[Foundation-l] GFDL and relicensing

Robert Horning robert_horning at netzero.net
Thu Nov 22 01:44:05 UTC 2007

Mike Godwin wrote:
> On Nov 21, 2007, at 7:00 AM, foundation-l-request at lists.wikimedia.org  
> wrote:
>> Wikipedia itself is doomed by inertia to remain GFDL. WMF
>> doesn't hold any of the rights and thus doesn't have the power to deem
>> things relicensed; you'd need the copyright holders to do that.
> I don't think the problem is quite as intractable as all that,  
> although I will grant it is a tricky problem. In my (possibly  
> misinformed) view, FSF is the custodian of the meaning and terms of  
> the GFDL, which allows for migration to later versions of GFDL, which  
> creates the possibility of an approved GFDL that is essentially an  
> equivalent to an updated CC-BY-SA license.  FSF is currently in dialog  
> with Creative Commons about harmonizing GFDL with CC-BY-SA.
> WMF doesn't have to "deem things relicensed." Instead, it could say,  
> with full notice to the community, and after plenty of public  
> discussion, that its view is that the content in Wikipedia should  
> migrate to the harmonized GFDL/CC-BY-SA license (version 3.x for both,  
> most likely), and offer community members plenty of latitude to opt  
> out by removing content (I'd be inclined to give GFDL licensors that  
> option indefinitely).  We might lose some content that way, but I  
> personally doubt we'd lose much. So I don't think we're stuck with the  
> awful choice of having to stick with GFDL or start a new project.
> --Mike
I've seen other websites try this with Wikimedia content, and I don't 
know how you give "full notice to the community" of a license change.  
The content contributed to most Wikimedia projects (Wikipedia, for 
example) is copyrighted by the individual contributor, not by the WMF.  
Those contributors have agreed (in principle) that the content 
contributed to Wikipedia is available under the terms of the GFDL, and 
it can be redistributed accordingly.  If you are modifying the license 
terms outside of the terms of the GFDL, you need to renegotiate with 
that contributor...including all anonymous contributors.

I'd be curious about how many people we are talking about that "own" 
Wikipedia (even just en.wikipedia alone)... if you define authorship to 
be limited to those who have contributed more than a paragraph of 
content (aka 100 words or more that is more or less together).  This is 
not a trivial number, and I don't see how even a public discussion could 
get every single content holder to agree to the change.

Such a license change (barring massive cooperation from the Free 
Software Foundation to change the GFDL itself using the "or later 
version" escape clause) would require all contributions to be removed 
from Wikipedia by those authors who didn't agree to the change.  The 
technical requirements for such a culling of content boggle the mind, 
not to mention the legal ramification if the content you are trying to 
remove was in a very early version of a featured article that still 
exists in the current version in a substantial form (not unusual 
situation either).

This isn't "we might lose some content along the way".... it is a 
virtual restarting of that particular project (aka Wikipedia) from 
scratch.  An attempt by the WMF to go this route would simply mean a 
fork in Wikipedia where "purists" who want to maintain the GFDL version 
of Wikipedia would have everything that currently exists, and the CC-by 
version would be a hollow shell of the original version of the Wikipedia.

BTW, this is precisely the situation that Stallman wanted when he wrote 
the GFDL.  It is a viral license, and taints everything that it 
touches.  This is also one of the key reasons why there are people who 
simply hate the GFDL and GPL, for this exact reason.

-- Robert Horning

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