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Wikimedia Foundation sends cease and desist letter to Wiki-PR [Updated]

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The Wikimedia Foundation has sent a cease and desist letter to Wiki-PR, a public relations agency that has reportedly been engaging in paid advocacy editing on free online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

In the three-page letter, the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia, accuses Wiki-PR of violating the website's terms of use by making it appear "as if certain articles are written by unbiased sources, when in fact those articles are authored by Wiki-PR for money."

The letter, sent Tuesday to Wiki-PR Chief Executive Jordan French, calls the PR agency's actions "sockpuppetry or meatpuppetry" and says the practice is "expressly prohibited" on Wikipedia.

"When outside publicity firms and their agents conceal or misrepresent their identity by creating or allowing false, unauthorized, or misleading user accounts, Wikipedia's reputation is harmed," wrote the Wikimedia Foundation's lawyer, Patrick P. Gunn of law office Cooley.

"Sockpuppetry and meatpuppetry are especially harmful when used to disguise secret works of advocacy purchased by clients to promote a particular product, idea or agenda." 

Wikipedia's content is intended to be written by its community of volunteer writers, editors and other contributors and is expected to be neutral.

But Wiki-PR is "seeking to gain a commercial benefit from the Wikipedia brand" by "attempting to profit from the substantial time and effort invested by the Wikipedia volunteer community."

The letter went on to say that Wikipedia's volunteers had to "continuously search for false accounts and suspend them."

Last month, the Wikimedia community banned Wiki-PR and its agents from further editing the Wikipedia site. But Gunn said in the cease and desist letter that French admitted Monday that Wiki-PR had continued to actively sell its paid editing services despite the ban, which was consistent with the law office's own findings.

The letter didn't detail what it would do next if Wiki-PR didn't adhere to the ban, only to say the foundation was "prepared to take any necessary legal action to protect its rights."

On Wiki-PR's website, the firm promotes itself as "the easy way to accurately tell your story on Wikipedia."

"Let the largest Wikipedia consulting firm help you claim your top spot in Google search results," Wiki-PR's site says.

We reached out to French for comment Wednesday and received the following response: "Wiki-PR is working with the Wikimedia Foundation and its counsel to sort this out. Hopefully I'll have something more for you mid-week next week."

[Updated at 9:45 a.m. Thursday] Wikimedia Foundation spokesman Matthew Roth emailed The Times with a statement Wednesday night in which he disputed French's assertion that the two sides were working together.

"They mischaracterize the communication we have had. The Wikimedia Foundation has communicated with Wiki-PR, but we reject any implication that we are negotiating with them," Roth said.

"As stated in the cease and desist letter, Wiki-PR has been banned by the Wikipedia community, and must cease editing until it fully complies with the terms and conditions outlined by the community. Because of this, if Wiki-PR wishes to continue editing, they should talk with the community."

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