Wikimedia Foundation announces departure of general counsel Mike Godwin

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wikimedia-logo.svg This article mentions the Wikimedia Foundation, one of its projects, or people related to it. Wikinews is a project of the Wikimedia Foundation.

The Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization which administers online collaborative websites including Wikipedia and Wikinews, announced yesterday that its general counsel Mike Godwin will leave his position this Friday. The author of Cyber Rights: Defending Free speech in the Digital Age, Godwin is a former fellow at the Yale Center for Internet Studies and staff counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation who has served as chief lawyer for the Wikimedia Foundation since July 2007.

Mike Godwin in 2010
Image: Photographed by Lane Hartwell ( on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation.

Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation Sue Gardner announced the news in a public email. She wrote, "Hi folks, I want to let you know that as of this Friday, October 22, 2010, Mike Godwin will be leaving his role as General Counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation. Mike’s transition out of the role will be a fairly lengthy one: he will continue to be available to the Wikimedia Foundation to provide information and advice for several months to come."

Cquote1.svg The Wikimedia Foundation believes Mike has always acted in what he believes to be the Wikimedia Foundation’s best interests. Cquote2.svg

Sue Gardner

Gardner stated in a "Q and A" below the text of her email that Godwin was leaving the organization due to "a confidential personnel issue", and explained that the foundation would not elaborate upon this due to privacy concerns. Gardner noted, "The Wikimedia Foundation believes Mike has always acted in what he believes to be the Wikimedia Foundation’s best interests."

Godwin has focused his legal career in the areas of free speech and Internet law. In an article regarding his 1999 selection as a fellow at the Yale Center for Internet Studies, The Hartford Courant characterized Godwin as "a noted cyberspace lawyer and civil libertarian".

He is noted for writing "Godwin's Law", an Internet maxim which states, "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one."

Godwin became the first attorney to join the Electronic Frontier Foundation after its formation in 1990. In a 2007 interview with The New York Times, Godwin commented on the issue of defamation online, "The fear of defamation on the Internet is very strong. We’re going to be riding that social panic for a little bit." He described his role at the Wikimedia Foundation, "Part of my job is to prevent restrictive rules from being put in place that prevent people from participating in massively democratic participatory media. And then let the new norms settle." He acknowledged he empathized with others that had been criticized on the Internet, "Look, I have been smeared online. I know how bad it feels. It hurts. If democracy were comfortable, everybody would have it."

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