Golf great Fuzzy Zoeller is suing to track down the author of a Wikipedia article that accused him of substance abuse, and of abusing his family. Under the law, Zoeller can’t sue Wikipedia itself, but he’s traced the ip address of the author to that of a Miami education consulting firm called Josef Silny & Associates. So he apparently is going after them.
It has always been my understanding that Fuzzy’s problems have been well documented—and that he has talked about many of them. I can’t recall the month or issue, but I’m sure that he was fairly open about his issues in a relatively recent issue of one of the major golf magazines.
It may be that this is just one of the things you have to deal with when you’re a celebrity in the information age. And even if he finds the author, he’s going to have a very hard time collecting damages. Fuzzy is a public figure, and to get restitution, he has to prove not only that the information was wrong, but also that it was done with malice.
A little civics lesson here: In the Case of New York Times Co V Sulivan (1964), the Supreme Court ruled that only when a statement is made with malice could a public official collect damages. The case involved a full page ad in the New York Times, which was taken out by defenders of Martin Luther King, Jr. The ad contained a number of inaccuracies in criticizing the police of Montgomery, Alabama. L.B. Sullivan, the Commissioner who supervised the Police Department, said that the criticisms of the department were defaming to him personally.
The court rejected Sullivan’s claim, ruling that damages could not be awarded to public officials unless they prove “actual malice”—that the statement was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false.
That standard has since been applied to public figures in general. It has also been ruled that public figures have a greater burden of proof than private figures because they have access to media in which they can defend themselves.
I don’t see how Fuzzy wins this one if he’s looking for damages. He may have an easier time if he’s just looking for an injunction against further publication of the information, but I don’t know. Maybe a lawyer out there can elaborate.
At any rate, no matter what happens in the courts, the information is out there forever. It’s gone from Wikipeida, but it’s still up on Answers.Com, and probably a large number of servers and internet caching sites.