A federal judge dissolves an injunction but a Swiss bank's litigation against the community-driven document sharing site will proceed.
WikiLeaks on Friday won its domain name back but still faces a potentially lengthy litigation as the court wrestles with issues of liability and restraint as applied to collaborative transnational publishing.
The federal judge who earlier this month ordered the California domain registrar Dynadot to disassociate the domain name records linking Wikileaks.org with the IP address of its server, (188.8.131.52), dissolved his injunction and allowed the litigation against the community-driven document sharing site to proceed.
The plaintiff in the case, Bank Julius Baer (BJB), a Swiss bank with branches around the world, won the injunction over two weeks ago as part of its legal offensive to prevent Wikileaks.org from distributing what it claims are confidential documents containing private information on bank clients.
The aggressive legal tactics of Lavely & Singer, the firm representing the bank, have failed to remove the disputed documents from the Internet. But they have drawn criticism for causing collateral damage.
The latest casualty is Daniel Matthews, a mathematics graduate student at Stanford and human rights advocate who received a summons from the Swiss bank's attorneys naming him as an officer of WikiLeaks.
In a court document filed on Thursday, Matthews said that although he has contributed to WikiLeaks -- wikis being Web sites to which anyone can contribute -- he has no involvement with the management of the site.
Matthews declared that he said as much in an e-mail to the bank's legal team, only to be told, "WikiLeaks lists you as an officer of the company on its Facebook page. As an officer of a defendant in this action, my client is entitled to serve you a copy of the summons and complaint ..."
In reply, Matthews said he explained that he moderates a Facebook group that discusses WikiLeaks and had no management role in WikiLeaks. "I am not, and never have been, an officer of WikiLeaks, and I request you not to represent that I am."
Nonetheless, he was compelled to retain an attorney to defend him in court.
"I don't want to use the world abusive but the approach that they took was extremely aggressive," said Joshua Koltun, an attorney who is representing Matthews pro bono. "From my client's perspective, that was cause for concern. I think that this kind of thing is just not supposed to happen this way. They took a 'shoot first, ask questions later' approach, which in this context didn't do well."
At the same time, Koltun expressed sympathy for the problem facing BJB's lawyers: How to serve legal documents to such an amorphous entity. "There is no entity called WikiLeaks, not in the sense that they contend," he said.
Julie Turner, an attorney who represented WikiLeaks as pre-litigation counsel, is less understanding that Matthews was compelled to defend himself. "That's like serving your neighbor just because they're there," she said, noting that there are rules that dictate how to serve legal papers to unknown parties.
Koltun reserved his criticism for WikiLeaks' domain registrar. Dynadot, he said, "didn't want to fight something that might lead to a costly dispute. They basically rolled over." The result of this sort of behavior, he said, is that those involved in community-run Web sites, like Wikipedia.org, might be more reluctant to participate for fear of being held liable for something on the site.
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