[Foundation-l] GFDL and Relicensing

Mike Godwin mnemonic at gmail.com
Thu Nov 22 06:39:21 UTC 2007

Robert Horning writes:

>  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.

I regard this as essentially a trivial problem. You could put it on  
the front page of each language's Wikipedia, for example.  Those who  
never see the Project front pages might not see such a notice -- but  
they probably don't know we're having a fundraiser, either.

Furthermore, I'm willing to bet that the set of contributors who both  
(a) insist on an old version of GFDL and (b) care about it enough to  
remove content if migration happens, and (c) wouldn't hear about the  
migration is a very, very, small set of contributors.

>  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 don't believe this is required, as a practical matter.  Consider,  
for example, credit-card companies. They change the terms of user  
agreements all the time, unilaterally. They issue long, complicated  
notices when they do this. Amazingly, this triggers neither mass  
departures nor massive negotiations with individuals. And they are  
dealing with far larger populations than we are.

I agree that you're right in theory, of course. In practice, not so  
big a problem.

> 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.

We are, of course, assuming cooperation from FSF as  a prerequisite  
for all this. As Jimbo says, this whole discussion is a product of  
three-way negotiations between FSF, CC, and WMF.  If FSF suddenly  
said, hey, we're never going to do anything to support migration to a  
version of GFDL that looks like a version of CC-BY-SA, we could stop  
this whole discussion immediately.

What I've been telling people is that if you don't trust the FSF Board  
to be custodians of the meaning of GFDL, then you have bigger problems  
with the GFDL than anything Wikimedia Foundation could create. Me, I  
trust the FSFers.

> 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.

I think the risk of a fork is very low, at this late date. But even if  
it happened, the notion that "purists" would somehow control the  
"original" Wikipedia while the CC-BY-SA version would be a "hollow  
shell" strikes me as less likely than the other way around.

> BTW, you can count me in an a GFDL ideologist if you want, and my
> contributions are under the terms of the GFDL.... and I intend to
> enforce that license on anything I've contributed to Wikimedia  
> projects
> where the GFDL is the explicit default license of the project.

I of course support your prerogative to do this.  I think that any  
migration has to accommodate GFDL "ideologists" and allow for their  
removal of their content if they believe the project is not adequately  
copyleft for them.

> But then again, those websites
> generally got so little web traffic that most of them fold up after  
> less
> than a year of operation.

There's also the notion that we law students learned early on -- "de  
minimis non curat lex."  But that's okay, since you wouldn't have to  
seek legal recourse to address your objections --  you'd just remove  
your contributions, citing GFDL concerns, and no one would stop you.

But remember (a) we're talking about migration in cooperation with  
FSF, not in opposition to FSF, and (b) the CC-BY-SA license is  
designed to be viral to the same degree as GFDL, without being as  

At the end of the day, what you have to ask yourself is this:  is our  
primary purpose as Wikipedians to get the knowledge out to the world  
for free (and in a way that keeps it free), or is our purpose to  
privilege an older version of GFDL regardless of whether it inhibits  
our ability to provide the world information for free?  I tend to  
think our purpose is more the first than the second.


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