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Wikipedia demands PR firm cease its paid-editing service

Cease-and-desist letter comes a month after the online encyclopedia banned or blocked hundreds of editing accounts for "suspicious editing."

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

After shuttering hundreds of editing accounts, the organization that oversees Wikipedia has sent a cease-and-desist letter to a service linked to "suspicious editing" and suggested it might file a lawsuit to resolve the matter.

Wikimedia Foundation, which runs the online encyclopedia, announced last month that it had blocked or banned more than 250 editing accounts as part of an investigation into "suspicious edits and sockpuppetry" that promoted organizations or products. The action followed reports of a rise in paid edits linked to a service called Wiki-PR, which bills itself as "Wikipedia writers for hire."

Claiming that the activity has continued, the Wikimedia Foundation sent a letter to Wiki-PR on Tuesday that demands the company "cease and desist from further editing the Wikipedia Web site unless and until [they] have fully complied with the terms and conditions outlined by the Wikimedia Community." The three-page letter sent to Wiki-PR CEO Jordan French indicates that Wikimedia resorted to the action after ongoing discussions failed to resolve the issue to its satisfaction:

In your communications with me and the Foundation, you have stated your intent to work with the community to satisfy its conditions for lifting the ban. Yet, yesterday, you admitted that Wiki-PR has continued to actively market paid advocacy editing services despite the ban -- consistent with evidence that we have discovered independently. This is deeply troubling and suggests that Wiki-PR is circumventing the ban at the same time it professes to engage with the community about complying with it.

"Should you fail to comply with the terms of the cease and desist letter, Wikimedia Foundation is prepared to take any necessary legal action to protect its rights," attorney Patrick Gunn warned in the closing of his letter.

French told CNET that Wiki-PR was working with Wikimedia "to sort this out" and suggested there might be a resolution by next week. French previously defended his company as a research firm whose primary goal is improving Wikipedia.

"Our people do a lot of work for free on Wikipedia, just because it's interesting and helpful to the Wikipedia community," the Wiki-PR chief executive told CNET in an e-mail in October.

However, former Wiki-PR clients told the Daily Dot that they paid between $500 and $1,000 to the company for creation of a Wikipedia page, and $50 a month for monitoring any changes made to the page and resurrection of any material deleted during subsequent edits.

Wikipedia's Terms of Use expressly forbid "attempting to impersonate another user or individual, misrepresenting your affiliation with any individual or entity, or using the username of another user with the intent to deceive."

(Via Ars Technica)