[Foundation-l] Clearing up Wikimedia's media licensing policies

Kat Walsh kwalsh at wikimedia.org
Thu Feb 8 02:57:36 UTC 2007


Because licensing has been an active topic in the community, the Board
has discussed the issue at its recent meetings; thank you to those
whose thoughtful input furthered the discussions.

A formal declaration in the form of a Board resolution has not yet
been made and will be forthcoming; however, we hope that this longer
message will provide the explanation behind the resolution. The
resolution will seek to clarify something that has been true for some
time but may not have been stated in a clear enough form as guidance
for the various communities to follow.

The mission of the Wikimedia Foundation is to develop educational
content under a free content license or in the public domain. For
content to be "free content", it must have no significant legal
restriction on people's freedom to use, redistribute, or modify the
content for any purpose.

It is therefore vital that all projects under the Foundation umbrella
use these standards, not only because of our desire to enable the
creation of free reference works, but also because of our commitment
to allow those works to benefit everyone who wishes to use and reuse
them. Because of this, all media we allow on our projects must be free
for all users and all purposes, including non-Wikimedia use,
commercial use, and derivative works. (Some media may be subject to
restrictions other than copyright in some jurisdictions, but are still
considered free work.)

There are many different licenses that allow these freedoms. The
licensing page on the Wikimedia Commons,
<http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:Licensing>, discusses some
of these license terms and gives links to the many licenses that are
acceptable to use.

While we appreciate the goodwill of those who give special permissions
for Wikimedia to display a work, this does not fulfill our greater
purpose of giving others the freedom to use the content as well, and
so we cannot accept media with permission for use on Wikimedia only.
Derivative uses are also important. The value of allowing
modifications becomes clear to anyone who edits the projects, as new
work builds on the work of others, and work you cannot change to meet
your needs and purposes is not free.

Commercial and non-commercial use is more controversial, as many
people are concerned that allowing commercial uses allows others to
abuse their generosity. But ultimately Wikimedia's longstanding and
carefully considered position is, as with many other organizations
devoted to free content, that disallowing commercial use does not
provide significant benefit to the content creator or to the public.
Non-commercial licensing stops many valuable uses that help distribute
and support free works, and hence does not further our mission. Where
commercial use spreads the works without taking away others' rights to
use and distribute them for free, it helps our purpose of making the
content as widely available as possible. This is a long enough message
without going deeply into detail, but Erik Moeller's essay at
<http://www.intelligentdesigns.net/Licenses/NC> is a thorough and
clear explanation of the reasons why the harm is more than the
benefit, and so why non-commercial content is not something we use.

It is for these reasons, which we have long supported, that all media
on Wikimedia sites which are used under terms that specify
non-commercial use only, no-derivatives only, or permission for
Wikimedia only, need to be be phased out and replaced with media that
does not have these restrictions.

Some Wikimedia projects use media that is not free at all, under a
doctrine of "fair use" or "fair dealing". There are some works,
primarily historically important photographs and significant modern
artworks, that we can not realistically expect to be released under a
free content license, but that are hard to discuss in an educational
context without including the media itself. Because the inability to
include these works limits scholarship and criticism, in many
jurisdictions people may use such works under limited conditions
without having license or permission. Some works that are under
licenses we do not accept (such as non-derivative) may meet these
conditions. Because of our commitment to free content, this non-free
media should not be used when it is reasonably possible to replace
with free media that would serve the same educational purpose.

Since individual projects have differing community standards and there
are potentially legal issues in different jurisdictions, individual
projects may choose to be more restrictive than Foundation policy
requires, such as the many projects that do not allow "fair use" media
at all. However, no project may have content policies less restricive,
or that allow licenses other than those allowed on Wikimedia Commons
and limited fair use.

We hope this clears up some of the uncertainty about what types of
material may be uploaded to and used on the projects as well as why we
take this position.

Thanks to everyone for your input and hard work.

For the Wikimedia Foundation,
Kat Walsh

Wikimedia needs you: http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Fundraising
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