[Foundation-l] GFDL and Relicensing

Robert Horning robert_horning at netzero.net
Thu Nov 22 16:37:07 UTC 2007

Thomas Dalton wrote:
> On 22/11/2007, Mike Godwin <mnemonic at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Robert Horning writes:
>>>  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.
> Credit card companies have a list of people they need to notify. We
> don't. They also have a clause reserving the right to make unilateral
> changes (Question: Do credit card companies in Germany have similar
> clauses, or are they invalid under the same principle? If not, what's
> the difference?), we're not sure we have that right internationally,
> which could cause serious problems.
I would like to add here that credit card companies, in the original 
agreement, formally let you know that they can modify the agreement at 
any time in the future.  In other words, they have installed a legal "or 
later version" clause in the contract just like the FSF has done for its 
licenses.  They are also governed under separate laws that have nothing 
to do with copyright... and that is a critical issue here.  We are 
talking copyright law, where the individual conributor is presumed to 
own the copyright for everything they have contributed.  You can argue 
that the WMF has the "right" to change the licenses of its websites, but 
as a practical matter that simply isn't the case.  It really is an 
either/or situation where if the WMF wants to change the licenses, they 
have to dump the existing content.  And this is where the massive fork 
in Wikipedia would happen if the licenses were to be changed.

Again, in regards to credit cards, they have to give you notice when the 
rules do change, under the presumption that if you disagree with the new 
banking rules that you can cancel the agreement and move your money or 
your debt somewhere else that has rules that you agree with.  In the 
case of GFDL'd content on Wikipedia, I suppose that you have the "right" 
to move your content to another website or remove it, as you have 
presumed here Mike, but as a practical matter I don't see how you can 
disengage all of the content that I wrote on Wikipedia, much less others 
who are insisting on maintaining their copyright under the terms of the 
GFDL.  Or more to the point, this is opening up the potential of a huge 
class-action lawsuit against the Wikimedia Foundation if this license 
change is insisted on... of course without the cooperation of the Free 
Software Foundation.  With the involvement of the FSF is another story, 
but that wasn't what I was responding to.

As a side note.... it seems as thought the original version of the 
Wikipedia was released under the terms of the GFDL v. 1.0, but was later 
updated to version 1.2.  I don't think there was any major controversy 
when this happened, but it is one case of where I know a license change 
did occur for Wikipedia with the escape clause.  Am I remembering this 
correctly... for anybody who is an "old-timer" here?  In other words, 
this update for the GFDL has already happened at least once.  I know for 
a fact that I updated the "official" GFDL license on en.wikibooks when 
the mailing address for the Free Software Foundation changed... to put 
that version in conformance with the "official version" released by the FSF.

-- Robert Horning

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