[Foundation-l] Attribution by URL reasoning?
lars at aronsson.se
Wed Mar 11 21:18:41 UTC 2009
> In 1.0 and 2.0 I assume the appropriate section is 4(d). The
> change from 1.0 to 2.0 adds a requirement to specify a URL.
Copyright (and also the European author's rights / Urheberrecht)
used to be all about making copies, presumably physical copies. In
trials such as the one against The Pirate Bay, an essential
question is: who made the copies? Was it the uploader, the
Internet provider, the link index, or the downloader? The four
persons stand accused of assisting in the non-authorized creation
of copies (medhjälp till exemplarframställning). This question is
completely irrelevant to computer science, because bits are copied
all the time, from one transistor to the next. But it is relevant
to copyright law, because it is full of references to copy-making.
Record stores and a libraries are collections of copies. The
copies are the substance, and the space between the copies
(sleeves, shelves, brick walls) is just an empty shell. (There
are exceptions: The Library of Congress would probably not be
quite the same if it moved to some other building.)
The Internet, on the other hand, consists entirely of the space
between the copies: servers, storage systems, connections,
routers, networks, HTML markup, links, domain names, websites,
search engines, page ranks, browsers, user communities, brand
recognition, foundations, companies. There's so much jar and so
little jam, that we have given this a special name: content.
When I started a Gopher server in 1992 it was a fun technical
experiment, but I needed content and had none. I started to write
my own texts, but didn't get far. So I started to scan
out-of-copyright Scandinavian books. I looked at Project
Gutenberg and called my offspring Project Runeberg. But I was
surprised that they only cared for the books, the e-texts, and
didn't seem to care for the space between the copies. Theirs was
just a pile of e-texts, which could be copied around at will,
residing on some random FTP server that could change at any time.
My first wish had been to build the server, the structure around
the e-texts. They thought a mirror server was a great help in
spreading e-texts. I though a mirror server was a sign of my
failure to build the one-stop-shop. Since the e-texts are out of
copyright, I couldn't stop people from mirroring them, but I could
build a server that was good enough and pretty enough that there
was no immediate need for mirrors.
When Wikipedia started in 2001, I was fascinated by the concept,
but surprised that again the same old "content only" attitude was
there. Mirrors were allowed and encouraged. Is this really the
way? So many details in technology and project guidelines could be
questioned, that I started my own wiki in Swedish (susning.nu)
that made a few things different. Among them, I didn't require
GFDL licensing from my users, so the content was not "free" and
could not be mirrored. This is not because I'm an evil person, but
because I didn't see why that content needed to be free and
mirrored if I provided a server good enough. Skipping the free
licensing created a lock-in, which is something that most
businesses would envy. Again, susning.nu was primarily a really
fun technical experiment. It took until December 2003 before the
German Wikipedia caught up at 50,000 articles. Soon after that,
vandalism got out of hand, and I closed susning.nu in April 2004.
The user community moved over to the Swedish Wikipedia, which has
been quite successful.
That was 2001-2004. After I closed susning.nu, I have tried to
help Wikipedia. I now have a better understanding of why free
licensing is useful. What I don't fully understand is if we're
really trying to fulfill the mission (Imagine a world...), why are
we spending so much effort (fundraising, staffing, operations) to
operate the world's 7th most visited webserver? Is that necessary
or just a burden? If free content is our focus, why spend so much
on the space between the copies? The 7th most visited website is a
Manhattan bank with marble-clad walls. Do we need that?
If the content is free, people don't need to drink from our
watertap. It's the water that's important, not the tap. We could
have a minimal webserver to receive new edits. Serving replication
feeds to a handful of media corporations (who might pay for it!)
should be far cheaper than to receive all this web traffic. Some
universities might serve up ad-free mirrors. We could be the
Associated Press instead of the New York Times, the producer
instead of the retailer.
Or is the fact that we spend so much to maintain the 7th most
visited website an admission to the fact that the space between
the copies actually has a great value to us? A value that will be
strengthened by cementing its URL and/or the name Wikipedia
(attributing the project) into the new license?
I'm not against that. I will go with whatever. I'm very flexible
and I still think this is a very fun technical experiment. But I
think the change is worth some consideration.
Lars Aronsson (lars at aronsson.se)
Aronsson Datateknik - http://aronsson.se
Wikimedia Sverige - stöd fri kunskap - http://wikimedia.se/
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