Feeds

Online cult decides federal court case

American adjudicators embrace Wikimadness

The Power of One Brief: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

Jimbo Wales and his worldwide online cult are now deciding federal court cases.

Over at the Seventh US Court of Appeals in Chicago, a three-judge panel recently settled a long-standing legal battle by shamelessly citing an entry on Wikipedia. And as you might expect, the entry was edited after the case went to trial.

The case of Rickher v. Home Depot hinged on the meaning of "wear and tear." In suing the American retail giant, John Rickher claimed that the "Damage Waiver" sold alongside Home Depot rental tools was absolutely worthless, arguing that it failed to provide protection above and beyond the company's standard rental agreement. The rental agreement, he pointed out, already covered "wear and tear."

Citing Webster's and Random House - two of the most widely used American dictionaries - Rickher insisted that "wear and tear" is commonly defined as "depreciation, damage, or loss resulting from ordinary use or exposure" or "damage or deterioration resulting from ordinary use." But in the end, the trio of judges ignored those trusted dictionaries in favor of the free encyclopedia anyone can edit without telling the world who they really are.

"Although it is true that dictionary definitions of 'wear and tear' often employ the word 'damage,' that does not mean that damage and 'wear and tear' are synonymous," the ruling (PDF) reads. "Wear and tear is a more specific phrase that connotes the expected, often gradual, depreciation of an item. See Wear and Tear, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wear_and_tear, last visited May 30, 2008."

According to Eugene Volokh, a blog-happy UCLA law professor, using Wikipedia to decide a federal court case is not a good idea. "With a central legal issue, such as the one in this Seventh Circuit case, where there seems to be some contrary evidence, I would be hesitant to trust Wikipedia," he tells the The Reg. "The entry could have been written by almost anybody."

And he doesn't know the half of it.

Volokh also points out that such a decision opens the door to cult-fueled legal tampering. "There's always the risk that the entry could be changed by someone who has an interest in the litigation," he says.

Indeed, the Wikipedia text cited by the court's decision was edited while the Rickher case was still in district court. Judging from a Wikiscanner search, it's unlikely that "wear and tear" entry was rigged. But this is Wikiland. Stranger things have happened. ®

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
KDE releases ice-cream coloured Plasma 5 just in time for summer
Melty but refreshing - popular rival to Mint's Cinnamon's still a work in progress
NO MORE ALL CAPS and other pleasures of Visual Studio 14
Unpicking a packed preview that breaks down ASP.NET
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
Put down that Oracle database patch: It could cost $23,000 per CPU
On-by-default INMEMORY tech a boon for developers ... as long as they can afford it
Another day, another Firefox: Version 31 is upon us ALREADY
Web devs, Mozilla really wants you to like this one
Google shows off new Chrome OS look
Athena springs full-grown from Chromium project's head
prev story

Whitepapers

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.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.