Monday, January 29, 2007

Wikipedia in the Courts

A student pointed out this article in today's edition of the New York Times. Entitled "Courts Turn to Wikipedia, but Selectively," the article discusses the new phenomenon of judicial rulings that rely on the free Internet encyclopedia. According to the author, Noam Cohen, a "simple search of published court decisions shows that Wikipedia is frequently cited by judges around the country, involving serious issues and the bizarre--such as a 2005 tax case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals concerning the definition of 'beverage' that involved hundreds of thousands of dollars, and, just this week, a case in Federal District Court in Florida that involved the term 'booty music' as played during a wet T-shirt contest." I was surprised to learn that over 100 rulings have cited Wikipedia from 2004 to date, and that that number includes thirteen decisions from circuit courts of appeal; the Supreme Court has not so far cited Wikipedia. Even more surprising to me was the opinion of Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit--he thinks that "Wikipedia is a terrific resource." He, however, does point out what I told my Advanced Legal Research students last week--"It wouldn't be right to use it in a critical issue." Professor Cass Sunstein also "loves Wikipedia," but doesn't "think it is yet time to cite it in judicial decisions," citing its lack of quality control. Professor Sunstein also fears that "'if judges use Wikipedia you might introduce opportunistic editing' to create articles that could influence the outcome of cases."

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