Personal interest, case I ACa 949/09

February 9th, 2010, Tomasz Rychlicki

Since a couple of years he is a very controversial figure of the Polish Internet and he also has become the cause of two interesting judgments which I am going to report. Arnold Buzdygan appeared on different Polish newsgroups, where he wrotre, inter alia, on topics such as copyright, sexology, psychology and politics. His style of writing was, at least, very controversial. Due to the vulgarity of some of his statements (he claimed that such actions were performed by his followers who allegedly used his name), offers to make a bet and announcements of lawsuits and threats of beatings, a part of the Usenet community defined these behaviors as trolling and such informations was posted in the Polish Wikipedia’s entry devoted to Buzdygan’s persona. Arnold Buzdygan decided to sue.

In the petition for libel filed against the Association Wikimedia Poland and Agnieszka K., he demanded an order to remove the existing contents of the article Arnold Buzdygan in both English and Polish-language versions of Wikipedia, and to put the apology instead of these entries, and to block the possibility of future edition of the questioned article, He also requested the Court to order the Association Wikimedia Poland to pay him the compensation of moral injury and the costs of the process in the sum of 100000 PLN.

In the response to a petition, the Association of Wikimedia Poland requested the Court to dismiss the claim, pointing that such charges cannot be brought against it because of the lack of the so-called “passive legitimacy”. Wikimedia Poland stated that neither the Association itself, or persons acting on its behalf are not engaged in editing of the article on Arnold Buzdygan, Wikimedia Poland argued that it is not a database administrator of Wikipedia or administrator of the servers on which the information is stored, so it would not be possible to remove or permanent blocking of such entries.

The District Court in Wrocław dismissed the suit in judgment of 8 June 2009, case file I C 802/07. Buzdygan appealed, and his petition was dismissed by the Appellate Court in Wrocław in a judgment of 17 November 2009, case file I ACa 949/09, published in Orzecznictwo Apelacji Wrocławskiej, Biuletyn Sądu Apelacyjnego we Wrocławiu, No 1 (13), p. 5, Year MMX. The court ruled that the statements published in the disputed article and the mention of trolling do not infringe on Buzdygan’s personal rights. Descriptions of Buzdygan’s activity on different forums, though they may have a pejorative connotation, were the evaluation of the expression of views issued by Arnold Buzdygan, not the description of himself. The wording that was challenged by Buzdygan does not refer to his person, but it concerned the way of formulation of his speech in a public discussion, and the measure of negative evaluation did not exceed the permissible limit.

An active participant of online forums, being a well-known and recognizable in such community is, in this sense, a “public personality”. As a public person, participating in discussions, one agrees and must reckon with the fact that his or her opinions and statements will be subjected to criticism by other users, sometimes very radically and one has to demonstrate greater tolerance and even resistance to unfavourable and unflattering opinions, and even violent attacks. The boundaries of acceptable criticism are wider in fact, than in the case of persons not participating in such discussions. The evidence proceedings during the hearings has shown that Buzdygan was and is very active participant in online forums, and he is a known figure. By applying the test of the higher degree of tolerance for unflattering opinions, the Court found that the wording of the Wikipedia entry devoted to Arnold Buzdygan did not exceed the agreed and acceptable standard.

See also “Computer crime, case V K 1595/08“.