[WikiEN-l] Fwd: [gnu.org #336602] FDL and Wikipedia

Angela Anuszewski psu256 at member.fsf.org
Wed Jul 18 19:06:02 UTC 2007

For kicks, a while back when there was the BJAODN debate on copying
content from one page to another and possible copyvios, I took it upon
myself to write to the FSF compliance lab with my understanding of the
situation and see if they would provide their commentary.

I just got a response and thought I should share it with you.


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Brett Smith via RT <licensing at fsf.org>
Date: Jul 18, 2007 2:59 PM
Subject: Re: [gnu.org #336602] FDL and Wikipedia
To: psu256 at member.fsf.org

On Thu, Jun 07, 2007 at 04:25:25PM -0400, psu256 at member.fsf.org via RT wrote:
> There is a bunch of discussion on the English Wikipedia mailing list
> over the last week or so about the FDL and whether some of the
> practices of the Wikipedia do not meet the letter of the law of the
> FDL.


I'm very sorry for the delay in getting back to you.  We needed to make
sure we completely understood Wikipedia's practices before providing an

> 1 ) Since providing a "History" of the whole Wikipedia would be
> unwieldy, individual pages are generally considered separate
> documents, each with their own history log. Now, imagine someone wants
> to copy text from one article on the Wikipedia to another article (for
> "merge and delete" into one main article, etc.). The issue is, the
> editor who did the copying is logged by the software, but the copier
> doesn't go through the history of the original and log each individual
> contributor to the original as part of the new article history. (For
> an article with hundreds of edits, attempting to find who added a
> particular copied sentence might be a nightmare.) Since, unlike the
> wiki for the GPLv3 which assigns copyright to the content to the FSF,
> the Wikimedia Foundation never assumes copyright for the content. So,
> technically, does the "merge and delete" process violate the FDL
> because the history for the copied text is lost when the original
> article was deleted?

I'm reluctant to definitively state that this is a violation, but that
information really should be available in some form or another.  I think
there are lots of ways that could be done; for example, it would probably
be fine if the history section of the final article had a link to the
history section of the article that was merged in.

> 2) Currently, anonymous edits are logged by IP address, but an IP
> address cannot be traced to an individual (despite what RIAA might
> have to say about that topic??? but I digress.) Is this logging of IPs
> enough to fulfill the history requirements of the FDL?

I think Wikipedia itself is fine doing what it does here: since authors
have almost full control over how they're identified to Wikipedia -- they
can provide as little as an IP address, or go as far as offering complete
contact information on their user page -- and contributors should know that
going in, there should be no problem with simply relaying that
information to the rest of the world.

If you have further questions, please let me know.

Best regards,

Brett Smith
Licensing Compliance Engineer, Free Software Foundation

Please note that I am not an attorney.  This is not legal advice.

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