[Foundation-l] What are the assets of the Foundation, anyway?

Kelly Martin kelly.lynn.martin at gmail.com
Wed Apr 18 22:25:21 UTC 2007

Delphine recently wrote:

> I thought the projects and their content were free? Can't any
> organisation, based anywhere in the world, just take the content and
> start anew?

The content hosted by the Foundation is not an asset of the
Foundation.  In fact, the Foundation has (almost) no legal interests
in it, and in fact almost anyone could pick it up and start using it.

However, the Foundation nonetheless owns some very valuable
properties: the names "Wikipedia" and (to a lesser degree)
"Wikimedia", the wikipedia.org and wikimedia.org domain names, and the
related service marks.  It is these that the Foundation needs to do
much more to both protect and exploit than it has to date.

If someone sues the Foundation, and wins, it is these properties
(along with the Foundation's server equipment, which is worth a
pittance in comparison to what wikipedia.org is worth) that will end
up sold at auction.  The Foundation would be well-advised to
restructure itself so as to put the brand "out of reach".  The normal
means of doing this is to have the brand owned by a separate entity
(usually a trust) which then licenses them to the operating charity.
This way, even if the charity goes out of business for any reason, the
brands remain safe and secure in the hands of the trust, out of the
reach of creditors.

IRS regulations make it quite difficult to disburse property which has
been dedicated to a charitable purpose to any organization that is not
recognized by the IRS as a charitable organization.  Thus, naming a
Wikimedia chapter (other than the the non-existent US chapter) as a
designated successor would require an IRS determination letter before
any such dissolutionary transfer could take place.

Both of these items would require specialized legal assistance to
properly address, from attorneys skilled in US and Florida nonprofit
and tax law.  Random babbling from the community is unlikely to be
helpful here.


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