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Wikipedia:Wikipedia in judicial opinions

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This project seeks to compile quotes of instances of Wikipedia being relied upon as a source in significant judicial opinions.[1] Please note that judicial opinions are edicts of government: U.S. Federal court decisions are “works of the United States government,” which are exempted by statute from copyright protection[2]; in addition, some courts in the United States have held that, as a consequence of the requirements of due process, edicts of state governments are not copyrightable either. In the vast majority of cases, however, citations to Wikipedia are minor footnotes fleshing out points tangential to the litigation at issue.

For a table of a much larger selection of opinions which have used Wikipedia as a source, see Wikipedia:Wikipedia as a court source.

Cases that cite Wikipedia[edit]

Randy Disselkoen Props., LLC v. Charter Twp. of Cascade, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1504, 20-22 n.12 (W.D. Mich. 2008)[edit]

At oral argument, the parties discussed the history of Eller Outdoor and could not agree on whether Eller Outdoor and Eller Media were the same entity. Plaintiff CBS alleges Eller Outdoor was part of Combined Communications when it became part of Gannett in the largest media merger in history, at the time. Plaintiff alleges Eller Media was created years later. At oral argument, Plaintiff provided the Court with a number of documents attempting to establish ownership of the sign. (Dkt. No. 72). Defendant offers exhibits from the website wikipedia indicating that Eller Outdoor was a predecessor to Clear Channel Outdoor, a competitor of CBS Outdoor. (Exhibits 35 and 36 attached to reply brief).

Under Federal Rule of Evidence 201, this Court takes judicial notice of the 1979 corporate merger of Gannett, Inc. and Combined Communications Corp. (CCC) which included Eller Outdoor. Eller Outdoor Advertising was founded in 1962 by Karl Eller. In 1968, Mr. Eller merged Eller Outdoor and formed CCC. In 1979, CCC was merged with Gannett, Inc. See [link excerpted] (Karl Eller's biography at the Hall of Fame for the American Advertising Federation, last checked December 14, 2007) and http://phoeniz.bizjournals.com/phoenix/stories/2005/08/22/story3.html (article in the Phoenix (Arizona) Business Journal dated August 22, 2005, last checked December 14, 2007).

The documents submitted by Plaintiff are sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact regarding ownership of the sign. For the purposes of this motion, the Court does not make credibility assessments of documents. That said, despite the proliferation of federal court opinions citing wikipedia, see e.g. United States v. Bazaldua, 506 F.3d 671, 673 n. 2 (8th Cir. 2007), this Court is skeptical of relying on the anonymous and voluntarily edited website for anything more than general background information. See Burt Helm, Wikipedia: "A Work in Progress", Business Week, Dec. 14, 2005 (available at http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/dec2005/tc20051214_441708.htm and last viewed Dec. 14, 2007) and Daniel Terdiman, Wikipedia Faces Growing Pains, Wired, Jan. 10, 2005 (available at http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2005/01/66210 and last viewed Dec. 14, 2007). Although this Court has NO DOUBT that Defendant did nothing improper, this Court notes the ease with which wikipedia entries can be altered and further notes that others have edited entries for improper reasons. See e.g. John Borland, See Who's Editing Wikipedia - Diebold, the CIA and a Campaign, Wired, Aug. 14, 2007 ([link excerpted] last viewed Dec. 14, 2007).

United States v. Upton, 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 422 *4, n.1 (7th Cir. 2008)[edit]

A "palm strike" is an open-palmed punch in which the bottom part of the palm makes contact with the intended recipient. See generally Strike (attack), WIKIPEDIA, Nov. 20, 2007, http://en.chped.com/wiki/Strike_(attack).

United States v. Bazaldua, 506 F.3d 671, 673 n.2 (8th Cir. 2007)[edit]

A "PIT maneuver" is a method used by police to force a pursued vehicle to abruptly turn sideways to the direction of travel, by bumping the back side of the pursued vehicle with the police vehicle, causing the fleeing driver to lose control and stop. http://www.wikipedia.org (last visited Sept. 20, 2007). "PIT" stands for either "Precision Immobilization Technique," "Pursuit Intervention Technique," or "Parallel Immobilization Technique," depending on the police department using it. Id.

Lennon v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 504 F.3d 617, 623 (6th Cir. 2007)[edit]

We can take judicial notice of the fairly obvious scientific fact that as blood-alcohol levels rise, "so does the risk of being involved in a fatal crash." Nat'l Hwy. Traffic Safety Admin., U.S. Dep't of Transp., Setting Limits, Saving Lives: The Case for 0.08 BAC Laws, DOT HS 809 241, Apr. 2001, at Sec. IV; see also http://en.chped.com/wiki/Blood_alcohol.

Zeiler v. Deitsch, 500 F.3d 157, 162 (2d Cir. 2007)[edit]

"Torah law" and "Halachic law" are the formal terms for the body of law sometimes referred to in English as "Jewish law." See http://en.chped.com/wiki/Jewish_law ("Halakha") (last visited August 1, 2007).

Boim v. Fulton County Sch. Dist., 494 F.3d 978, 983 (11th Cir. 2007)[edit]

According to a popular encyclopedic website, in the eight years preceding the incident underlying the instant appeal, there had been 10 well-known, student-perpetrated shootings in schools, not including college campuses, located within the United States. Wikipedia, School Shooting, http://www.wikipedia.org (on the main page search term "school shooting") (last visited July 11, 2007); see also CNN.com, Are U.S. Schools Safe?, http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/1998/schools/ (follow "School shootings map" hyperlink) (last visited July 11, 2007) (mapping and summarizing the details of 16 student-perpetrated, school shootings in the same eight-year period).

Lands Council v. McNair, 494 F.3d 771, 785 (9th Cir. 2007)[edit]

Milan D. Smith, Jr., Circuit Judge, specially concurring:

Judge Ferguson asserts a contrary view in his concurrence. He cites as authority for that view a 2003 tome by Messrs. Derrick Jensen and George Draffan entitled Strangely Like War: The Global Assault on Forests, which attributes the decline of logging in the Northwest almost entirely to corporate consolidation and cost-cutting within the timber industry. Every citizen has the constitutional right to express his or her views on any subject and have the value of what he or she says, and any works cited, evaluated by the hearer or reader, but, in my view, writers who say extreme things should not be surprised that many of the things they say will be heavily discounted because of that very extremism. According to Wikipedia, "Jensen is often labeled an 'anarcho-primitivist,' who is quoted as saying in his book A Language Older Than Words that "[e]very morning when I awake I ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam. I tell myself I should keep writing, though I'm not sure that's right." Wikipedia, http://en.chped.com/wiki/Derrick Jensen.

Sedrakyan v. Gonzales, 237 Fed. Appx. 76, 77, n.1 (6th Cir. 2007)[edit]

An alternate spelling of the city is "Erevan." Wikipedia, Yerevan, at http://en.chped.com/wiki/Yerevan (last visited June 20, 2007). Sedrakyan used both spellings in her petition.

Crawford v. Marion County Election Bd., 484 F.3d 436, 438 (7th Cir. 2007)[edit]

Hon. Diane P. Wood, Circuit Judge, dissenting:

Recent national election history tells us, to the contrary, that disenfranchising even a tiny percentage of voters can be enough to swing election outcomes. Christine Gregoire captured the gubernatorial race in Washington State in 2004 with a margin of only 129 votes. See http://en.chped.com/wiki/Washington_gubernatorial_election,_2004 (visited March 22, 2007). Representative Vern Buchanan of Florida's 13th Congressional District won by only 329 votes. See http://en.chped.com/wiki/Florida%27s_13th_congressional_district (visited March 22, 2007). Senator Jon Tester of Montana won his seat by a slightly larger margin -- 2,847 votes -- but hardly a gap that implies that small numbers do not matter. See http://en.chped.com/wiki/Jon_Tester (visited March 22, 2007). And surely no adult now living in the United States needs to be reminded of how close the 2000 Presidential race was.

Bourgeois v. Peters, 387 F.3d 1303, 1312 (11th Cir. 2004)[edit]

We also reject the notion that the Department of Homeland Security's threat advisory level somehow justifies these searches. Although the threat level was "elevated" at the time of the protest, "to date, the threat level has stood at yellow (elevated) for the majority of its time in existence. It has been raised to orange (high) six times." Wikipedia, Homeland Security Advisory System, available at http://en.chped.com/wiki/Department_of_Homeland_Security_Advisory_System (last referenced Aug. 16, 2004).

Note: This is the earliest instance of a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals citing Wikipedia.

Ferguson v. Comm'r, T.C. Summary Opinion 2007-30 (TNT Tax Court Summaries 2007)[edit]

[Opinion of the United States Tax Court.]

Video poker is a "casino game based on five card draw poker." Http://en.chped.com/wiki/Video_poker. Players bet money or credits and then play poker against a computerized machine. See id. One does not play against other players but simply tries to obtain the best hand. After the player's draw, "the machine evaluates the hand and offers a payout if the hand matches one of the winning hands in the posted pay schedule." Id.

A payout value or payback rate is the expected return a particular game will provide when played over a long enough period of time. See http://en.chped.com/wiki/Expected_value.

A progressive machine is one which contributes to a progressive jackpot. A progressive jackpot, the highest payoff possible for a gaming machine, arises from a group of several gaming machines linked together. See http://en.chped.com/wiki/Progressive_jackpot. A small amount from every game played on each of the machines increases the value of the jackpot, and the jackpot winner receives money pooled from the entire group of linked machines. See id.

The Court suspects that petitioner's strategy did not work because, while some video poker games may have a payback rate at or in excess of 100 percent, assuming "error-free, perfect play", most games offer a payback rate of less than 100 percent, even when played with perfect strategy. See, e.g., http://en.chped.com/wiki/Video_poker.

Cases that comment on the reliability of Wikipedia as a source[edit]


MZXMM v Minister for Immigration[edit]

MZXMM v Minister for Immigration [2007] FMCA 975 (13 June 2007), Federal Magistrates' Court (Australia):

Whilst Wikipedia and the web site which is the subject of the present application which is a branch of Wikipedia may loosely be described as an ‘information source’, the unreliability of that information for the reasons given renders it an irrelevant source. By relying upon it the Tribunal has committed jurisdictional error.

SZNXQ v Minister for Immigration[edit]

SZNXQ v Minister for Immigration [2009] FMCA 1223 (14 December 2009), Federal Magistrates' Court (Australia):

The Tribunal, in making its decision, considered the first applicant’s own evidence about his claims and information about India in general and Gujarat in particular taken from Wikipedia. In my view, Wikipedia is a legitimate source of independent country information and it is a matter for the Tribunal as to how much weight it places upon information from that source.

MZYYY v Minister for Immigration & Anor[edit]

MZYYY v Minister for Immigration [2013] FMCA 34 (31 January 2013), Federal Magistrates' Court (Australia):

43. I note that McInnis FM in MZXMM v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship [2007] FMCA 975 at [129]- [130] had found that the Tribunal in that instance committed jurisdictional error because of the unreliable nature of the information on Wikipedia.

44. I further note that Scarlett FM came to a contrary conclusion in the subsequent case of SZNXQ v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship [2009] FMCA 1223. His Honour at [36] and [52] made it clear that in his opinion Wikipedia was a source to which the Tribunal could pay regard, although the weight to be given to the material was a matter for the Tribunal.
45. It does not appear that Scarlett FM was referred to in the earlier decision of McInnis FM.

46. For my part, given the broad investigative powers that the Tribunal has, I would incline to Scarlett FM’s view, although whether or not relying upon Wikipedia gives rise to jurisdictional error will depend very much on the facts of the particular case, the nature of the information relied on, and the use to which it is put.

United States[edit]

Campbell v. Sec'y of Heath & Human Servs., 69 Fed. Cl. 775, 781 (Ct. Cl. 2006)[edit]

[Opinion of the United States Court of Federal Claims.]

The articles that the Special Master culled from the Internet do not - at least on their face - remotely meet this reliability requirement. Consider the item on "febrile seizures" that she added from the Dictionary of Neurology, www.explore-medicine.com. Although that website no longer exists, the exhibit introduced by the Special Master indicates that its information was drawn from Wikipedia.com, a website that allows virtually anyone to upload an article into what is essentially a free, online encyclopedia. A review of the Wikipedia website reveals a pervasive and, for our purposes, disturbing series of disclaimers, among them, that: (i) any given Wikipedia article "may be, at any given moment, in a bad state: for example it could be in the middle of a large edit or it could have been recently vandalized;" (ii) Wikipedia articles are "also subject to remarkable oversights and omissions;" (iii) "Wikipedia articles (or series of related articles) are liable to be incomplete in ways that would be less usual in a more tightly controlled reference work;" (iv) "another problem with a lot of content on Wikipedia is that many contributors do not cite their sources, something that makes it hard for the reader to judge the credibility of what is written;" and (v) "many articles commence their lives as partisan drafts" and may be "caught up in a heavily unbalanced viewpoint."

Capcom Co., Ltd, et al. v. The MKR Group, Inc., No. C 08-0904 RS[edit]

The Wikipedia articles Capcom submits as a synopsis of these movies and video games are similarly inappropriate for judicial notice. See Nordwall v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., No. 05-123V, 2008 WL 857661, at *7 n.6 (Fed. Cl. Feb. 19, 2008) ("Wikipedia may not be a reliable source of information.").

United States v. Lawson[edit]

In United States v. Lawson, no. 10-4831 (4th Cir. Apr. 20, 2012), the defendant Lawson appealed a conviction where a juror had used Wikipedia to look up the definition of "sponsor":

We observe here another aspect of Wikipedia, namely, its reliability.... Given the open-access nature of Wikipedia, the danger in relying on a Wikipedia entry is obvious and real. As the "About Wikipedia" material aptly observes, "[a]llowing anyone to edit Wikipedia means that it is more easily vandalized or susceptible to unchecked information." [citing http://en.chped.com/wiki/Wikipedia:About.] Further, Wikipedia aptly recognizes that it "is written largely by amateurs." Id.


  1. ^ Detailed analysis of Wikipedia's use in judicial opinions can be found in Jason C. Miller and Hannah B. Murray, Wikipedia in Court: When and How Citing Wikipedia and Other Consensus Websites is Appropriate. St. John's Law Review, Vol. 84, No. 2, 2010.
  2. ^ See 17 U.S.C. &sec; 105.