[Foundation-l] GFDL and relicensing

Robert Horning robert_horning at netzero.net
Fri Nov 23 16:56:10 UTC 2007

Andrew Whitworth wrote:
>> Either follow the terms of the GFDL or
>> don't.  If you don't follow the GFDL, that means all of my contributions
>> revert to ordinary copyright law with all rights reserved, and I do not
>> give permission to use this content under any other license.
>> -- Robert Horning
> Let me ask you, what exactly does the GFDL have that another license
> might not, and why be such a stickler for the GFDL? If you are looking
> to protect your rights over your contributions, most importantly the
> right of attribution, why wouldn't a license like CC-BY-SA be
> acceptable? A license like CC-BY-SA affords nearly all the same rights
> and protections as GFDL, but doesn't require the work to be
> accompanied by a lengthy copy of the license document.
> I think what most people want is (a) that their works are made freely
> available, and (b) their rights are protected. Given these points,
> what would be a rationale for opposing such a license switch, besides
> wanting to be a pain in the ass?
> --Andrew Whitworth

To start with, I haven't licensed these contributions under any other 
license, so introducing something like CC-by-SA is irrelevant to the 
discussion here other than as a purely philosophical point.

I will state that I have reviewed many of the content licenses that were 
available before the GFDL, and many that have since come out.  One of 
the reasons (among others) that I contributed to Wikimedia projects was 
explicitly because the content was using the GFDL license, and it was a 
conscious decision on my part when I first got involved.  This isn't to 
say that I haven't added a few things to projects (like Wikinews, for 
instance) that use other licensing arrangements, but I have also not 
spent considerable amounts of time on those projects either.

More to the point, I support many of the philosophical goals that RMS 
introduced when the GFDL was originally put together, as I have seen a 
very real need to have something like a document-oriented GPL-like 
license.  In this regard, I think many of the Creative Commons licenses 
miss the mark, and there is a strong non-commercial use only philosophy 
on the part of those working on the Creative Commons licenses.  Again, 
nearly every time I get into a discussion about CC licenses I get all 
kinds of people that criticize me because I'm not intimately familiar 
with all of the variations of the CC license suit...but I consider that 
to also be a major flaw in CC licenses.  There are so many that 
intelligent discussions about them are hard to make.  I know you have 
mentioned a specific license here, but the confusion is very real.  
Until recently, all the FSF had for licenses was the LGPL, GPL, and 
GFDL.... and the "domain" of each license was rather clear.

As to why Jimbo went the route of using the GFDL when Wikipedia started 
out... I'll have to let Jimbo answer that himself.  But the decision was 
made and is irreversable, at least from my perspective.  We can't just 
switch Wikipedia from the GFDL to CC-by-SA tomorrow even if 99.9% of all 
Wikipedia participants agree to the decision.  I highly doubt such a 
switch would gain even that level of support, but that is irrelevant to 
this discussion.

I know Mike here is trying to suggest that the WMF is talking with the 
FSF in terms of trying to make something work for Wikipedia, but I'm 
also saying that you can't please everybody at once either.  That seems 
to be the goal here to dilute the GFDL to something "harmonized" with 
the CC-by-SA license (or is it another CC license?).  Each of these 
licenses serves a different niche, and I don't necessarily think it is 
in the best interest of Wikipedia and the other sister projects to 
"force" a harmonization.

BTW, if I read your reply here Andrew, you are suggesting I'm being a 
pain in the ass to insist that the original terms I released my content 
under (the GFDL) is something that can't be casually dismissed by a 
community vote of some sort.  I can't speak for "most people", but I can 
speak for myself.  I want to not only preserve the ability to make my 
contributions freely available, but I also want to maintain the current 
philosphy of the GPL/GFDL that prohibits others from preventing future 
distribution, or asserting copyright on content they haven't written.

I could also go into my long and extensive career in the software 
industry, but I'll just leave it here that I've written software that 
I've placed "in the public domain" only to see somebody else claim that 
they had written it instead.... and I was powerless to force them to 
change that claim.  Most of the GFDL is a round-about way to force an 
admission that others were involved in the creation of the content if 
you reuse or modify the content in the future.  I've also unfortunately 
signed some NDAs that prevent me from passing on to the rest of the 
world some very hard earned knowledge that I've gained over the years, 
and I find it surprisingly liberating to work with individuals who try 
to avoid these kind of legal traps.  I would like to point out that 
there are also other benefits of the current GFDL that have not been 
stated so far on this thread that are getting over looked.

--  Robert Horning

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