[okfn-coord] WhoKnowsWho @ the OKF (confidential)

Jordan S Hatcher jordan at opencontentlawyer.com
Fri Jan 29 14:29:57 UTC 2010

On 19 Jan 2010, at 07:48, Jordan S Hatcher wrote:

> On 4 Jan 2010, at 12:47, Rufus Pollock wrote:
>> 2009/12/14 Jordan S Hatcher <jordan at opencontentlawyer.com>:
>>> On 14 Dec 2009, at 09:27, Becky Hogge wrote:
>>>> I agree entirely with Ian's suggestion that we seek legal advice.
>>>> Jordan, are you in aposition to give such advice, and if not, could
>>>> you - or any other member of the Board, help us seek some?
>>> I'm not in a position to give such advice.  My suggestion is that if it was appropriate with the new list admin, I could ping something through to the ORG law list and request to see if anyone can help.
>> Jordan: if you could do this that would be great ...

I've now done this.

The short answer is that it is quite a tightrope to walk in terms of trying to maintain immunity regarding libel. Any involvement on the content side by OKF as a company (or us as individuals) means exposure to liability regarding libel. Francis has identified a trend that libel suits have been on the increase, even among "aggrieved bloggers" with little assets (and not just the rich and famous). Defending against libel costs time and resources, even if thrown out early in the process.  Insurance may be available.  It also sounded like the best defense is a good offense and that a good way to stop libel suits is to meet them vigorously and robustly.

So for example, the current homepage lists some "featured people", such as Arsenal's Billionaires.  If selecting who goes on the homepage is done in a bottom up, user generated way (ie, not by people acting on behalf of OKF or with OKF "having knowledge" of the content), then OKF could potentially get out of any libel claim (though that in itself is a headache -- arguing your immunity still requires arguing).  If OKF people select that content, then OKF could be seen to be adopting it and becoming a publisher for libel purposes. It sounded like it starts to get hazy the more we do beyond providing server space, so when we start to gravitate towards having the WhoKnowsWho team as some sort of project lead that reports into to OKF central, I think we are crossing the boundary into being responsible for content.

My interpretation / spin:

It sounds like there are really two options for us, as I think given the type of organisation that we are, having strictly imposed behaviours in regards to trying to stay at arms length as a host to the site would not work.

Option 1 - fully take on the project as C4 has done and very actively moderate the site and try to make the data there as verifiable and accurate as possible
Option 2 - don't take them on at all.

Sort of a "liberty or death" type decision from my view.  I've left out the third option which we we had discussed which was providing server space or some sort of separate legal home (a new company) for the project.  I don't see why we would need to be involved in either of those options as TUI can sort all that sort of stuff out themselves.

Two final points:

* I should have guessed beforehand, but Francis needs to formally engage with OKFN even for this type of advice session.  He's presented me with a client care letter to sign on behalf of OKF, and unless there is any objection, I will sign for the organisation and return to him ASAP.  There is no fee for the time he spent with me on Tuesday

* Speaking of fees, Francis's rates are very reasonable for non-profits (100/hour), and he is very interested in helping us out as much as possible.  I think we should look to pay Francis if we need anything further from him.  He said he'd love to be paid, but would do some help for us for free.  I think to make sure we maintain him as a resource for OKF that we should look to move ourselves into the "paying client" column in his ledger as it means we can continue to get high quality advice for reasonable rates.

Happy to talk about this further on the phone about some more of the specifics.



Mr. Jordan S Hatcher, JD, LLM

More at: <http://www.jordanhatcher.com>
Co-founder:  <http://www.opendatacommons.org>
Open Knowledge: <http://www.okfn.org/>

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