Court Staff Altered Wikipedia

The Federal Court confirms an unidentified employee used a courthouse computer to edit Blacklock’s Wikipedia page. The edits occurred the same day a judge issued a $65,000 cost award against Blacklock’s for attempting to halt unauthorized distribution of copyright works by federal employees. The Attorney General’s department admits it leaked the $65,000 decision to a blogger and Globe & Mail columnist.

Andrew Baumberg, counsel for the Federal Court, said that “assuming the integrity of the revision logs kept by Wikipedia”, an unnamed staffer used a Court Administration Services IP address to alter the page on December 21. “Employees are not prevented from using Wikipedia,” said Baumberg.

“It is the IP address for the Courts Administration Services firewall which provides a single IP address for all internet traffic related to over 620 Administration Services employees and to members of the four Courts served by the Administration,” he said.

“Employees are allowed limited personal use of federal networks and devices,” said Baumberg. He would not name the person who altered the Blacklock’s entry, or comment when asked if it was proper for Court staff to edit a plaintiff’s Wikipedia page.

‘65,000 Lumps Of Coal’

The Wikipedia edits came the same day Justice Robert Barnes issued a $65,000 cost award against Blacklock’s in an unsuccessful lawsuit against the Department of Finance. Blacklock’s sued for $17,817 after it caught Finance staff copying its works without payment or permission.

Finance staff cut and paste news stories into emails beginning October 10, 2013, five weeks after the department on September 11 asked Blacklock’s for the cost of a licensing agreement and was quoted the $17,817 figure. Employees who copied the stories included Stephanie Rubec, currently a spokesperson for Finance Minister Bill Morneau. Rubec had requested Blacklock’s licensing rates on September 11, 2013.

In his ruling, Justice Robert Barnes described Blacklock’s as “self-serving”; said the copyright claim had no “legal merit”; denied the case “raised ‘strong public interest considerations’”; and concluded the lawsuit “should never have been commenced let alone carried to trial.”

The December 21 decision was privately emailed by a Court clerk to lawyers in the case. The Court’s Baumberg said he was not involved in any leaks of the document. “I myself have not received any such request,” he said. In a timeline of the December 21 release:

  • • At 1:33 pm the decision was emailed to government attorney Alex Kaufman;
  • • At 3:51 pm an Ottawa blogger, Howard Knopf, published the decision alongside a cartoon of a brick of coal in a Santa hat with the comment: “It is difficult, given the time of year and the circumstances, not to think about a lump of coal — indeed 65,000 of them”;
  • • At 3:54 pm Globe columnist James Bradshaw published a Tweet, “Federal Court orders Blacklock’s Reporter to pay $65,000 in costs after losing case claiming copyright breach”.

Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould’s department told Blacklock’s that staff leaked the decision to the blogger and Globe columnist. The department did not explain its motive. Wilson-Raybould in a 2015 Ministerial Mandate letter committed to “set a higher bar for openness and transparency”; “avoid escalating conflicts unnecessarily”; and regard media as “professionals who, by asking necessary questions, contribute in an important way to the democratic process. Your professionalism and engagement with them is essential.”

Blacklock’s is appealing the $65,000 cost award. The company is also proceeding this month with litigation against the Department of the Environment and Health Canada for unauthorized distribution of its copyright works without permission or a licensing agreement.

By Staff

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