[Foundation-l] Re-licensing

Erik Moeller erik at wikimedia.org
Fri Jan 23 01:36:12 UTC 2009

2009/1/22 Thomas Dalton <thomas.dalton at gmail.com>:
>> If we assert a default "sense of the community" that the URL is reasonable,
>> and allow individual authors to override that (and consequently annoy
>> readers and redistributors in the future) how does that negatively affect
>> any author's rights or property?
> Either it's reasonable, or it's not. If you feel the need to give
> people the option of opting out, then obviously you think it isn't
> reasonable. Also, why should people that have edited in the past and
> then moved on not get the same rights as current editors?

Essentially, by doing this, you'd be saying: "We disagree with you,
but we're not interested in engaging in a prolonged battle over
perceived author rights in a massively collaborative work with you. So
if you really have a beef with our attribution model, which is the
result of many months of deliberation and consultation, you can use
this setting to be attributed in a way for your past edits that's
consistent with your perception and beliefs about what rights you have
retained under the terms of use in the past. "

"However, we think that the notion that print-outs of massively
collaborative works should carry author attribution over multiple
pages, that spoken versions should contain many seconds of
text-to-speech generated author lists, that indeed any re-user will
have to worry about this problem, is completely counter to the
principles of free culture. So, for your past edits, please click this
button. We will always attribute you by name as long as we use your
text, and we will probably remove your edits over time. For your
future edits, we've made it abundantly clear that this isn't something
we believe is required or needed. If you think it is, please
contribute somewhere else."

It would be, IMO, a completely defensible way to deal with a situation
where a minority is trying to impose standards on an entire community
which are counter to its objectives. I'm not necessarily saying that
this reflects the situation we have today: I don't know how widespread
the belief in the need for distribution of excessive author metadata
is. I think it would be worth the effort to find out. It's my personal
belief that such metadata requirements are harmful examples of
non-free licensing terms, and I would be surprised to see many people
defend excessive attribution as in the
example (even if it's aesthetically well done and obviously pleasing
to lots of German mothers).

The above solution would still result in the odd situation where the
article on [[France]] would say: 'See (url) for a list of authors,
including Foo and Bar'. But that is a problem that could be solved
over time by removing those people's contributions. It seems to me
that, essentially, some people have been operating under the
assumption that they are contributing in a fashion that would make the
resulting work effectively non-free in much the same way other onerous
restrictions do. It's too bad that they've made that assumption, given
how strongly and clearly we've always emphasized the principles of

I think it would be fully ethically and legally defensible to ignore
this assumption as incorrect and unreasonable, but it would be nicer
(and possibly less noisy) to accommodate these people as much as
reasonably possible while explaining that the 'free' in 'free
encyclopedia' is inconsistent with hassling re-users about the
inclusion of kilobytes worth of largely meaningless author metadata.
I'm not advocating one path over another at this point, though.

Flexible and vague clauses can work well when you're dealing with
issues with few stakeholders who all have a shared and tacit
understanding of what they want to accomplish. By definition, massive
collaboration isn't such a situation: any one of hundreds or thousands
of contributors to a document can behave unreasonably, interpreting
rules to the detriment of others. The distributed ownership of
copyright to a single work is an example of what Michael Heller calls
'gridlock' or an 'anticommons'. Ironically, even with free content
licenses, the gridlock effects of copyright can still come into play.

I believe it's our obligation to give our reusers protection from
being hassled by people insisting on heavy attribution requirements,
and to create consistency in reuse guidelines. Really, WMF and its
chapters can hardly develop partnerships with content reusers if we
can't give clarity on what's required of them. A great deal of free
information reuse may not be happening because of fear, uncertainty
and doubt. I would much rather remove all doubt that our content is
free to be reused without onerous restrictions.

Erik Möller
Deputy Director, Wikimedia Foundation

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