Feeds

Wiki can link to controversial documents, judge rules

Online freedom of speech tested

The essential guide to IT transformation

Drugs giant Eli Lilly has failed in its bid to restrict a wiki from linking to documents that could be damaging to its business. The ruling of a New York court said the court could not rule against the internet "in its various manifestations".

Though Eli Lilly did obtain an injunction against individuals forcing them to return documents belonging to it and to refrain from disseminating them further, it failed to stop other websites from linking to copies of the documents in a case which is being seen as a vital test of free speech online.

The documents relate to claims that Eli Lilly deliberately downplayed the side effects of its best selling drug Zyprexa, which is meant to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The side effects are said to include weight gain, high blood sugar levels and diabetes.

The company faces a number of product liability law suits in relation to the drug, and has already paid out $1.2bn in pre-court settlements in other cases. One of the judges in one of the cases, Judge Jack Weinstein, had ordered not only individuals but websites to refrain from passing the documents on to other people.

Weinstein has now reversed that decision in relation to the websites, one of which was a wiki, which is a collaborative online information source. It had published a link to the documents, and the possibility of an order for the link's removal was seen as a threat to user-generated content and the wiki publishing model as a whole.

"A difficult issue is presented by Lilly's request to enjoin certain websites from posting the confidential documents," said Weinstein in his judgment. "Prohibiting five of the internet's millions of websites from posting the documents will not substantially lower the risk of harm posed to Lilly. Websites are primarily fora for speech. Limiting the fora available to would-be disseminators by such an infinitesimal percentage would be a fruitless exercise of the court's equitable power."

"A more effective use of the court's equitable discretion is to impose restraints on the individuals who pose the greatest risk of harm to Lilly – those who have not returned the documents despite knowledge that they were illegally procured," said Weinstein. "Mindful of the role of the internet as a major modern tool of free speech, in the exercise of discretion the court refrains from permanently enjoining websites based on the insubstantial evidence of risk of irreparable harm. Restrictions on speech, even in the context of content-neutrality, should be avoided if not essential to promoting an important government interest. No website is enjoined from disseminating documents."

The judge said the websites had published or linked to the documents before being told not to on 4 January, and none had broken that order.

"This ruling makes it clear that Eli Lilly cannot invoke any court orders in its futile efforts to censor these documents off the internet," said EFF staff attorney Fred von Lohmann. "We are disappointed, however, that the judge failed to appreciate that its previous orders constituted prior restraints in violation of the First Amendment."

Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com

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

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
Britain's housing crisis: What are we going to do about it?
Rent control: Better than bombs at destroying housing
Top beak: UK privacy law may be reconsidered because of social media
Rise of Twitter etc creates 'enormous challenges'
GCHQ protesters stick it to British spooks ... by drinking urine
Activists told NOT to snap pics of staff at the concrete doughnut
What do you mean, I have to POST a PHYSICAL CHEQUE to get my gun licence?
Stop bitching about firearms fees - we need computerisation
Ex US cybersecurity czar guilty in child sex abuse website case
Health and Human Services IT security chief headed online to share vile images
We need less U.S. in our WWW – Euro digital chief Steelie Neelie
EC moves to shift status quo at Internet Governance Forum
Oz biz regulator discovers shared servers in EPIC FACEPALM
'Not aware' that one IP can hold more than one Website
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.