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German Killers Sue Wikipedia To Remove Their Names 859

Posted by Soulskill
from the aim-for-foot-and-pull-trigger dept.
Jason Levine writes "Wolfgang Werlé and Manfred Lauber killed a German actor in 1990. Now that they are out of prison, German law states that they can't be referred to by name in relation to the killings. Therefore, they have sued to get Wikipedia to remove their names from the Wikipedia article about the killings. The German edition of Wikipedia has already complied, but the English edition is citing US freedom of speech and a lack of presence in Germany as reasons why they don't need to remove the name. In a bit of irony, their lawyer e-mailed the NY Times: 'In the spirit of this discussion, I trust that you will not mention my clients' names in your article.'"
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German Killers Sue Wikipedia To Remove Their Names

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  • by Interoperable (1651953) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @12:19PM (#30098050)
    You just referenced their names in relation to the killings.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TheRaven64 (641858)
      No, Slashdot referenced their names in relation to their lawsuit, which is entirely different...
    • by feyhunde (700477) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @12:36PM (#30098254)
      What's even better is the German Wikipedia article now mentions the dispute and links to the NY Times Article without naming names on their page...
  • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @12:21PM (#30098070)
    That these guys killed someone and were convicted of it is a recorded, historical fact. No allegations, simple fact.

    Are we not allowed to state simple facts now?
    • by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @12:33PM (#30098218)

      In theory right, but in this case you have to weigh the interests. These people committed a crime, did their time and now they are free again. They should be given a chance to reintegrate into society. At least in Germany the idea behind prison is to "better" the person, not just revenge and punishment. And this can be severely hindered if the first thing you find when you look for his name is that he's shot someone. Wikipedia has a tendency to come up as the first hit for any given keyword you might be looking for.

      • by Blue Stone (582566) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @01:15PM (#30098668) Homepage Journal

        The premise of the law is laudible, but rather than have everything related to them shovelled down the memory hole, lest someone googles their names and decides not to give them a second chance, wouldn't it be easier if they simply changed their names?

      • by snowgirl (978879) * on Saturday November 14, 2009 @04:12PM (#30100350) Journal

        In theory right, but in this case you have to weigh the interests. These people committed a crime, did their time and now they are free again. They should be given a chance to reintegrate into society. At least in Germany the idea behind prison is to "better" the person, not just revenge and punishment. And this can be severely hindered if the first thing you find when you look for his name is that he's shot someone. Wikipedia has a tendency to come up as the first hit for any given keyword you might be looking for.

        Most Americans have been socialized in a culture of punishment, not rehabilitation. It is difficult to try to get us to avoid the knee-jerk reaction of "BUT HE NEEDS TO BE PUNISHED!" It's precisely why we imprison so much of our society.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      That these guys killed someone and were convicted of it is a recorded, historical fact. No allegations, simple fact. Are we not allowed to state simple facts now?

      Depends where "we" is - in Germany, apparently not. In the US, yes.

      Different lands, different laws.

    • by annodomini (544503) <lambda2000@yahoo.com> on Saturday November 14, 2009 @01:21PM (#30098734) Homepage

      Your name, address, social security number, bank account balance, credit card transactions, passwords, medical history, and so on are simple facts. Should those who have access to that information be allowed to state those simple facts? In public, on the internet, where anyone and everyone can see it?

      This is an issue about freedom of speech versus the right to privacy. The murder is a simple fact, but it's something that happened almost 20 years ago. They have done their time, and are being released back into the world, where they need to try and put together a life again. Now, the question is, should anyone (such as potential employers) be able to Google their names and get a Wikipedia article naming them as murderers as the first hit?

      This is a tough question. On the one hand, it is a plain and simple fact, that has been widely publicized, so it's fairly hard to put the cat back in the bag. On the other hand, someone who's been in prison for years, and is getting out and trying to re-integrate with society, doesn't need the added burden of everyone who interacts with them treating them with fear and suspicion because of something that happened long ago. Some judicial systems (such as that in the US), focus most on punishment and the deterrent value that supposedly has; others focus on rehabilitation and turning someone back into a productive member of society.

      Now, I do favor protecting freedom of speech in this case; you can't suppress the information entirely, so any attempt to is just going to be more harmful than helpful. But I just wanted to point out that just because something is a simple fact, does not mean that it's OK to publish it on the public Internet.

  • Just so that we don't forget the names of Wolfgang Werlé & Manfred Lauber, convicted killers. I would like to mention that the names of the killers are Wolfgang Werlé & Manfred Lauber. If they, Wolfgang Werlé & Manfred Lauber, don't like it they (Wolfgang Werlé & Manfred Lauber ) can sue me.
  • by _Sprocket_ (42527) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @12:31PM (#30098188)

    Less Hasselhoff, more Streisand.

  • by blind biker (1066130) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @12:35PM (#30098236) Journal

    Wolfgang Werlé and Manfred Lauber are killers. Nothing can whitewash that.

  • A fresh start (Score:4, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @12:38PM (#30098280)

    I'm sure a lot of people are going to come out against the position of Germany's culture on this, citing freedom of speech. Freedom of speech, in the United States at least, is not given to citizens so that they can harm other people's reputations or hold them accountable for their actions. It is there so that actions by the government can be openly criticized and constructive dialog be established between (and amongst) citizens and the government, without fear of reprisal. It is there for the betterment of everyone. If there is no benefit to society, no protection is granted.

    These people have served their sentences. They have been punished according to the law of their land, and then released. In this country, a person's criminal record haunts them for life -- denying them jobs, restricting their freedoms, and in some cases leading to a greatly diminished quality of life such that they are forced into criminal enterprise in order to meet basic needs. But in Germany, these laws are crafted so that people can have a chance at a normal life again--A chance at redemption. It is recognized that people make mistakes, but these mistakes shouldn't haunt them for the rest of their lives. The government has stepped in to ensure that any adult citizen that has their freedom also has the same chances as the next.

    As far as the internet -- do we really want it to be a tool that enables a person's past mistakes to haunt them forever? That any personal information, once released into it, somehow becomes public property? Those naked photos your boyfriend took of you when you thought you'd be with him forever -- are those public property once he breaks up with you and posts them online? How about the records of your divorce, or the reasons why you were fired? What about that one night when your best friend tried to walk out of the bar drunk, and you stole the car keys and the two of you got into a big fight and the police were called? You want the whole world to know about these things? Or--was it just a mistake and once amends have been made then that's the end of it?

    Just because the information is out there doesn't mean it should be. Information doesn't have rights -- people do.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes. If you murder two people, then I have the right to know about it. That you served your time and have set out in the world to start over is your right once released. But people have the right to know the guy down the street is a convicted murderer.

      What happens if somebody is released for sexual predation of children? Should their names be stricken from any record of the crime? Does the young mother living next door to this released predator have no right to know of a potential danger?

      I am all for giving

      • Re:A fresh start (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Cochonou (576531) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @01:09PM (#30098594) Homepage
        Well, in Germany, you do not have that right. End of the story.
        Laws are only a reflection of the will of the society. The German society seems to be okay with forgetting such things. A large part of the slashdot community (a significant part of it living in the US) seems not to be okay with this. Different places, different minds. After you've said this, it just comes down to know how such laws are handled between countries. It kind of reminds me the "Yahoo nazi items" [wikipedia.org] controversy, in which the U.S. site of Yahoo was accused to sell nazi items to French people (selling such items is prohibited in this country). Yahoo was ultimately required to prevent the sale of such items to French people. In the story case, I suspect a ruling would not be as clear cut - as there is no financial motive involved for wikipedia.
        • Re:A fresh start (Score:4, Interesting)

          by ChienAndalu (1293930) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @02:53PM (#30099604)

          The German society seems to be okay with forgetting such things. A large part of the slashdot community (a significant part of it living in the US) seems not to be okay with this. Different places, different minds.

          I am German and no, I am not okay with this law. I also don't mind criticism from the US. Just because you live somewhere else doesn't mean you can't have an insightful opinion. Fuck moral relativism.

    • Re:A fresh start (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Wog (58146) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @12:54PM (#30098462)

      What about the rights of Walter Sedlmayr, who the duo tortured, mutilated, and killed because he was gay? He apparently doesn't matter anymore, you know, because they murdered him.

      Everyone makes mistakes, right? Hogwash.

      So these men should have a chance at a normal life again? What about Sedlmayr's normal life?

    • Re:A fresh start (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @12:56PM (#30098474)

      I'm sure a lot of people are going to come out against the position of Germany's culture on this, citing freedom of speech. Freedom of speech, in the United States at least, is not given to citizens so that they can harm other people's reputations or hold them accountable for their actions. It is there so that actions by the government can be openly criticized and constructive dialog be established between (and amongst) citizens and the government, without fear of reprisal. It is there for the betterment of everyone. If there is no benefit to society, no protection is granted.

      Actually, no that is not the fundamental premise of the US concept of freedom of speech. It is that the prior restraint of speech is so onerous that it is not allowed; so that open debate can be had around issues.

      These people have served their sentences. They have been punished according to the law of their land, and then released. In this country, a person's criminal record haunts them for life -- denying them jobs, restricting their freedoms, and in some cases leading to a greatly diminished quality of life such that they are forced into criminal enterprise in order to meet basic needs. But in Germany, these laws are crafted so that people can have a chance at a normal life again--A chance at redemption. It is recognized that people make mistakes, but these mistakes shouldn't haunt them for the rest of their lives. The government has stepped in to ensure that any adult citizen that has their freedom also has the same chances as the next.

      As far as the internet -- do we really want it to be a tool that enables a person's past mistakes to haunt them forever? That any personal information, once released into it, somehow becomes public property? Those naked photos your boyfriend took of you when you thought you'd be with him forever -- are those public property once he breaks up with you and posts them online? How about the records of your divorce, or the reasons why you were fired? What about that one night when your best friend tried to walk out of the bar drunk, and you stole the car keys and the two of you got into a big fight and the police were called? You want the whole world to know about these things? Or--was it just a mistake and once amends have been made then that's the end of it?

      Just because the information is out there doesn't mean it should be. Information doesn't have rights -- people do.

      Yes, and in the US we have the right of free speech. The solution is not to suppress speech but to change the concept of how past infractions are viewed. While the later is a difficult task; repressing speech in the name of protecting people's rights is far worse.

      Of course, as information becomes easier to access people also need to modify behaviors in light of changing technology; which they have been doing since the beginning of time. That is the real solution, IMHO.

    • Re: A fresh start (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @12:59PM (#30098496)

      But in Germany, these laws are crafted so that people can have a chance at a normal life again--A chance at redemption. It is recognized that people make mistakes, but these mistakes shouldn't haunt them for the rest of their lives.

      Forgive and forget? Seems pretty short-sighted. I'm not sure I'd call murder a "mistake". An act like this *should* haunt the perpetrators for the rest of their lives.

      The government has stepped in to ensure that any adult citizen that has their freedom also has the same chances as the next.

      Except for the guy they killed. Where's his freedom and chance?

      Lastly, what about the victim's family and friends? How about their chances for normal lives without the murder of their loved-one haunting them. Some things cannot be forgiven and some things should definitely not be forgotten.

      • Re: A fresh start (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Idiomatick (976696) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @12:13AM (#30103630)
        "Forgive and forget? Seems pretty short-sighted. I'm not sure I'd call murder a "mistake". "
        So you are saying people can't change? They could be radically different people after 20years.

        "An act like this *should* haunt the perpetrators for the rest of their lives."
        That is called REVENGE. Something that is not at all useful. I'd like to hope that we could evolve past this base need.

        You seem to think that making this guys life harder will some how bring back the dead dude. It won't. You seem to think that this man being tortured will ease their hearts and make them happy. It won't. And if it did it fucking shouldn't, those thoughts are pretty horrible and something again we should move past.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Vellmont (569020)


      Freedom of speech, in the United States at least, is not given to citizens so that they can harm other people's reputations or hold them accountable for their actions.

      I know of no such restriction that protection of speech is limited to only speech regarding the government. In fact, I'm quite sure that speech protection covers discussing all historical events. Some of the few restrictions are libel, slander, and obscenity.

      What about that one night when your best friend tried to walk out of the bar drunk,

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Macrat (638047)

      These people have served their sentences. They have been punished according to the law of their land, and then released. In this country, a person's criminal record haunts them for life -- denying them jobs, restricting their freedoms, and in some cases leading to a greatly diminished quality of life such that they are forced into criminal enterprise in order to meet basic needs. But in Germany, these laws are crafted so that people can have a chance at a normal life again--A chance at redemption.

      And when they kill again, say at a job, the employer can just shrug off responsibility because the law says you're not supposed to know they kill people.

      How about pedophiles being hired at schools?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Virak (897071)

      Freedom of speech, in the United States at least, is not given to citizens so that they can harm other people's reputations or hold them accountable for their actions. It is there so that actions by the government can be openly criticized and constructive dialog be established between (and amongst) citizens and the government, without fear of reprisal. It is there for the betterment of everyone. If there is no benefit to society, no protection is granted.

      No, you're just blatantly making shit up. There's a l

    • Re:A fresh start (Score:4, Insightful)

      by dcollins (135727) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @01:46PM (#30099022) Homepage

      "Freedom of speech, in the United States at least, is not given to citizens so that they can harm other people's reputations or hold them accountable for their actions. It is there so that actions by the government can be openly criticized and constructive dialog be established between (and amongst) citizens and the government, without fear of reprisal. It is there for the betterment of everyone. If there is no benefit to society, no protection is granted."

      This is perhaps the biggest pile of bullshit I've read on Slashdot in quite some time. This is not remotely how the U.S. constitution reads. This is complete fabricated nonsense.

  • by Sique (173459) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @12:39PM (#30098290) Homepage

    It states:

    The question of excising names from archives has not yet been resolved by the German courts, he said.

    There is no such concept as precedence in the German law. Every judge and every court is free to decide based solely on the current law and the merits of the case. There is something called prevailing opinion, but this is not obligatory, it is rather used as a shortcut by judges to reach a decision.
    Only decisions by the highest courts (BVG = Federal Constitutional Court and BGH = Federal Court of Justice) are binding.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Angst Badger (8636)

      While I recognize the goal of precedent -- to provide consistency in legal decisions -- I have to envy the Germans on this one. The major side-effect of precedent in American law is that it creates such a huge body of law, often piling ambiguity on top of ambiguity, that the general public cannot understand the law. At the very least, I wish that case law that added to (or invalidated) existing statutory law forced the law back to the legislature for clarification and correction.

  • by dh003i (203189) <.dh003i. .at. .gmail.com.> on Saturday November 14, 2009 @01:22PM (#30098746) Homepage Journal

    The _murderer's_ rights aren't violated by people knowing what they did. They should have been executed anyways. But irrelevant of that, non-aggressive people also have the right of freedom of association. I for one choose not to associate with people I consider dangerous.

    In a free society, criminals would owe restitution to their victims, and victims would be also entitled to request retribution against the criminal. Then people at large could make their own associative or dis-associative decisions regarding the criminal.

    One thing is clear, however. It doesn't violate anyone's rights for other people to know information about them that they've made publicly available through their actions.

    Note that I'm not saying I have, per se, the right to know information about other people. That would imply positive obligations on the part of other people. However, no-one has the right to stop the various people at Wikipedia from recording and maintaining an account of history. That is their private property right.

    • by snowgirl (978879) * on Saturday November 14, 2009 @04:44PM (#30100602) Journal

      The _murderer's_ rights aren't violated by people knowing what they did. They should have been executed anyways. But irrelevant of that, non-aggressive people also have the right of freedom of association. I for one choose not to associate with people I consider dangerous.

      Most countries in the world do not hold to the barbaric idea of execution. We are supposed to be more moral than animals.

      In a free society, criminals would owe restitution to their victims, and victims would be also entitled to request retribution against the criminal. Then people at large could make their own associative or dis-associative decisions regarding the criminal.

      They paid their restitution, the victims likely requested their desired restitution, and you can associate or not with people in general, but people need not actively tell you that they committed a crime, or necessarily any other sort of information. In a free society, we have the right to disclose personal details at our own discretion... some details will be worn on our face... the color of our skin, our gender, etc... but in general, we should have our privacy to tell only the details that we wish to.

      You're still free to choose not to associate with ex-criminals... but how many of them do you really know? I suppose more people than you would expect have had criminal run-ins... especially if you live in the USA.

      One thing is clear, however. It doesn't violate anyone's rights for other people to know information about them that they've made publicly available through their actions.

      Note that I'm not saying I have, per se, the right to know information about other people. That would imply positive obligations on the part of other people. However, no-one has the right to stop the various people at Wikipedia from recording and maintaining an account of history.

      People have a right to privacy. The USA has "false light" laws as well as defamation laws. Sometimes, even if information is true, if it is presented with actual malice, it is wrong, and the individual is entitled to damages.

      That is their private property right.

      You seem to misunderstand what prompts rights. A government grants the rights of their citizens to their citizens. There is not some omnipotent higher-power that brings his hand down to personally interfere with human legal machinations.

    • by TrekkieGod (627867) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @05:23PM (#30100892) Homepage Journal

      In a free society, criminals would owe restitution to their victims, and victims would be also entitled to request retribution against the criminal. Then people at large could make their own associative or dis-associative decisions regarding the criminal.

      In a completely free society, nobody is stopped from doing anything, which includes murdering others. A completely free society has no laws, and the strong rule.

      In a society where people value life, liberty, and property, we restrict what others can do in order to protect those rights which we, as a society, have determined are most important. Thus, in order to protect my right to life, we have enacted laws against murder. In order to protect my right to property, we have enacted laws against theft. By violating the victim's right to life, those criminals gave up their right to freedom for nineteen years. According to German law, they have apparently given up no other right, and owe nobody else any other restitution. Their debt has been paid, and they now have all the rights given any other citizen. That's fine by me.

      I still side with Wikipedia here because, among other reasons, German laws should not apply outside Germany. However, I object to your statement that in free society retribution is expected. Every law removes of some liberties in order to protect rights which said society values and thus, by definition, makes a society less free. A completely free society would not be one I'd like to live in, so these restrictions can make for a better society, but not a freer one.

      Note that I'm not saying I have, per se, the right to know information about other people. That would imply positive obligations on the part of other people. However, no-one has the right to stop the various people at Wikipedia from recording and maintaining an account of history. That is their private property right.

      Yes, I agree completely with you there. Seems like if they wanted to protect the identity of the murderers once they got out of jail, a better law would have been to never reveal this information in the first place, except to people who have some reason to be directly involved (family of the victims and the criminals, lawyers, etc). Once the information is out, it's out.

  • by redelm (54142) on Saturday November 14, 2009 @01:48PM (#30099044) Homepage

    This is fascinating -- when the United States [frequently] seeks to have its laws apply beyond its borders [extraterritoriality], everyone particularly the EU objects reflexively: "How dare they? We're a separate society."

    Now some in the EU think its laws should apply to the US. And not just about this, also other issues. Why should anyone in the US, and particularly elements of the [deservedly] much-abused US government give a rats @$$ for such blatant hypocrisy? Surely no-one denies the US is a distinct society!

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