High school sues after Wikipedia users make 'mean-spirited' comments

NEBRASKA -- A private high school in Omaha has filed a lawsuit to obtain the names of some anonymous users of the encyclopedia Web site Wikipedia.org that made "mean-spirited" remarks about the school on the site, the school’s lawyer says.

Skutt Catholic High School filed the lawsuit last month against anonymous users John and Jane Doe. Patrick Flood, attorney for the high school, said this is just a tactical move to obtain the identities of the users because after a lawsuit was filed, the school was able to subpoena Cox Communications, the Internet service provider of the users. The lawsuit does not name Wikipedia, a free Web site that allows members to create and edit encyclopedia entries.

Flood declined to comment specifically about the nature of the postings, but The Associated Press quoted the following remark from the Web site: "It’s (sic) tuition is ridiculously high, too. Not to mention you get an awful education there. They put more emphasis on sports than they do education. No wonder almost all kids there are complete idiots."

The Associated Press reported that the school objected to four postings made since February that included vulgar language, allusions to student drug use and criticism of the school’s principal.

All of the comments have since been removed from the Web site.

Flood said the school does not see this as a free speech issue.

"To us this is not about the First Amendment," Flood said. "It’s really about finding out who may have posted some vandalous edits on Wikipedia.com, and if they’re affiliated with the high school, to try to take some appropriate action with them."

David Grabert, a spokesman for Cox Communications, said the company will comply with the subpoena, "unless there are further developments in the case, which quashes that order."

"We have an obligation to comply with lawful subpoenas," Grabert said in an e-mail. "However, we otherwise go to great lengths to protect our customers’ privacy. We never share customer information without receipt of a lawful subpoena and our security measures are top notch."

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