[Foundation-l] Wikimedia logos on Commons

Kat Walsh kat at wikimedia.org
Fri Aug 24 19:27:46 UTC 2007

On 8/24/07, John Smith <rememberthedot at gmail.com> wrote:
> On 8/24/07, Brian <Brian.Mingus at colorado.edu> wrote:
> > IMO, this isn't about law, it's an appeal to Common sense.
> You're right, this has nothing to do with law. It has to do with the
> position that the foundation has taken. Quite simply, the foundation has
> said that copyright is evil.
> This includes copyright that the Wikimedia
> foundation itself owns. Since it doesn't look like the foundation is going
> to change its position on free content, the only way to eliminate the double
> standard would be to impose the same restrictions on Wikimedia-owned content
> that we impose on content owned by others.

No, you've gotten it wrong; I disagree entirely.

In fact, free content licensing depends on the existence of copyright.
The position we've taken is basically one that copyright as it stands
does not always produce the best situation.

Because we believe that society would be better off if everyone had
easy access to educational information, and the ability to use that
information in the way that most suits their needs, we want to
encourage the development of material that is under less restrictive
terms. Which may be public domain, but is more frequently still
copyrighted, but not under the default conditions which leave *all*
rights reserved to the copyright holder.

We don't say that copyright is evil. We don't demand that all
copyrighted works be freed. We don't ask everything to be public
domain. We don't fight the existence of copyright. Instead, we work
within the existing system to create a body of work under more
permissive terms.

Copyright was established to serve a purpose: to promote creation and
progress, to encourage people to create more works. But are the
current specific details of how that is implemented ideal? No, and I
don't think anyone would say that they were.

If you start with the idea that it is a social good if everyone can
have easy access to whatever educational material they need, for
whatever purpose, then you start to look at ways to accomplish that.
(If you don't believe that would be a good thing, why are you here?)
You can't do it if all material is under stringent protections. And
those protections don't even always serve the best interests of
everyone "protected" by them. If you want that sort of society, too,
you don't want all of those protections on all of your work."

You also can't do it if no one is willing to create works to be used.
What's more, you might consider it a good thing if your releasing your
work for such uses encouraged other people to do the same thing,
because it would go even further toward achieving your goals. So you
try and find an alternative to the default protections of copyright
that better achieves what it was intended to do: further the interests
of society as a whole.

So the basic ethic of content on the Wikimedia projects is "you can do
whatever you want with this work, so long as you give everyone else
the same rights with whatever copies of the work that you give them."
(This is a simplification, but it's not too far off.) It encourages
people to free their work in order to use the body of work that
already exists, or to be part of a larger project. (Sort of like the
idea of matching donations, or group pledges: I'll do my small part if
doing so contributes to a larger good.)  No one is compelled to free
their work if they don't want to, but there are advantages to doing
so. It seems pretty fair to me.

But none of this implies "copyright is evil". It's "the typical
effects of copyright are not always what we think would be best, or
even what it was intended to do".

A longer copyright protection makes more sense on works of art than
works that are intended to be useful in themselves, although in the
majority of cases, where the full protections of copyright aren't
doing the artist very much good, perhaps it's not the best option
either.  (I say this as a thoroughly unremarkable and unremarked-upon
writer and composer; I have a music degree and have in the past made
some depressingly small amount of money selling work.)

A logo isn't intended to be useful or educational in itself. But since
many humans are visual creatures, they like to have nice-looking
symbols to represent their organizations. (Me, I'm an
auditory-oriented person, and I have the visual sense of boiled
cabbage. But this is what I hear.) It's not terribly important that it
be free; it doesn't contribute too much to the common culture. If it's
trademarked, you can't do anything particularly "free" with it either.

(While trademark creates a right for the holder, its effect is largely
the protection of the "consumer" -- to keep people from being misled
by someone who uses the same or confusingly similar marks. Not that
this stops aggressive rights holders from sending completely bogus
trademark infringement letters in order to suppress criticism, but
they shouldn't get away with it.)

So I don't see it as a hypocrisy or a contradiction that the Wikimedia
logos are not free. They're not really part of what we're here to do,
they're just there for visual identification. We don't demand anyone
else's logos be free; projects can choose to accept using those images
for appropriate purposes or choose not to accept them at all. For
obvious reasons, the Wikimedia logos should be used on all projects.

We're looking into the legal implications of protection on the logos,
but in terms of how pressing a priority it is, it's somewhere behind a
lot of other things that are really important to do sooner rather than
later; our new full-time counsel has no shortage of work at the

Do our logos need to be all rights reserved? Would trademark
protection alone be sufficient? (Getting trademark protection for all
our marks in all countries where we should have it is not as simple as
it may sound.) I can't give a definitive answer, but we can get advice
from counsel, in the course of things. One main concern is that people
don't go around and use the logo for things that would be damaging to
us, passing themselves off as us, or giving people the idea that we
approve of or sponsor things we don't have any involvement with.  If
the logos can be made more free, that would be great. But I don't
think it is a priority, and it needs to be considered in light of all
of the effects. Wikimedia first needs to make sure it is a responsible
steward of our resources, even if that means acting slowly or taking a
course of action that is not ideal in some aspects.

I freely admit that having the logos on Commons is just a dirty hack,
so that they are easily accessible from all projects. They should
probably be included within the skins or something, but I don't know
how that should work if they need to be resizable and so on; I'm not
the person to ask that question of. It's not ideal, but it works
better than other things for now.

(I note that I'm speaking only for myself now, but this is the
perspective I bring to discussions about licensing, and I think it is
shared by the other board members.)


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