Wikipedia-Copying Professor-Witness Troubles U.S. Judge

A China scholar’s copying of Wikipedia in a report about his proposed testimony in a U.S. economic espionage trial is “extremely troubling,” a judge said in ordering a hearing on whether the Georgetown University law professor should be barred from testifying.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in San Francisco said that professor James Feinerman’s apparent reliance on the free online encyclopedia in a report about China’s attempts to induce its citizens to steal trade secrets could make him an unreliable witness for the government at a January trial against a California businessman and China’s Pangang Group Co.

White denied a defense request to exclude all of Feinerman’s proposed testimony, saying the scholar used sources other than Wikipedia. He did agree to bar Feinerman’s testimony, as stated in his report, that China encourages intellectual property theft and “an extraordinary number of Chinese in business and government are engaged in this practice.”

“The court is extremely troubled by the fact that Professor Feinerman appears to have copied much of his report from Wikipedia,” White said in an ruling today. “That fact may seriously undermine his credibility as a witness in the eyes of the jury.”

‘Inherently Unreliable’

White said he would hold a hearing outside the presence of a jury to determine which portions of the Feinerman report are based on sources other than Wikipedia because at this point he “cannot say that Professor Feinerman’s opinions are so inherently unreliable that his testimony must be excluded in its entirety.”

Prosecutors said that while the professor’s report uses language that “tracks various Wikipedia entries,” he relied on a host of sources, both in English and Chinese, including material gathered during the investigation of Liew, books, articles, websites and reports, to support his opinions and conclusions. His education and experience make him “extremely qualified” as an expert, according to the government’s court filing.

Lili Arauzhaase, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag in San Francisco; Stuart Gasner, Liew’s attorney; and Feinerman didn’t immediately respond to voice-mail messages seeking comment on the ruling.

U.S. prosecutors in San Francisco hired Feinerman, who charges $350 an hour, to testify at the January trial of Walter Liew, a California man indicted for conspiring to steal trade secrets from DuPont Co. for Pangang Group. Liew’s attorneys accused Feinerman of copying parts of 13 pages of his 19-page report from Wikipedia entries on China’s economy, high-technology development plan and Communist party, according to court filings.

Transnational Programs

Feinerman, a Georgetown faculty member for more than 25 years, is an Asian law scholar and associate dean for transnational programs at Georgetown University Law Center. He has studied in Hong Kong and China, and has taught law at two Chinese universities and speaks fluent Mandarin and Cantonese.

Regarding Feinerman’s testimony on China encouraging trade theft, White said it should be excluded because “any probative value is substantially outweighed by the potential for prejudice and to confuse the issues.”

The case is U.S. v. Liew, 11-cr-00573, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

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