Sunday, June 17, 2007

DIY Sources

The other day I was working on my draft of an amicus brief. I had to begin by explaining some fundamentals of the internet, such as describing the difference between a static and dynamic IP address (I've changed the facts to protect the innocent). I've read cases where the judge footnoted to a Wikipedia article, so I checked out the Wiki definition of the terms I wanted to use. As it happened, the definitions didn't adequately cover the issue.

What did I do? Naturally, I signed into my Wiki account and edited the entry. Only then did the absurdity of citing to a 'customizable source' hit home.

Needless to say, I didn't use Wikipedia as a source for the brief.

9 comments:

Bzzzz said...

Sort of surprising that it wasn't up to snuff. I would have expected internet geekery to be pretty solid on wikipedia. The closest I have ever come to citing wikipedia, however, was when I went down to the footnotes, looked at the citation there and cited from the original artice.

Lee said...

Out of all the pro-and-con discussions of the Wikipedia that I've seen, your post is the first to touch on the notion of "writing your own authority." I wonder how many other legal researchers would have shown your restraint!

greg said...

Based on the voluminous citations I've seen, not enough people show such restraint. In my opinion, it's not even just the risk of writing one's own authority, though I've been tempted on several occasions. Instead, the more rampant problem, given the number of citations, is the fact that the content of the citation can change underneath it. There is a reason that law reviews are fanatical about citing to the printed volume of statutes, for instance.

One can imagine a battle of experts in a case warring in Wikipedia, each correctly changing the details of a citation to best fit their needs, each hoping it is their definition the judge sees first.

Eliza said...

I don't understand. People use Wikipedia as a source? I would not think this would be sound, as exactly the reasons here. I have found many science definitions that were good but I have also found numerous problems with the entries. Just like an encyclopedia is not used as a source in science, I am surprised any one uses Wikipedia as a source, other than personal information.

Lawyerlike said...

Ever since I had to learn the fine art of legal citation, what with the secret meaning of brackets, commas and reporters, I just hate citing to the web. There's something less fulfilling about it, as strange as that sounds.

Eric said...

Wikipedia is never a credible source for legal briefs, but I love the implicit idea of manufacturing your own custom-tailored "persuasive authority" to meet your needs. Eric.

Joseph Gratz said...

Brief writers have been (unwisely) citing Wikipedia for a while -- I wrote about one such instance almost exactly four years ago today.

Anonymous said...

A recent decision clearly rejected the use of Wikipedia articles as evidence.
"collaborative websites with permissive edits have little probative value. "[A]nyone can alter the content of Wikipedia at any time, casting doubt on the validity of the information contained therein", the International Trademark Association wrote in a June 23, 2006 letter (published at shapeblog.com/Beresford Wikipedia.pdf).
A Wikipedia article cannot be seen as reliable information in proceedings, as it can be manipulated before the proceedings, to serve the interests of a party"
(at 5.3)

Anonymous said...

Other than as evidence of what Wikipedia said about a certain thing at a certain time (in which case you could cite to a URL that captures a particular edit of a particular article, although I don't know how offhand how to do that), I can't imagine why one would ever want to offer Wikipedia as evidence of anything (for all of the reasons cited by my learned predecessors in comment).

A couple of years ago I had the USPTO cite against me to Wikipedia when they argued that a term was merely descriptive -- I wasn't given the opportunity to push an appeal (maybe because the client figured the argument was maybe kinda sorta probably right, although I'd never admit to such a thing), so I never got to express my incredulity over that. I believe I've heard lately that such practice is officially banned by the PTO -- Is that right?