November 3, 2008 · Lessig
The Free Software Foundation has released the GNU Free Document License version 1.3. Section 11 of that license now (essentially) permits certain wikis to be relicensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (v3.0) license, so long as the relicensing is completed by August 1, 2009. That means, the Wikipedia community now has the choice to relicense Wikipedia under a Creative Commons license. (Here’s the FAQ for the amendment.)
It would be hard to overstate the importance of this change to the Free Culture community. A fundamental flaw in the Free Culture Movement to date is that its most important element — Wikipedia — is licensed in a way that makes it incompatible with an enormous range of other content in the Free Culture Movement. One solution to this, of course, would be for everything to move to the FDL. But that license was crafted initially for manuals, and there were a number of technical reasons why it would not work well (and in some cases, at all) for certain important kinds of culture.
This change would now permit interoperability among Free Culture projects, just as the dominance of the GNU GPL enables interoperability among Free Software projects. It thus eliminates an unnecessary and unproductive hinderance to the spread and growth of Free Culture.
Richard Stallman deserves enormous credit for enabling this change to occur. There were some who said RMS would never permit Wikipedia to be relicensed, as it is one of the crown jewels in his movement for freedom. And so it is: like the GNU/Linux operation system, which his movement made possible, Wikipedia was made possible by the architecture of freedom the FDL enabled. One could well understand a lesser man finding any number of excuses for blocking the change.
But here’s what Richard said in 2002 in a different context:
“If we don’t want to live in a jungle, we must change our attitudes. We must start sending the message that a good citizen is one who cooperates when appropriate….”
Add “good citizen” to the list of praise for this founder of contemporary freedom.