April 14, 2009  ·  Lessig

I can’t begin to describe how rewarding it is to see the voting start on the question whether WIkipedia should exercise an option granted to it by the Free Software Foundation to relicense Wikipedia under the CC-BY-SA license. I am very hopeful the community will choose to exercise that option.

This is an issue that has been close to my heart for years now. I have been pushing the idea of license interoperability explicitly since about September, 2005. The argument is a simple one: We need a guarantee that free culture lives on a stable, interoperable licensing infrastructure, so the weakness of any one won’t bring the whole enterprise down. To that end, we initially began conversations with the Free Software Foundation to see whether we might make the FDL directly interoperable with the CC-BY-SA license. For perfectly legitimate reasons, the FSF didn’t want to do that.

But critically, they also didn’t want to weaken the Free Culture movement by forcing Wikipedia to live with a license that was not originally drafted with the full range of relevant culture in view. So the FSF amended the FDL to permit wikis licensed under the FDL to relicense. Wikipedia is now deciding whether to do just this.

My dream is that this will start in a serious way the process we scoped out 3 years ago. We’ve already been in discussion with the Free Art License community about making their license interoperable. I’d love to see that happen generally. In my view, the critical question is what freedoms the license supports, and whether it supports it well, not who wrote the license. We’ve got a long way to go to getting there. But it would be a critical first step for the Wikipedia community to support this crucial change.

Again, as Stallman said 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….”

Vote here (if you’ve made more than 25 edits to Wikipedia).

  • http://digitalproductions.co.uk Crosbie Fitch

    Instead of obliging attribution (an unnatural obligation), prohibit misattribution (a natural constraint).

    Credit is good, but compulsory credit leaves no room for credit given out of respect.

    The point is not that a culturally free license should coerce people’s good nature, but that by restoring their liberty, it reflects and enables it.

    I do not want to see people prosecuted for copyright infringement because they have failed to attribute the author(s) whose work they have shared or built upon, despite no attempt to present the work as original, nor attempt to distort or conceal its provenance.

    There is no natural right for a copyright holder to dictate the use, communication, or reproduction of their published work. So, if a license hopes to foster a free culture by emancipating the public from copyright’s constraints, then it should completely neutralise copyright’s privileging of the holder to demand worship from their less privileged fellows. It’s a seductive trap to think that the obligation of attribution is a mere trifle that is the least the public should do – if they tolerate no other suspension of their liberty.

  • http://www.akabeforum.com AkabeForuM

    The point is not that a culturally free license should coerce people’s good nature, but that by restoring their liberty, it reflects and enables it.

  • Jardinero1

    Does the professor see a conflict of interest in promoting a CC license? Is a full disclosure in order?

  • James

    Coercing those who did not choose to use a particular license to retroactively have their works licensed with that license is something that should have no place in anything claiming to be a free culture. You should be ashamed of your role in this. It’s the sort of skullduggery I expect from corrupt politicians, not advocates of free sharing of works.

    There’s a proper way to do this: start licensing new content under both licenses and change the licensing of a page when no trace of the original GFDL-only version remains, except by possible derivative works arguments. That’s slower than just saying “done” with an unethical license change but it’s the right way to go about it.

  • http://digitalproductions.co.uk Crosbie Fitch

    James, bear in mind that it is copyright that applies the coercive constraints over the public, by suspending their cultural liberty.

    If the clear objective of Wikipedia is to emancipate the public from copyright’s cultural constraints, then improving the license’s emancipation is ethical – even if it involves ignoring precursor licenses.

    Ignoring privilege in the process of restoring the public’s natural rights may well upset those privileged by copyright, but it is a corruption of the term ‘ethical’ to suggest that ignoring an unethical privilege is itself unethical.

    You may as well suggest that liberating a cotton farmer’s slaves was unethical.

    If you’d like to argue which of GFDL or CC-SA best emancipates the public, that’s a different matter.

  • http://endesha.com/blog Steven Devijver

    Thanks for the heads up, voted for.