On 10 March, Danny, an employee of the Wikimedia Foundation, removed the article upon advice from the Foundation's attorney, replacing it with a protected one-sentence description of Thompson (see archived story). During the protection, the article was rewritten by many users, with better sourcing and a more neutral point of view. On 14 March, Danny and Michael Snow replaced the protected article with the new draft. Since its unprotection, the article has received over 250 additional edits, adding new citations and other information.
Since its introduction in February, the policy has been invoked several times; Harry Reid was protected for a time, and Brian Peppers was deleted through the office actions policy. Some critics of the policy feared that it would encourage litigation to remove unfavorable content from articles. However, most users agree that the policy is necessary to avoid legal troubles.
The Signpost interviewed Brad Patrick, legal counsel to the Foundation, about the policy on Monday:
Wikipedia Signpost: What prompted the Foundation to examine Jack Thompson?
Brad Patrick: As the community is aware, the Foundation was in receipt of a letter addressed to the Board of the Foundation. As outside general counsel to the Foundation, I was made aware of the letter and responded to Mr. Thompson. Based on our communication, I felt a review of the article was warranted legally, and asked some administrators (with Danny's assistance) to perform that review. That was where the WP:OFFICE notice came up.
WS: What sort of problems were there with the article?
BP: I can't comment on the specifics, but generally, his allegations were that certain of the material in the article could, potentially, be considered libelous or defamatory.
WS: About how many office requests do you receive every week/month? Of these, how many are acted upon?
BP: That's a hard question to answer. There are probably one or more noteworthy requests a week, on average. Certainly a legitimate request from an attorney is the exception. Most of the stuff that comes in through e-mail is far from significant. Many readers express shock and astonishment that just anyone "could say [X] like that" and want one of our thousands of "paid" editors to explain how this got there. So, for the most part, the real situations are few and far between, and that's why WP:OFFICE should not be taken lightly.
BP: If Seigenthaler had happened and we had an WP:OFFICE policy, there is no doubt that would have been used in that circumstance while we figured out how to handle the issue. The important part is that Jimbo is not responsible for the content of the encyclopedia, obviously. Everyone just thinks he is. But we do have an obligation to respond to potentially libelous material that is on our servers, if we are made aware of it, investigate it, and we believe it has legal merit. When you get right down to it, we are in the business of being an encyclopedia, nothing more, nothing less. And we should respond to legitimate criticism legitimately. But the Foundation does not "cave in" because someone doesn't like something, as some have suggested.
WS: How much has the article improved since its protection?
BP: I'm not the best person to judge. Michael Snow did a phenomenal job rewriting the article from scratch, in a very short time, and sourcing every bit of it. The challenge to the critics was to source their proposed contributions with the same degree of verifiability, and that is what caused an uproar. So, from a legal protection perspective, I'm very satisfied that the article has improved. In a short amount of time. Verifiability is critical.
WS: Is there anything else you'd like to say in regards to the situation?
BP: Just one other thing. I think people in the community may lose sight of the fact that we are engaged in a very serious venture. It's cool, we love it, we have friends online, we edit what we like. It is freedom in the best sense. But there is a very real issue; it is the responsibility of the Foundation not to be put at risk based on the sloppy, poorly thought out choices of others. We have 1 million users and articles in English Wikipedia. That's a lot. We don't have millions of dollars. We are a small foundation, in the grand scheme of things. We want the Foundation and Wikipedia to be around 2, 5, 10 years from now. And to do that, we need to make sure we act responsibly to keep the mission moving forward. So, my advice to contributors is - keep doing the amazing work you are doing. And my advice to administrators is - if you see a WP:OFFICE warning, trust us. We are doing something at the highest level to make sure we aren't putting the Foundation at risk, and I promise, we are dealing with it - not promising to deal with it later. This isn't a "set & forget" policy.
BP: Also, this isn't my plaything. My job is to advise the Board and protect the Foundation if they are sued. So far, it hasn't happened.