[Foundation-l] Re: A license for the Ultimate Wiktionary

Rowan Collins rowan.collins at gmail.com
Tue May 24 16:19:34 UTC 2005

On 22/05/05, David Gerard <fun at thingy.apana.org.au> wrote:

> Easy in 1.5 - see [[m:Article validation feature]] and its associated
> [[m:category:Article validation]] for info and discussions. Add a field to
> the article ratings in Wiktionary.

I don't think this is as good a fit as some people are suggesting,
since it's based entirely around *opinion* - everything to do with the
quality, appropriateness, etc of an article is quite rightly regarded
as a subjective decision, to be taken collectively by the community.

Whether or not a particular version of an article is distributable
under a particular license (e.g. whether a given definition on a
Wiktionary can be imported into a GFDL-incompatible database), on the
other hand, is a completely *objective* question - the article either
does, or does not, contain material contributed to by people who have
not granted permission under licenses other than the GFDL.


Of course, this actually makes it far *easier* to do the tagging - the
database "knows" who has contributed to an article (or revision), so
if it was "told" which users had agreed to new licensing terms, it
could determine (and update) the licensing status of every revision in
the database. No human would need to think about it, just ask the

This leaves articles in one of three states:
1) The current revision is available under the new licensing terms
(all contributors to date have agreed to adopt them).
2) The current revision incorporates material not available under the
new licensing terms (contributed by users who have not agreed to adopt
them). However, there is a revision before any such non-relicenses
contributions were made; therefore, that revision is safe to
distribute under the new terms.
3) The very first revision was contributed by a user who has not
agreed to relicense; taking all subsequent revisions to be "derivative
versions" of that original material, the entire article is unavailable
under the new licensing scheme.

For importing to Ultimate Wiktionary, this is all you need to know -
at any point in time, you can act according to the state of an
If 1: import the current revision
If 2: import the newest revision which is available under the new terms
If 3: ignore the article, and create it from scratch within the new database


For relicensing Wikipedia, things become somewhat more complicated.
Given the age of the project, and the general volume of edits and
editors, there are likely to be a far higher proportion of articles in
states 2 and 3, and by the nature of the content there would be a
greater need to minimise the amount of effort "thrown away".

One possibility is that the license-checking tool could be made aware
of page reversions - so an article in state 2 could be reverted to a
relicensable revision and then re-developed. Presumably, information
added later by contributors who had agreed to the terms could legally
be [probably manually] re-added, as long as the bits added by people
who *hadn't* agreed *weren't* included, in any form.

A key question would then be how to define the difference between a
derivative work and a completely new one. How much does the article
need to have changed from an older revision to claim that the newer
version is not subject to the copyright of an older author? This would
be particularly important for articles that were created a long time
ago, and might well end up stuck in state 3 because the original
author had long since ceased to be contactable - could the work put
into vastly expanding Wikipedia's oldest articles be legally salvaged
if everyone except their originators agreed to new terms?

Rowan Collins BSc

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