German court: Judgment in one of the most important modern media trials.
In 2018, researchers of the Vienna-based Group42 reported on one of the most influential and aggressive German Wikipedia editors and for the first time revealed his real name. In response, the editor obtained a preliminary injunction with the threat of a penalty of up to €250,000.
The Hamburg Regional Court has now decided in a landmark ruling that the naming was lawful due to the overriding public interest.
The Wikipedia author in question, using the pseudonym “Feliks”, is a former functionary of the pro-Israel wing of the German Left Party and a former foreign member of the Israeli army with special insignia of the US army and other armed forces.
The author edited a total of several thousand Wikipedia articles and denounced numerous people, including in particular politicians, publicists and researchers, who had expressed critical views on Israeli or US positions.
The self-chosen code name “Feliks” refers to the founder and first director of the Soviet secret service Cheka/GPU, Feliks Dzerzhinsky, under whose leadership up to one hundred thousand political opponents were executed.
The Hamburg ruling is likely to set a precedent and may have a significant impact. According to initial statements, several affected parties are currently considering legal action against “Feliks” and other denunciative or manipulative Wikipedia authors.
The significance of the Hamburg Wikipedia verdict could even surpass that of the ZDF verdict of the German Federal Constitutional Court in 2014, especially in view of the general relevance of the German Wikipedia (about one billion page views by 100 million devices per month).
Already in August 2018, the Berlin Regional Court revoked Wikipedia’s so-called “layman’s privilege”. This means that Wikipedia authors are no longer allowed to use reputation-damaging claims from media articles or other sources without additional verification.
The Wikimedia Foundation as well as traditional media have so far not made any statements about the systematic political manipulation of Wikipedia and the new Hamburg judgment.
Addendum: In February 2020, the ruling was confirmed by the Hamburg Higher Regional Court.
See also: Wikipedia: A Disinformation Operation? (SPR, March 2020)