We've posted several times on the threat that unauthorized computer use can pose to employers. But here's a new twist. Lawyers USA reports that professional golfer Fuzzy Zoeller "is suing to track down the author who posted . . . a defamatory paragraph about him on the Internet reference site Wikipedia." Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that allows anyone to edit entries.The paragraph in question accused Zoeller of abusing alcohol and his family but offered no evidence in support of the statements. Although the paragraph was removed, it was picked up by other sites and distributed around the Internet.
Zoeller traced the source of the offensive entry to Josef Silny & Associates, a Miami-based education consulting business. Unable to sue Wikipedia, Zoeller sued Silny to identify the author. LawyersUSA quotes Zoeller's attorney as saying that "the Zoeller family wants to take a stand to put a stop to this. Otherwise, we're all just victims of the Internet vandals out there. They ought not to be able to act with impunity." He has a point.
Turnabout being fair play, Zoeller's Wikipedia entry now contains a reference to the incident and to the litigation.
But are there broader implications? If the Silny firm failed to adequately control the use of its office computers so that they could be used to defame someone, might not Zoeller have a claim against the company as well as the author?
This is another good example of why all businesses that use computers and allow their employees Internet access should review their computer policies or, if they don't have one, get one right away. Otherwise, like Josef Silny & Associates, they might end up with an unexpected legal bill — and possibly a liability.