Thursday, February 22, 2007

Wikipedia drives zoeller to court

Wikipedia drives zoeller to court

Fuzzy Zoeller is so incensed by "false and defamatory" statements made about him in Wikipedia, he has taken the matter to court.

But because it is not possible to sue communal media sites such as Wikipedia, Zoeller's attorney Scott D Sheftall of Miami is going after a Miami company, Josef Silny and Associates, from whose offices, he says, the alleged statements were posted on the Wikipedia site

Company president Josef Silny said he was completely taken aback this week when told by a Miami Herald reporter that the 1979 Masters champion was suing his company.

"I think it's the most bizarre thing that's ever happened to me," said Silny, who insisted that he doesn't follow golf and knows Zoeller's name only from seeing it on the sports pages.

Shiftal, in the meantime, is saying he has had to sue the company because Federal laws clearly hold that "no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as publisher or speaker of any information provided by another."

"The Courts have clearly said you have to go after the source of the information," Sheftall explained.

Silny said he doubted that any of his 45 employees was responsible for the statements which accused Zoeller of abusing drugs, alcohol and his family.

"I can't imagine anybody doing that," he said.

"This is completely out of left field - but I will be getting a computer consultant to look into the matter."

Zoeller's identity was originally concealed in the suit to protect his privacy and prevent further harm, his attorney said, but it was agreed that he discuss the case openly after The Miami Herald>i> learned of Zoeller's identity.

"The Zoeller family wants to take a stand to put a stop to this," Sheftall said. "Otherwise, we're all just victims of the Internet vandals out there. They ought not to be able to act with impunity."

In this case, Sheftall said there was neither a shred of evidence nor an informed source to suggest any truth in the derogatory statements.

Wikipedia, calling itself the largest reference website on the Internet, allows articles to be edited by anyone who has registered with the site.

It does warn in a disclaimer, however, that it "cannot guarantee the validity of information found here" and while many users have waxed lyrical about the site, others have questioned the accuracy of information on it.

One critic even set up a website called Wikipedia to warn users about it.

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, declined to comment on the law suit.

But he did say that Wikipedia is no different from any Internet message board. Objectionable comments have to be posted before they can be removed.

The statements Zoeller is upset about no longer appears in his current Wikipedia biography, but they can still be seen when reviewing a history of entries made.

The statements apparently were first posted on August 28 by someone using the name Damien Lynch but were later removed. They were re-posted on two further occasions, most recently on December 20, but this was again removed on January 2.

It's the last of the two postings that Zoeller's attorney has linked to Silny's firm.

Sheftall said he plans to subpoena Wikipedia and other parties to learn the identities of anyone else who may have participated in posting the statements.

Sheftall claimed the damage is not over, but was spreading. The false statements have now also appeared on the website and he is worried that the bad publicity generated could cost Zoeller, still active on the Champions Tour, his endorsement revenue.

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