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A wiki about a controversial prescription drug has been ordered by a US court to remove a link to documents which originated with Eli Lilly, the drug's manufacturer.

The drug, Zyprexa, has been the subject of payouts by Eli Lilly in cases over its alleged side effects. The pharmaceutical company still faces a large number of product liability lawsuits which claim that the schizophrenia and bipolar disorder treatment has caused patients to gain weight or to contract diabetes. Eli Lilly has already paid out $1.2bn to settle suits before they reached court, including $500m just last week.

A wiki about the controversy, zyprexa.pbwiki.com, published a link to internal Eli Lilly documents which the New York Times said showed that the company deliberately downplayed the side effects of the drug, which are alleged to include weight gain, high blood sugar levels and diabetes.

The judge in one of the product liability cases, federal district Judge Jack Weinstein, ordered the site and a number of named individuals to refrain from distributing the documents or causing them to be distributed.

Digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) defended the free speech rights of one anonymous poster in front of Weinstein but the judge has reiterated his earlier decision. He will hear further arguments on 16th January.

The EFF argued that the ruling breached the individual's rights to free speech, enshrined in the first amendment of the US Constitution. The case is one of the first to involve citizen journalists and new online developments such as wikis in such a serious case.

"Preventing a citizen-journalist from posting links to important health information on a public wiki violates the first amendment," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Fred von Lohmann. "Eli Lilly's efforts to censor these documents off the internet are particularly outrageous in light of the information reported by The New York Times, which suggests that doctors and patients who use Zyprexa need to know the information contained in those documents."

"The following individuals, entities and organisations who have received documents produced by Eli Lilly and Company are hereby enjoined from further disseminating these documents," said Weinstein's ruling. He goes on to name 13 individuals, at least four of them doctors, and four websites, including the Zyprexa wiki.

Wikis have exploded in popularity after the success of Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia. A wiki is an online store of information which readers can amend, edit, expand and update. Conceived as collaborative tools, wikis gain their authority from the combined expertise of readers and activists rather than purely from the qualifications and expertise of a team of professional authors and editors.

Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

Related links

The order (2-page / 90KB PDF)
The wiki

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