Legal/Legal Fees Assistance Program/FAQ
Note: This document was originally written in English. While we hope that subsequent 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.
What is the Legal Fees Assistance Program?
The Legal Fees Assistance Program is an initiative proposed by the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) to help eligible users in support roles in the unlikely case that they face legal action as a defendant because of their role on Wikimedia projects. The program may be available, at WMF’s sole discretion, to assist these community members in finding qualified lawyers or to pay for some or all of the fees and costs associated with their legal defense, facilitating their ability to defend, if ever necessary, against legal proceedings.
Who does the Legal Fees Assistance Program cover?
The Legal Fees Assistance Program may provide assistance to eligible users in support roles who donate time and effort to any Wikimedia project in specified community administrator, arbitrator, email response, or project governance capacities. This includes people such as administrators, stewards, bureaucrats, arbitration committee members, and email response team members.
The program is intended to cover eligible users in a support role in every Wikimedia project, in any language, in any country. Coverage is subject to WMF’s sole discretion.
What will the Legal Fees Assistance Program do?
The Legal Fees Assistance Program may help find qualified lawyers or cover some or all of the legal fees and costs associated with defending eligible users in a support role when such users are named in a legal proceeding as a defendant because of their support role on Wikimedia projects. This assistance, for example, could take the form of payment for legal fees and costs or putting the community member in touch with outside lawyers. The program will not, however, cover any damages or fines that result from the legal proceeding.
WMF reserves the right to decide whether (and how much) to provide funds for legal fees and costs for a particular lawyer. We want to make sure funds from the program go to providing the best possible representation from lawyers who know the laws of a given country and the technology and values of the Wikimedia movement. WMF works with a strong network of international lawyers on a daily basis, and the Legal and Community Advocacy Department may make recommendations based on this experience.
How can someone request funds for assistance for a legal action regarding his or her official activity on a Wikimedia project?
If you are a user in a support role facing serious legal threats or action, you should act quickly in retaining a qualified lawyer to protect all your rights. To request funds for assistance, please contact legalwikimediaorg.
Please include a copy of the legal document(s) you have received. For legal and ethical reasons, the WMF and its lawyers cannot create an attorney–client relationship with any user. Through the Legal Fees Assistance Program, however, the WMF may be able to identify a qualified outside lawyer, and, subject to local laws, WMF may provide funds for some or all of the fees and costs of such an outside lawyer. The WMF cannot itself act as an lawyer on behalf of a user.
Why is the WMF doing this?
Like many in our community, users in support roles are critical to Wikimedia projects, and their hard work and dedication ensure that the wider community can carry out its mission of promoting free knowledge. Such support also helps the future of the Wikimedia projects. See #How will the Legal Fees Assistance Program help Wikimedia projects?
What options are available to other editors, photographers, and other contributors facing legal action?
WMF has a policy of possibly helping eligible editors, photographers, and other contributors facing legal threats on a case-by-case basis, and the Legal Fees Assistance Program does not change this policy. See Defense of Contributors for more information.
Why does this program not currently cover all contributors?
All of our contributors are valued for the work they do, regardless of their user rights. For that reason, historically the Foundation has assisted contributors who have found themselves the object of legal threats. That assistance has taken on different forms, including helping locate pro bono lawyers, offering assistance in a defense, fighting off lawyer threats against the content posted by contributors, or filing defensive (and expensive) litigation defending against attacks relating to that content. Indeed, the Legal department successfully pushes back on about 95% of the serious legal threats to content that we receive a year (the remaining mostly resulting in DMCA takedown notices). So we take the work of contributors and their defense seriously. For that reason, we wrote the Defense of Contributors policy last year covering all contributors, including editors.
As far as we can tell, this is the first time that any major website has offered a program like the one proposed here. In defining scope, we want to start with a smaller group that can be easily identified, which constitutes the approximately 7,500 users in support roles. We want to see how this works and, if it works, will consider later whether anything more comprehensive would be feasible, taking into account potentially different legal and financial considerations and parameters.
How will the Legal Fees Assistance Program help Wikimedia projects?
Much of law is shaped by how courts interpret it, and, depending on the jurisdiction, the outcomes of individual cases can have a lasting impact on law as a whole. As a result, even if a case doesn’t directly implicate the WMF or its employees, it could have long-term effects on others’ ability to use and maintain the various Wikimedia projects. While legal actions are extremely unusual, by providing legal defense funds in those rare cases under the terms of the program, we not only support our community but help to guard against outcomes that could create bad precedent.
Will the Wikimedia Foundation tell recipients of assistance how to conduct their defense or that they must take a particular action?
No. Legal ethical rules prohibit the WMF from telling a user’s lawyer how to conduct his or her defense. The user and the lawyer will make all legal strategic decisions.
Does this mean the Wikimedia Foundation will be the lawyer for people who get assistance?
No. For legal and ethical reasons, the WMF cannot create an attorney–client relationship with any user. Through the Legal Fees Assistance Program, the WMF may introduce an outside lawyer to these users, and, subject to local laws, the WMF may provide funds for some or all of the fees and costs of an outside lawyer. However, the WMF will not itself act as an lawyer on behalf of a user.
What type of legal support can the Legal Fees Assistance Program provide?
The Legal Fees Assistance Program might – at the sole discretion of the WMF – provide funds for the legal fees and costs of a user in a support role, recommend a lawyer, provide information to a lawyer hired by a user, or help find a lawyer particularly knowledgeable about Wikimedia projects or country-specific laws.
Could costs from the Legal Fees Assistance Program endanger the Wikimedia Foundation’s financial stability?
No. WMF will earmark a set amount of funding for the Legal Fees Assistance Program; if the program used all of that money, WMF would decide whether or not to renew it.
Will the Legal Fees Assistance Program affect funding for any other Wikimedia projects?
No. Although the funding decisions are not yet finalized, program funding will likely come from reserve funds. Funding for the Legal Fees Assistance Program will not have an impact on funding levels for other projects.