[Foundation-l] bylaws (second call)

Tom Holden thomas.holden at gmail.com
Tue Aug 15 16:29:59 UTC 2006

I would like to tentatively suggest that a link between paying money and
membership need not be a bad thing, before this idea is permanently dropped.
I apologize in advance if I'm saying things that have already been

For me personally membership is about one thing and one thing only: giving
donators something for their money. As it currently stands people are
expected to cough up money with no guarantee as to what purpose their money
will be put, and no guarantee of any future input to the project. Yes there
are currently mechanisms by which any WP/WB/WC etc user has some input
(board elections), but short of a legal guarantee that the bylaws will not
be changed without a community referendum, this does not count for much.
Certainly instituting such a guarantee is one option, but my hunch is that
legally the "community" is on pretty shaky ground.

I know my contributions to Wikimedia projects are safe because of the
license. If the board did suddenly turn evil my contributions would not have
been wasted, as there's a high chance WP/WB/WC etc. would all fork into a
Wikimedia (now evil) branch and Newikimedia (good) branch.
At present though, as far as I can see there is no similar guarantee that my
money will be put to good use. I am sure I am not the only person this has
dissuaded from donating.

Wikimedia can currently be thought of as akin to a corporation in which
shareholders have no right to vote in AGMs, but the board members do conduct
opinion polls of their customers, some of which will no doubt also be
shareholders. Not a particularly good way to run a company, I'd suggest.

Some of the arguments why editing should not automatically result in
membership have already been made. Firstly the user base would be gigantic,
which dilutes the utility of the legal fall back provided by Florida law.
Secondly being an editor, even a competent one, does not go hand in hand
with understanding Wikimedia and what is necessary for its continued
existence and success. Thirdly, setting any kind of equivalence between
edits and paid membership is economically equivalent to paying people to
edit. (Say I have an account with an enough edits to be eligible for
membership. I can sell my membership (or my votes, same thing), for 1c less
than the going rate and be fairly sure of a buyer if there are any
unscrupulous forces trying to buy votes.) As I'm sure you can imagine this
is a bad idea in many ways, not least that it actually provides an economic
incentive for useless edits in the far from impossible situation of
individuals being prepared to pay for votes. (An intermediary stage of
userdom between joining and being an admin has been proposed, which relied
on community support for your edits, and yes if membership was linked to
this stage this problem would be ameliorated. However the concept of having
"community support for your edits" is surely on even shakier legal ground
than the community. The potentials for abuse of such a guideline and
resulting big law suits are not really sound legal grounds for an

OK so you are now thinking, but what about the community? We surely do not
want Wikimedia to be controlled by those with money rather than those who
work on it. But this need not be the case even with a paying membership.

There are several ways of giving both the community and the membership
power. For example a community election of the current form could first be
held, with the total number of votes for each candidate being recorded. Each
member would then be asked to veto as many candidates as they deemed
inappropriate. Any candidate having received veto votes from over 50% of the
members who voted would be removed from the running. Of the remaining
candidates, the one(s) with the highest number of community votes would be
deemed to have been elected.

The community gets the principal say; the members get to remove
inappropriate candidates. Based on the discussions in this thread I think I
am not the only one who would view this as the "best of both worlds".

What is more, because of the membership the community have a guarantee that
their right to vote etc. will be protected by the board, as the membership
will largely be from the community (though I do not pretend it will be a
statistically random sample necessarily), and as members of the community
always have the option of becoming members if their rights are in danger.

As a final note many of mentioned the unfairness of membership dues on the
unemployed/those in third world countries etc. This is certainly a solvable
problem. (Indeed it is one that almost every multinational charity has
solved.) It is common practice to have an "unwaged" rate, and to adjust
membership fees in line with PPP adjusted GDP per head. The data's ready and
waiting on en.wikipedia...

Anyway just my two cents, sorry for contributing to what is already an
overcrowded discussion.

Tom (User:Cfp everywhere)

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