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-Spencer L. Simons, former Director, O'Quinn Law Library and Associate Professor of Law

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

And Then There Were None . . .

In my recent article, "A Jester's Promenade: Citations to Wikipedia in Law Reviews, 2002-2008" (7 I/S - A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society, forthcoming 2011 (draft available through SSRN)), I applauded the University of Pennsylvania Law Review for being the only Top 30 (at the time) student-edited law review not to have cited to Wikipedia. Considering the edition of the Bluebook current when I finished writing the piece generally frowned upon citing to websites, I had originally planned to point out that Penn was the only one of the compiling editors of the Bluebook not to have cited to Wikipedia. I ultimately decided against it for two reasons: 1) I thought it would be redundant considering that all of the compiling editors are also within the Top 30, and 2) because there are instances where Wikipedia should appropriately be cited (although that pains me to admit).

The Bluebook is "[c]ompiled by the editors of the Columbia Law Review, the Harvard Law Review, the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, and the Yale Law Journal." Of these four student-edited publications, the Yale Law Journal was the first to publish a citation to Wikipedia. This initial foray into citing to Wikipedia was Yochai Benkler's seminal article, Coase's Penguin, or, Linux and The Nature of the Firm, 112 Yale L.J. 369 (2002), which was also the first work appearing in a student-edited law review to contain multiple citations to Wikipedia (3 in total, all appropriate references). Since that first step (as of this writing), the Yale Law Journal has been somewhat conservative (compared to other student-edited law reviews), publishing only an additional five pieces (all written by professors) that cite to Wikipedia, with each article containing only one such citation apiece (two were appropriate references, one was superfluous, and two should have been to more authoritative, non-legal, print resources).

The next year, the Harvard Law Review decided to become an early adopter with A. Michael Froomkin's Habermas@discourse.net: Toward a Critical Theory of Cyberspace, 116 Harv. L. Rev. 749 (2003). Prof. Froomkin's article contains one citation to Wikipedia, which, although it relates to pop culture, should have been, in this author's opinion, a citation to a more authoritative resource (especially considering that he describes the item as a "commonly used" phrase (p. 837, n.397)). In the years that have followed, the Harvard Law Review has been a moderate publisher of articles citing to Wikipedia. As of this writing, they have published a total of 11 pieces containing such citations, with seven works (three by professors and four by law students) containing a single citation apiece, two articles (one by a professor, one by a student) containing two such citations, one article from a student containing four citations, and one written by a professor with 22 citations to Wikipedia. The vast majority of these citations were either superfluous or should have been to more authoritative, non-legal, resources.

It took quite a while for the Columbia Law Review to take the plunge, and even then, it just got its feet wet, having published only two articles that cite to Wikipedia (one in 2007 (one citation), the other in 2008 (two citations). Both articles were written by professors and both cited to Wikipedia appropriately.

Now, the last has fallen. In its March 2011 issue, the University of Pennsylvania Law Review has finally published an article that cites to Wikipedia: Michael Abramowicz, Ian Ayres & Yair Listokin, Randomizing Law, 159 U. Pa. L. Rev. 929 (2011). In note 118 (on page 962), these three professors cite to Wikipedia's entry on Google's AdWords. Whether this citation is superfluous (they cite to three other sources that appear to contain the relevant information, but the Wikipedia cite is introduced with the phrase "For more information on . . .", separating it from the other sources) or should have been to a more appropriate, albeit non-legal, resource (perhaps to Google's website itself?) I will leave to the reader to decide. [Note 192 is not, in this author's opinion, a clear and unambiguous supra reference back specifically to the Wikipedia citation (although others could reasonably argue otherwise) so the reference in note 118 is the only one.] With that, all of the compiling editors of the Bluebook have now published works citing to Wikipedia. I will applaud them for having used Wikipedia sparingly.

Now, the highest ranked student-edited law review not to have published a citation to Wikipedia is the Boston College Law Review, although they did just publish an article that cites to Wookieepedia: the Star Wars Wiki. See Joseph P. Liu, Sports Merchandising, Publicity Rights, and the Missing Role of the Sports Fan, 52 B.C. L. Rev 493, 506 n. 97 (2011).


  1. Interesting stuff. You'd think that law journals, of all places, would understand the transitory nature of Wikipedia. Where law needs to be published so that we have static resources to which to refer, the use of a dynamic site such as Wikipedia would seem to indicate a serious problem with the editing of these articles.

    Excellent work.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic.

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