Copyright question (was: Re: [Wikipedia-l] Re: [Intlwiki-l] LA2)

Jimmy Wales jwales at
Tue Oct 16 18:27:43 UTC 2001

Thomas has some very good questions.  So far, this has not come up
because we have not copied GNU FDL materials into the database.  (Oh,
except I did see some entries from a dictionary of computing that the
owner gave us permission to use.)

It's a difficult question!  We selected the GNU FDL license because it
is indisputably "open source" or "free" (choose your religion! ;-)).
But to a certain extent, it is "tighter" than we want it to be, as per
the provisions Thomas mentions below.

Notice that all of the provisions mentioned can be omitted if the
original author doesn't include them or insist on them.  Within
Wikipedia, we have generally had a strong social norm against the
concept of "authorship".  What I mean by this is that it is considered
bad form to get annoyed at someone for changing "my" article.  The
best entries are semi-anonymous -- I mean, your name is there in the
change log so people can thank you for your excellent work, but the
article itself stands on its own.

Other little puzzlements of this kind are in the license if you mull
it over.  What is really needed, I suppose, is a license that is
compatible (in some sense) with the GNU FDL, but which doesn't impose
all the restrictions of the FDL.

The one thing that we don't want is to say that the stuff is in the
_public domain_.  The reason we don't want that is that it makes it
possible for someone to take our work and make a _proprietary_ version
simply by modifying it.  I think that by and large the contributors
wouldn't want that -- and I know that I wouldn't.

Also, we are currently using the "invariant section" bits in the
license to require people like Yahoo or Altavista who may mirror our
content to provide a link back to the main project.  (This has not
actually happened yet, but we hope that it will someday.)

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