[Foundation-l] OrphanWiki

Robert Scott Horning robert_horning at netzero.net
Sat Feb 10 23:28:44 UTC 2007

Ray Saintonge wrote:

>Thanks for the comments.  I couldn't find the case that I was thinking 
>of involving Scientology.  Since I am proposing that works would remain 
>in OrphanWiki for at least three years unless a real owner shows up we 
>would have plenty of time to sort out what to do after that period.
>I would in fact be delighted if the owner showed up.  In reality 
>anything included in the project would be there because we don't expect 
>anybody to show up.  The legal rights may belong to one or more people 
>who haven't got a clue that they have them. 
>Such a project may tread on legally uncertain ground.  Strict criteria 
>would be needed for determining what would be included.  Most important 
>wuld be the research that the proposer(s) has made to track down the 
>rights owner.  This metadata would also be a part of the wiki so that 
>anyone can help with the research.  That way the research becomes part 
>of the record, even if we decide that the material itself does not meet 
>our standards for inclusion.  This could be useful for those operating a 
>different and unrelated project to ours who want to make a decision 
>about the risk of including the material on their own site. 
>If the OrphanWiki site becomes popular enough the site could become a 
>standard place to stop in attempts to track down rights owners.  Perhaps 
>too we could get it to the point that iincluding material or metadata in 
>OrphanWiki would defeat any claim that the owner didn't know about the 
>The mission of making materials free is bigger than just repeating 
>material that we know to be free.  We want free outputs.  The freeness 
>of inputs or intermediate processes is far less important.
As you said earlier, I think something like this should certainly be 
done as a project completely independent of the Wikimedia Foundation, or 
even independent of even any of the current members of the board of 
trustees of the foundation, including avoiding any potential ties to 
Wikia as well.

This is clearly a project that intends to make a very strong political 
statement about copyright and orphaned works, and trying deliberately to 
set something up so somebody will say "sue me in court, please!"  My 
real concern is if you rub the noses of some legislators/congressmen 
into the idea of orphaned works being legal to reproduce, that you may 
find legislation that would extend the "statute of limitations" that you 
are depending upon here.  Of course the debate over any such legislation 
would bring these issues to the front, and even having Congress consider 
that there are problems with copyright law would be a significant 
political step at all.  Free content users and communities are 
significantly better organized than when the Sonny Bono Copyright Act 
was passed, so I'm sure it would turn out to be a rather lively 
discussion all around.

I'm not sure I would want to participate in any such campaign like this 
project, but it is a very interesting idea.  Legally, this would require 
a bunch of legwork before you even started, and it might be nice to get 
a couple of lawyers who might be willing to sign on pro-bono or be 
"sponsors" of this project before you got started in a significant way. 
 To start this without such support is merely inviting trouble and would 
have to be found sooner rather than later anyway.

I'm curious about what would be seeded into a project like this to get 
it going, and who might be willing to use the content, particularly with 
those who have pointed out (IMHO correctly) that reuse of this content 
would reopen the legal issues and reset the legal time frames for 
copyright violations and legal challenges.  Without a "killer app" that 
goes beyond the politics of this situation, I don't see how this could 
grow to become anything other than another marginally insignficant Wiki 
in the sphere of other numerous crazy internet dreams.  The Uncyclopedia 
has massive use (and abuse) of fair-use content (claiming parody 
exemption), and they have much more fun in the process of getting that 
site put together.  I guess I would like to know how this might be any 

Robert Scott Horning

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