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Wikipedia Windfall

DW staff (df)November 17, 2008

Leftist German politician Lutz Heilmann inadvertently marred his reputation by taking legal action intended to preserve it, inciting hundreds of blocked users to make donations to free online information forum Wikipedia.

Blocked Wikipedia Deutschland users showed their support with increased donations

Lutz Heilmann, a member of the German Parliament, or Bundestag, objected to certain information contained about him in an online article posted at German Wikipedia, so he hired a lawyer and had the site shut down. For two days access to the popular web pages was blocked because of a preliminary injunction that barred the German site from displaying more than its start page.

Although the start page had to be shut down, the content of German Wikipedia remained online for the duration because the servers of the free online encyclopedia are in the US and not under German jurisdiction.

Heilmann, 42, a member of the Far Left Party, Die Linke, is the only MP who was previously officially employed by the Stasi, the former East Germany's secret police.

Soon after his election in 2005, revelations and controversy surfaced about his previous career. But that wasn't the information Heilmann objected to in the online biography of him on Wikipedia. He opposed claims made there that he hadn't completed his university degree, and that he had been involved in a mail-order pornography business in Lübeck.

Heilmann took offense at the "false, derisive content" which he claimed "violated his personal rights". He pressed charges against Wikimedia Deutschland, and also filed legal complaints against three online authors.

MPs attempts to ban site result in windfall

Lutz Heilmann Linkspartei
Heilmann shut down the Wikipedia site for two daysImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Heilmann said he would lift the injunction as soon as the offensive material was removed from the article. On Friday, Nov. 14, the site was blocked; online users wanting to access the German Wikipedia pages were greeted only by a request to donate money, part of a recent fund-raising campaign.

Two days later the site was once again online and Heilmann apologized to Wikipedia users. A flurry of negative headlines and commentaries criticizing this latest exploit saw his popularity sink to an all-time low.

In a rushed attempt to save face, Heilmann issued a press release on Sunday, Nove. 17, stating that he would discontinue legal action against Wikimedia Deutschland now that the offensive material had been removed.

He indicated he would continue to pursue legal action against individual authors. Heilmann expressed his regret that Wikipedia users had been affected, saying that had not been his intention.

Show of support massively increases revenue

Jimmi Wales, founder of Internet encyclopedia 'Wikipedia'
Jimmi Wales, founder of Wikipedia, was quite happyImage: AP

It probably was also not Heilmann's intention to inadvertently promote the online encyclopedia. But masses of online users expressed their solidarity with the free and open resource, even reaching into their pockets.

On Saturday and Sunday, donations soared to the tune of 32,000 euros ($40,734), compared to 2,000 – 3,000 eusors on the days previously.