roles worldwide in the selection of qualified counsel or the costs of their defense (or both), discouraging unwarranted lawsuits and legal threats against those users.

There was a Request for comment on this program, which closed successfully. The program has been approved by the Board of Trustees in its October 2012 meeting. Please also see the FAQ.

Eligibility[edit]

The Legal Fees Assistance Program may be available, at WMF’s sole discretion, to Wikimedia community members who donate time and effort to any Wikimedia site or project in a support role, that is, an administrator, arbitrator, email response, or project governance role specified in this document.[1]

The users in support roles specified in this document are those listed below with respect to all Wikimedia projects and languages:

In its sole discretion, WMF may determine that the Legal Fees Assistance Program may apply to users acting in an administrator, arbitrator, email response, or project governance function that is not among those specified in this document (listed above). In exercising its discretion in deciding whether a function should constitute a support role for purposes of this program, WMF will consider whether the function at issue is comparable to those support roles specified in this document (listed above) with respect to responsibility, purpose, and community service.

To receive assistance, a user in a support role must:

  • Be named as a defendant in a legal action resulting from his or her alleged actions or lack of actions allegedly arising out of his or her support role listed above;
  • Have acted within his or her capacity and parameters as a user in the support role listed above; and
  • Have acted in compliance with the WMF Terms of Use, applicable privacy policies, and applicable community and Foundation policies.

At its sole discretion, WMF will make the final determination of eligibility and may consider any other relevant facts or circumstances.

How to request assistance[edit]

If you are a user in a support role facing serious legal threats or action,[2] you should act quickly in retaining a lawyer to protect all your rights. If you want assistance, please feel free to contact legal-at-wikimedia.org.

After WMF has all the relevant information, the Legal and Community Advocacy Department will consider, on a case by case basis, whether WMF can assist and what form that assistance might take. Assistance may include, at WMF’s sole discretion, helping to find a lawyer particularly knowledgeable about Wikimedia projects or country-specific laws; providing funds for some or all of the legal fees and costs; or both. You should know however that WMF cannot act as your lawyer for reasons of legal ethics (as explained below).

This assistance will not include payment of fines or damages (including any award of attorney's fees), and WMF will have discretion over whether the program pays for a particular lawyer.

Things to know about the Legal Fees Assistance Program[edit]

Global and all projects and languages. The Legal Fees Assistance Program is intended to help users in specified support roles in any country or jurisdiction and includes covered actions taken on any Wikimedia project, in any language. Local laws and regulations may play a role in the administration of any assistance.

No WMF attorney–client relationship. For legal and ethical reasons, WMF cannot create an attorney–client relationship with users, and funds provided through this program do not establish any attorney–client or other confidential relationship. On the other hand, if the Legal Fees Assistance Program provides funds for a lawyer, that lawyer may enjoy an attorney–client or otherwise confidential relationship with the user as may be recognized or allowed under local laws.

No guarantees. At its sole discretion, WMF will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to provide assistance. No one should rely on the receipt of assistance or take any action with the expectation of receiving such assistance.

Fees and costs only. Assistance provided by the program only includes lawyers’ fees and costs and may cover only a part or all of those fees and costs (at WMF’s sole discretion). It will not include payment of any incurred fines, damages (including any award of attorney's fees), or other judgments.

We don’t control. Assistance from this program does not give WMF any right or ability to control the activities of any user. Assistance does not create any agency, employee, contractor, or other legal relationship with WMF. In providing assistance, WMF does not necessarily endorse any activity undertaken by a user in a movement role or otherwise before or after receipt of assistance.

We may change the Legal Fees Assistance Program. As we monitor the effectiveness of the program and ensure flexibility in its administration, we may need, from time to time, and at our sole discretion, to make changes to the Legal Fees Assistance Program, including possible termination of the program if necessary. Depending on program needs, we retain the right to make these changes at any time, for any reason, without notice.

We have a budget. This program will start with a set amount of earmarked funds, and, if those funds are ever exhausted, a decision will be made by WMF whether to renew the program.

Conclusion[edit]

The hard work and dedication of our users in support roles often go unsung. Through the Legal Fees Assistance Program, WMF wants to try to create an environment, as set out in this document, that supports these critical roles in the unlikely event of a legal action. We hope to never have to use the program, but should the need arise, we want it in place to help these critical volunteers who, with many others, help Wikimedia thrive and prosper.

Notes[edit]

  1. Although the Legal Fees Assistance Program does not cover content contributors other than those in support roles specified in this document, the WMF has a policy of trying to help eligible contributors, including editors and photographers, facing legal threats on a case-by-case basis. See Defense of Contributors. This program will continue unchanged.
  2. At the discretion of WMF, in highly unusual cases, the Legal Fees Assistance Program may provide funds for a lawyer before the filing of a legal action against a user in a support role if there is a serious threat, early legal advice is highly advisable, and the other requirements of the program are met.

Note: This document was originally written in English. While we hope that translations of this document are accurate, in the event of any differences in meaning between the original English version and a translation, the original English version takes precedence.