Answering your always bright and structured point of view, I'd like to point
out that up to now I had the idea that even if you believed in straight and
long copyright terms and in the positive aspects of patents you were
nevertheless welcome to contribute to the free Wikipedia and to the other
projects. For instance, *I* think I could have a different point of view
regarding copyright and patents. I don't think, still an example, that great
photographers are *wrong* when they want to protect their works as long as
The more the wikimedia communauty is getting specific about its political
goals, the narrower this coummunauty is. This is the great power of NPOV,
everybody can feel at home. I do think you can be a good man and yet
disagree with every items of your "issues which concern us". I like
wikimedia not questionning my opinion and not telling things on my behalf
that I would disagree with. And by the way, would I, and some others, ever
contribute to any wikimedia projects if wikimedia was tagged, even slightly,
as a political organization, a linux-free-content-environnemental-no
patent-no copyright bunch of lobbyists ? I don't think so. Like many people,
I'm very comfy with not getting into politics at all, I love being a lazy
and even a sheepish dude as to plenty of political issues. That's my right
So I can add that I'd rather political activism be out of the wikimedia
goals. Not to mention that this kind of activism isn't like a brand new
idea, plenty of respectable organizations are dealing with that kind of
issues, and it seems very simple to join them in case a political nerve is
itching you. An "open" project should remain in my opinion a free
agglomerate of point of views ; when you're starting to pick up one point of
view, you're closed to the others and ignore their good sides.
Now, answering Anthere and just to be exactly fair, political lobbying, in
the sense Erik thought about it, would not be in itself a problem with the
French tax law about deductibility. For instance, becoming a member of
Amnesty International still makes you in France eligible to tax
deductibility up to 60 % of your membership fees (max 20 % of your taxable
----- Original Message -----
From: "Erik Moeller" <erik_moeller(a)gmx.de>
Sent: Thursday, November 25, 2004 2:16 AM
Subject: [Foundation-l] Wikimedia and Politics
| Hello everyone,
| I would like to open up the issue of the WMF getting involved in political
| matters, such as copyrights and patents. This has so far been mostly
| theoretical, but the rapid growth of our organization allows us to
| contemplate it, and maybe get our feet wet in a few example cases. I'm
| looking a couple of years into the future here, in part so we can come up
| with a good strategy, but also to open up minds and demolish taboos.
| There are two primary risks I see with any political activity of the WMF:
| 1) The Board may be too small to make representative decisions on its own,
| so we need a validation process to figure out which issues we can and
| which ones we cannot become involved in.
| 2) Advocacy is, by definition, never NPOV, so it cannot happen within the
| context of our content-based projects. A certain extent of alienation is
| inevitable with any position the WMF takes, political or not, but it is of
| key importance that this does not affect the perception or the reality of
| our projects.
| There is one risk which I am sure people will bring up, which is that "We
| don't have the resources to do this! We should stick to what we can do!"
| Without wanting to sound too dismissive, that objection is raised to
| virtually every new activity we define. It is valid in the sense that we
| shouldn't start anything which we cannot properly finish. But as new
| projects and new activities attract people from within the community, they
| also attract newcomers, who can cross over into other projects.
| In cases where there are strong and experienced groups working on an
| issue, such as software patents, it will often be unwise to start a new
| one, though we may often be able to assist in many ways.
| I consider wise political decision-making of key importance for the future
| survival and prosperity of our organization and our projects. We are
| creating a gigantic, global community here, which will increasingly not
| just be Wikipedia, but "the Wikimedia community". This group identity,
| which we will build and strengthen in the coming years, is of immense
| political value, for activism, for its technological superiority to most
| traditional organizations, and for issue-centric fundraising.
| We have a great chance to make a world-wide difference, and to change
| society for the better by engaging in smart advocacy and lobbyism. We need
| to proceed carefully, of course, and we can use a few agreeable test cases
| to do that.
| == What we can do ==
| As I said, any political advocacy has to happen outside the context of our
| individual wiki projects, whose neutrality is inviolable. But there are
| other options:
| - press releases by the Wikimedia Foundation
| - the Wikimedia newsletter
| - the Foundation website
| - a to-be-created email list (wikiaction?)
| - websites which we create for specific campaigns
| - endorsement of a petition or initiative
| - real political lobbyism, AKA "employing professionals to engage in goal-
| oriented discourse with democratically elected representatives"
| - legal action, defense funds
| == Issues which concern us ==
| The WMF should stay out of general political issues, I think - we should
| seek out those which have a demonstrable impact on our work, and which are
| agreeable to the largest number of people. Here are a few examples:
| * Software patents. Various open source leaders have just endorsed the
initiative, and I can easily see the WMF being
| one of the supporting organizations. Why does the issue matter so much?
| Because a project like MediaWiki, the software which we use, can be made
| effectively illegal through them. We don't necessarily need to oppose
| patentability of software per se, but we should seek an exemption for open
| source software at the very least. This is one matter where we should
| clearly work with the groups that are there, rather than creating a new
| * Copyright terms. Pretty much everyone who's not a corporation or works
| for one agrees that our current copyright terms are ridiculous. Hence, it
| would be relatively easy to build an effective movement to reduce them.
| Most works are protected for 70 years after the death of the author, which
| means that if I died tomorrow, anything which I have created which is not
| explicitly licensed will only be available for use by Wikimedia projects
| by 2074. Worse, these terms get extended on a regular basis, because
| there's not yet a strong lobby against them.
| The potential benefits of even a short reduction in terms for Wikimedia
| are enormous. Thousands of works - encyclopedias, photos, non-fiction
| books, and so forth - would suddenly become available to us. A significant
| reduction, say to a fixed 15 years term, could lead to an unprecedented
| cultural renaissance as millions of works become available for free
| sharing by all of humanity. This is absolutely in line with our mission.
| I would estimate the overall cost of an effective global campaign to be
| about $50,000 at least. What we could do fairly soon is endorse existing
| initiatives and groups who are working on this, but unlike for the
| software patent issue, I don't see any single one out there which is doing
| this effectively.
| * Copyrights on government-produced materials. As most of you will be
| aware, content created by employees of the federal government of the
| United States in their official capacity is automatically put in the
| public domain. Few other governments have similar rules - and those which
| do tend to use "non-commercial only" licenses.
| Changing these rules should not be too hard, as there are clear advantages
| for any government which does this. For instance, right now, many of our
| Wikipedia background articles on the political situation in certain
| countries come directly from the US State Department. This is not good in
| terms of NPOV, and other countries have a strategic interest to have their
| positions represented in works like Wikipedia - which can then try to
| build a neutral picture from a large assortment of public domain sources.
| Another example: voanews.com
is a US government news site, and thus public
| domain. Wikinews could use its articles, essentially publishing US
| government propaganda (if it is accepted by the community as reasonably
| neutral). If Wikinews becomes important, other countries will have an
| interest in counterbalancing this influence.
| Let me make this crystal clear: It's the current situation - just a
| handful of countries putting their materials into the PD - which leads to
| POV. The more countries put there materials in the public domain or under
| a truly free license, the more neutral material we can create on that
| * Specific copyright issues. One example would be the copyrightability of
| reproductions of images which are in the public domain. So far, courts
| have ruled in our favor on this issue, but many corporations are
| interested in changing this. That would allow corporations, in an unholy
| alliance with museums, to effectively put public domain works into a
| proprietary state: Photos have to be licensed, and museums don't allow you
| to take your own unless you comply with some kind of agreement. Some
| museums already try to do that, though they all know that they're
| currently on shaky legal ground.
| Another example is art which is permanently exposed to the public. One
| example would be the wrapping of the Reichstag building in Berlin by the
| Bulgarian artist Christo. A German high court has ruled that, because this
| art installation was temporary, the artist would hold commercial rights on
| photographs of the wrapped Reichstag! Such precedents are very dangerous
| to us, and we should fight them on every level.
| * Censorship. This is of course a very broad issue, but it clearly
| concerns us quite directly. It is also, interestingly enough, an issue
| where we can open up new sources of funding. For example, the United
| States government has funded organizations which fight against censorship
| under totalitarian regimes which it opposes. We should be very careful
| with using the "C-word", and try to be cooperative if at all possible. But
| NPOV is not negotiable, and if a wiki project cannot operate as a neutral
| one, then we should work to change the laws to make that possible.
| * The Digital Divide. There are quite a few things we can do which
| directly relate to our wiki projects in order to bridge the Digital
| Divide. One idea I like is refurbishing used PCs with Linux and putting a
| Wikimedia Content Reader application on them. We could try to create a
| decentralized, voluntary distribution network for such refurbished
| machines. We can also run fundraising campaigns specifically to distribute
| print editions, or to buy and distribute specialized small, cheap devices
| which are likely to become mainstream in the near future. For developing
| countries, solar or curb power would be good.
| == How to proceed ==
| With all this future talk, is there anything we can do right now? I
| believe so. There are existing initiatives working on the issues I just
| mentioned, and on others which concern them. We should catalog them, and
| can support them prominently on the Foundation Website, and we can endorse
| their petitions, campaigns and open letters.
| I think there needs to be a process for political activity of any kind
| which is similar to the procedure for creating new projects:
| proposal => discussion => poll / consensus => board approval => action
| The Board could handle issues which require quick actions: laws which are
| about to be passed, initiatives by other groups, lawsuits, and so forth.
| In such cases, there could be a post-approval process to validate the
| Board's actions, but they should generally only be taken if there's
| Within the next 6 months or so, I would like to start one such initiative
| on the software patent issue, i.e. take an official Foundation position on
| the matter and support the organizations, especially in Europe, working on
| it. We can move forward here one issue at a time, without overstretching
| our energy and resources.
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