[Foundation-l] GFDL Q&A update and question

Erik Moeller erik at wikimedia.org
Sat Jan 10 20:51:11 UTC 2009

2009/1/10 Anthony <wikimail at inbox.org>:

>> The proposed attribution (crediting authors where it is reasonably
>> possible and linking to the version history where that would be
>> onerous) is completely consistent with
>> 1) established practices on Wikipedia;
>> 2) the ethics and spirit of the GNU Free Documentation License;
>> 3) the ethics of the free culture movement;
>> 4) the legal language of both licenses;
>> 5) the experience of a human being contributing to Wikipedia.

> As I said, if that's true, there's no reason to switch.  Compatibility can
> be achieved by allowing CC-BY-SA to be relicensed under the GFDL.

No, that does not follow. The fact that a license developed for
software manuals is not particularly well-suited for radically open
online collaboration was discovered early by stakeholders in said
license. That doesn't make it an unethical or poorly written license;
it simply makes it the wrong tool for the job.

> That said, I think "if it's too hard to credit people, then you don't have
> to do it" is a ridiculous interpretation of the GFDL.

Except that it is not the actual interpretation that anyone is
proposing. What is proposed is to provide a reference to a list of
names where that list is very long. Considering that many if not most
usernames only become meaningful when resolved to user page URLs,
pointing people to the history is in fact arguably more useful than
e.g. simply stating that Dogmaster3000 was one of 50 usernames
contributing to an article, and not more onerous for anyone seeking to
determine the meaning of the attribution.

That is not to say that this method of attribution cannot be improved;
it can. It's been proposed by various people to track attribution data
on a separate page from the version history. Ideally, such attribution
data could be provided for a specific version of a page. This could be
complemented with brief profile information ("John Doe, an
anthropologist from Houston, Texas") to better serve the purpose of
giving credit. Moreover, in the cases where there are few authors,
algorithms can be continually improved to exclude vandals and other
edits with no copyrightable value.

Ultimately, the outcome of a consistent principle of
attribution-by-URL under certain circumstances is more attribution,
not less, as people can come into compliance more easily.

> What I see the WMF
> doing is: 1) changing the license to fit their practices, rather than
> changing their practices to fit the license;

I would change "their" to "our", but otherwise I agree with this
statement. Bringing rules in compliance with practices when this is
consistent with a widely shared understanding of the public interest
is precisely one of the principles of any social reform; enforcing
rules against such a shared understanding is precisely an example of
questionable social coercion.

> 2) encouraging others to
> distribute the content without attributing the vast majority of the authors.

Here you are again deliberately misrepresenting the actual proposed
standards of attribution.
Erik Möller
Deputy Director, Wikimedia Foundation

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