[Foundation-l] Clearing up Wikimedia's media licensing policies (some important points)

Erik Moeller erik at wikimedia.org
Thu Feb 8 19:17:02 UTC 2007

On 2/8/07, Marco Chiesa <chiesa.marco at gmail.com> wrote:
> When Jimbo recently wrote that we should get rid
> of  non-free material, many a voice was saying: "Hey, why shouldn't we
> used stuff we worked hard to get permission when en.wiki uses
> {{fairuse}} for the same purpose?"

I'll use this message to try to clarify a few points.

The idea of "special permission" for Wikipedia is inherently harmful
and utterly antithetical to our mission. The Wikimedia Foundation is
_not_ just running a bunch of cool websites, it's trying to help
people spread free culture across the planet. In its impediment of the
spread of free culture, "special permission" is much more noxious than
even the least free Creative Commons license. If we want to reach
those who need free educational content the most, collaboration with
organizations (and companies or local entrepreneurs) is imperative.
Special permission content is utterly useless in this context. It is a
waste of our time.

Fair use is somewhat different in that many third party uses,
especially educational ones, will be permissible as well. Beyond that,
fair use and similar exemptions are a good way to describe a set of
content which we, pragmatically, will accept, but which we can
communicate clearly as being philosophically incompatible with our
core mission. The important point is that there is a clear division
into two spheres:
 * fair use / fair dealing and similar exemptions
 * free content

These two spheres are very different. Files under fair use exemption
are essentially on constant parole. They cannot be put in Commons.
They will be wiped out when orphaned. They require an article context.
They may not be put in galleries. They can and should be replaced
whenever possible with freely licensed ones. They need a rationale.
And in many cases, we will immediately remove them if there is the
slightest problem with them.

Free content, on the other hand, is free in every sense of the word.
It can be used throughout our projects, and we encourage its creation
wherever possible. We systematically do everything we can to liberate
as much useful content as possible.

Allowing files under special permission, NC, ND, or any other non-free
license, erodes this wall of separation. This is not hypothetical; it
has happened wherever such licenses have begun to proliferate. They
were used without care, without distinction. Non-free and free were
treated the same. This then reduces the incentive for our community
members to use free licenses. It confuses the public. It advertises
bad licensing choices.

A genuine free culture movement depends on establishing and following
a standard of freedom: http://freedomdefined.org/Definition - without
such a standard, what you end up with is something like Creative
Commons. Not a movement, just a hodgepodge of licenses. Creative
Commons is about giving choices to authors within a legal framework.
Wikimedia is about building free culture.

This is to me the key point of an official licensing policy:
hardcoding the distinction between free and non-free, and clearly
emphasizing one over the other. We can talk, if need be, about putting
some things explicitly in the non-free sphere if a legal system leaves
us no other option. But I'd prefer to always make that decision
implicitly if at all possible, to never mention that a fair use image
is also ND or NC, because these licenses, "Creative Commons" or not,
are in fact an enclosure of the commons. They are anti-commons; they
relate to free content like shareware and freeware relate to open
source software. They should not be advertised.

Peace & Love,

DISCLAIMER: This message does not represent an official position of
the Wikimedia Foundation or its Board of Trustees.

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