Wikipedia Keeps a Record of Your Edits — These People Don’t Seem to Know That

By Joe Patrice, Above The Law

Sometimes a straightforward intellectual property matter can uncover a whole mess of bigger claims. Like, possible conflicts of interest at a quasi-governmental entity. The Wall Street Journal reported on the curious case of London-based Now-Casting Economics Ltd., a company selling economic forecasts to private clients. The company, along with the Federal Reserve System, has sued another entity, Economic Alchemy, for trademarking “Now-Cast” and “Nowcast” in the United States, claiming — curiously — that the term is generic in the field of economics.

Is it? Well, that opens a whole can of worms because while the Federal Reserve has used the term generically in their publications for awhile, it turns out a handful of Fed employees, including an economist with some degree of responsibility for the Fed’s use of that term, have financial stakes in Now-Casting Economics. Wow. So Now-Casting’s lawsuit may be a case of “be careful what you wish for” as this trademark fight has now kicked off an internal investigation at the Fed into potential conflicts of interest.

At its core, this dispute over whether or not “now-cast” is a generic economic term focuses on one particular Federal Reserve of New York employee, assistant vice president Domenico Giannone. Giannone owns almost a third of Now-Casting and is listed as a “person with significant control” on the company’s regulatory filings. If you were looking for a private economic forecast, you’d probably want one informed by data available to the Federal Reserve. There’s no evidence that Now-Casting took advantage of any such improper data, but Economic Alchemy argues that a potential customer might have improperly believed that based on Now-Casting’s regulatory filings.

The Journal reports that Giannone says he resigned as a Now-Casting director before joining the Fed and doesn’t vote his shares. The regulatory filings showing otherwise as well as the failure to file a form concerning Giannone’s resignation were “mistakes” according to Now-Casting’s CEO.

But looking through the filings, it appears that these alleged oversights are now the subject of a motion for sanctions alleging spoliation. Economic Alchemy claims Now-Casting conveniently back-dated documents after the matter came to light. Making required regulatory filings three years late certainly doesn’t inspire confidence. Regardless, even if Giannone really did leave a controlling position in the company before joining the Fed, that Fed websites steered readers toward a company that Fed employees maintained a financial stake in, without any disclosure, raised enough eyebrows at the Fed for their Office of Inspector General to launch the investigation. The spoliation allegations before the TTAB will no doubt reach the OIG as well.

While the potential conflicts are salacious, this still doesn’t answer whether or not “now-cast” is a generic term in economics. Certainly Wikipedia suggests it is. In fact, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York links to this very Wikipedia page from time to time to clarify just how common this term is. But here’s what Economic Alchemy has to say about that Wikipedia entry in a filing…

26. Mr. Giannone uses the FRBNY’s website for the so-called “Nowcast” Report,
where he is prominently featured, to link to the Wikipedia page created and maintained by Jasper McMahon, CEO of THE UK FIRM. EXHIBIT O.
27. [Now-Casting CEO] Mr. McMahon registered a personal Wikipedia account, whereby he hijacked the page by moving the correct article for “nowcasting”, which concerns meteorology, to a new page so that he could claim, control, continuously edit, and use Wikipedia as an advertisement for THE UK FIRM. He has since deleted his account. EXHIBIT P.
28. THE UK FIRM successfully hijacked Wikipedia, the internet encyclopedia. They apparently forgot to hijack Wiktionary, the internet dictionary. This page still contains the true definition of the term “nowcast”, which concerns meteorology. EXHIBIT Q.
29. Nearly all the links and references on the Wikipedia page lead to THE UK FIRM. THE UK FIRM routinely silences the contributions of others on the Wikipedia page, so that the sole purpose of the page is to promote THE UK FIRM. EXHIBIT R.

So if this is true the Fed is claiming this term is generic based on how the Fed uses the term to send traffic to a Wikipedia page set up by the CEO of a company that Fed economists own? I’m getting dizzy. How in the world did Economic Alchemy figure all this out?

McMahon used his own name to edit Wikipedia.

It’s not improper to do this, of course. It’s not even improper to zealously curate contributions to an article. But you’ve got to respect that it doesn’t make a great case for how widely accepted a term is if the primary person ever writing about it on Wikipedia is… you.

And people can track that.