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Critical issues presentations/Wikipedia and International Law

From Wikimania 2016 • Esino Lario, Italy
Submission no. 15
Title of the submission

Wikipedia and International Law

Author of the submission
  • Tobias Lutzi
Country of origin




  • International Law
  • Conflict of Laws
  • Internet Regulation
  • Defamation
  • Intellectual Property
  • Privacy
  • Right to be Forgotten

Two years ago, I discussed the question 'Which Law Applies to Wikipedia?' in a talk that was voted the third best presentation of Wikimania 2014; a part of it was subsequently published in the German Journal for the Law of International Commerce ((2014) 60 RIW 810).

The general topic of the talk evidently remains as relevant as ever. While different national and supra-national legislators keep trying to regulate internet activity – creating large regulatory overlaps in the process – the legal environment for big international online projects remains a confusing patchwork. The legal uncertainty that results is particularly problematic for Wikipedia with its over 250 language versions and countless sister projects. As one of the most 'international' online projects, it creates a large variety of legal problems, many of which are subject to different, overlapping or even conflicting rules and provisions. Violations of intellectual property rights, defamatory content of articles, infringements on privacy, and unfair commercial practices are just some examples of the plethora of legal problems Wikipedia authors and the Wikimedia Foundation have to deal with on a daily basis. As a consequence, there is an ever-growing demand for guidance on how to deal with these problems, which further extends to the broader question of how to push for a more coherent legal environment.

In my talk, I would like to reiterate some of the main themes of my 2014 presentation in order to familiarise all attendants with the principal mechanisms of private and public international law that constitute the legal environment for large online projects like Wikipedia. On that basis, I would like to discuss some recent and particularly problematic issues such as the 'right to be forgotten' (famously created by the European Court of Justice in 2014) in order to illustrate how these mechanisms work in practice and how individual editors and the Wikimedia Foundation may deal with that interplay. Hopefully, the talk will thus be helpful to editors and policy-makers alike, while also providing an interesting insight into Wikipedia's position in the multifarious realm of international law.


tl;dr: A revised and heavily amended version of my 2014 presentation 'Which Law Applies to Wikipedia?' that will provide an insight into the interplay between private and public international law that constitutes the legal environment for international internet projects like Wikipedia while also discussing some particularly problematic recent issues such as the 'right to be forgotten'.



Interested attendees and comments

Interested attendees: