[Foundation-l] Wikibooks NL is changing License

Robert Horning robert_horning at netzero.net
Fri Mar 23 07:10:29 UTC 2007

Jeff V. Merkey wrote:
> Unless I am mistaken, GNU based licenses become null and void if you 
> modify the license terms in any way. This includes
> publishing under multiple licenses (which is modifying the terms). I do 
> agree that making the more open is a good thing, but I
> think you may void the GFDL terms if you release under dual licenses.
> Jeff

This is not nearly as difficult as it seems.  It would be much more 
problematic if they were trying to switch from the GFDL to the Creative 
Commons license and not be under dual licensing terms.

As I've pointed out on other forii, there is nothing that would stop you 
from simultaneously licensing content under the terms of the GFDL and 
the Microsoft EULA.  You are merely offering multiple methods of being 
able to reuse the content, and for "downstream" users, you can 
judiciously select one or the other license and use strictly those 
terms.  While not the MS EULA, MySQL AB offers this same approach to 
their software (the MySQL database), where you have the choice to copy 
their software under the GPL and connect it to other GPL'd software, or 
you can use it under a very propritary and closed-source commercial 
license that you must pay for.  This is indeed a part of their revenue 
model, and I've even had to negotiate the price with them for some 
projects I've worked with.  Compared to an Oracle database, the MySQL 
terms for a commercial license really aren't that bad at all.... if the 
MySQL database is sufficient for your needs.  I don't want to get into a 
holy war over what databases are best here, just to illustrate where a 
major commercial example of dual licenses are being used similar to the 

I don't see a substantial problem here as long as the portions that were 
previously licensed under only the terms of the GFDL are clearly marked, 
and that when you edit those pages that the contributors know that their 
edits will only be valid under the terms of the GFDL.

I got into a debate with the Strategy Wiki about this topic, however 
they were trying to do a full switch of their license from the GFDL to 
the CC-by-SA license.  Of particular note here is that a substantial 
portion of their content was formerly on Wikibooks ("ordered" by Jimbo 
to be removed... long story there) and they were trying to come up with 
a system to be able to keep that older content yet make all new pages be 
only available under the CC license.  It is a similar issue, but instead 
there were some proposals to "gradually" rewrite some of the older 
Wikibooks content in such a way that eventually the older GFDL'd stuff 
would go away.  It was here that I thought they were flat out wrong, as 
the GFDL would "contaminate" what they were working on as nearly every 
edit of the older content would still be a derivative work.  I had a 
standing with the discussion because some of the content they were 
trying to relicense had been my edits when it was previously on 

In this case with nl.wikibooks, I think they are taking a better 
approach.  "reverting" this license change is trivial, if the members of 
the nl.wikibooks communty want to go back to just the GFDL-only 
content.  For all new Wikibooks that are created under this dual-license 
approach, the end user has the choice of either keeping the dual license 
arrangement or selecting one or the other license and forking it... but 
as a project policy they are trying to maintain the dual license as long 
as the content stays within the project.

The only real problem I can see is if there are derivative works that go 
across language editions of Wikibooks.  Most notable is the Wikijunior 
Solar System, that I've seen reproduced in several languages, as well as 
some of the language (2nd language learning) textbooks that may try to 
borrow portions from other language editions... for example a German 
textbook in Spanish and English (tri-lingual).  This sort of licensing 
arrangement is going to cause some difficulties for such cross project 
efforts that may involve nl.wikibooks.  I would agree that such efforts 
tend to be rare, but they are not completely unheard of.  In this case, 
if translated documents come from GFDL'd text, that GFDL-only license 
would have to be somehow preserved.  Going the other way from 
nl.wikibooks to other language editions would not be affected as the 
GFDL would still be one of the options.

-- Robert Horning

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