December 1, 2007  ·  Lessig

As you’ll see in this video, there has been important progress in making Wikipedia compatible with the world of Creative Commons licensed work. But we should be very precise about this extremely good news: As Jimmy announces, the Wikimedia Foundation Board has agreed with a proposal made by the Free Software Foundation that will permit Wikipedia (and other such wikis) to relicense under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

That is very different from saying that Wikipedia has relicensed under a CC license. The decision whether to take advantage of this freedom granted by the FSF when the FSF grants it will be a decision the Wikipedia community will have to make. We are very hopeful that the community will ratify this move to compatible freedoms. And if they do, we are looking forward to an extraordinary celebration.

Read the Wikimedia Foundation resolution here.

My endless thanks to everyone who has helped make this possible, from Richard Stallman and the FSF board, to the important leaders within the Wikipedia community who say yet another legal obstacle to freedom that they could remove.

  • David Gerard

    The bit that struck me (reading the WMF board resolution) was *relicensing* as CC-by-sa rather than just an “or later” on the GFDL. I assume someone’s preparing a post full of details …

  • Luis Villa

    This is indeed important to understand clearly; it is unfortunate that the linked video doesn’t really make anything clear :) Is there a more formal explanation somewhere of exactly what is going on here?

  • Seth Finkelstein

    Yes, it’s really hard to figure out what it means.

    Remember, there’s a lot of interest in re-using Wikipedia, for both noble and avaricious reasons. Simply as a statement of fact, without accusing anyone of anything, someone who has an avaricious reason in mind is never going to state it outright, but will instead put forth a noble reason.

    Second time: I’m not stating anything about the particulars right now.

  • Fred

    Seth, but wouldn’t a noble person also state the same thing that an avaricious person would impersonate them as stating? If so, how are we to prima facie distinguish noble and avaricious speech? And if we can’t, then we have two options: one is to assume that all speech is avaricious in order to properly shield ourselves from the consequences. This is also known as wholesale cynicism.

    The other option is to consider the particulars of a given situation and try to determine whether or not the speech is avaricious or noble on the basis of those particulars rather than the solely on the speech itself.

    That said, I’m curious as to your take on the particulars right now.

    I’ll add that I would like to be clearer about how the Wikimedia community will decide to re-license the projects under CC-BY-SA now that there is demand to make it possible to do so. The board resolution leads here says that a “process of discussion and voting” will occur before relicensing happens.

    Think of it this way: there are three players here. CC, Wikimedia Foundation and the FSF. It’s now clear that CC and WF (and by extension, the Wikipedia community) want the GFDL to be compatible with CC’s Attribution-ShareAlike license. The ball is now in the FSF’s court to make the GFDL compatible with CC’s BY-SA license. It looks like the draft of the FSF’s GFDL 2.0 license (in conjunction with something called the GNU Wiki License, which hasn’t been released) will make that the case.

    What’s left is for the FSF to ratify the GFDL 2.0 license which is backward compatible with the 1.2 license that all of Wikimedia runs on and release the GNU Wiki license (which will be, and I’m totally assuming this — compatible with the CC-BY-SA license).

    Finally, and this is again up to the Wikimedia community, for the content on Wikipedia to be re-licensed under CC-BY-SA.

    But this is just my take on it all, so I might be getting some details wrong.

  • Finite

    I’m extremely confused by this. Does WP’s use of the GFDL currently say “or any later version published by FSF” or does it not?! If it does, what would there be for the community to vote on after the FSF issues a new GFDL? And, if it doesn’t, what gives WMF the right to relicense everyone else’s work? Even with a large community consensus to relicense, the opposing minority cannot just have their copyrighted work taken from them and relicensed, can they? WTF?

  • Torsten

    There is a problem: there is no way to make binding community decisions in Wikipedia. There is no democratic structure in Wikipedia. In the most controversial cases less than one percent of the community will take part in discussions. When users could vote for their representative in the Wikimedia board, only 4000 users participated.

    The license can be only changed by the right holders, the Wikimedia Foundation has absolutely no authority to change the license of any content that was written under GFDL. They woluld not even sue when a big Chinese company violated the GFDL big time.

  • Aleksej

    Indeed. I strongly oppose making my work less open-source without asking me.
    See for the reasoning.
    IIRC, I have checked that against the English CC by-sa 3.0.

    I believe there is a mistake and FSF and Wikimedia are not going to do anything like that.
    Is there an error in GNU FDL they are going to correct?

    Please, end the confusion?

  • Sarah Cove

    So I am new to this conversation (in that I only heard about interoperability of licenses last night). I’m trying to clarify what this means. Could someone help me if I am wrong.

    Lessig wrote this e-mail a couple of years ago for Creative Commons. As I understand interoperability, the creator of the content can decide whether the GNU Free Documentation License and the Creative Commons license are compatible, making it legal for individuals under both licenses to use this content. Is this how the structure is currently set up? When I use a CC license or the GFDL, I can check whether I want my content to be compatible with the other?

    And why are some people upset about Wikimedia’s decision? Will the voting Wikipedia community (however many members that could consist of) be deciding whether to “click” a box somewhere that will allow the work licensed under the GFDL to be compatible with the CC-BY-SA license? If this happens, how will it change the “freedom” of the work? And if the structure is set up differently, could someone explain how it works currently?

    Thank ya.

  • DW

    Future Shock, anyone?

  • Tomasz W. Kozlowski

    Finite made the whole point. Indeed, Wikipedia:Copyrights says:

    Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation.

    And the or any later version part actually takes away any decisions from the Wikipedia community. If the CC BY-SA-compatible version of the GFDL comes into life, the community cannot do anything, because they have agreed to licence their contribution not under the GFDL 1.2 only, but under the later versions – which may be CC BY-SA compatible – as well.

    And there is also one more thing to be clarified: if there will be the CC BY-SA-compatible GFDL, the content of Wikipedia won’t be relicenced: it will be multilicenced (under GFDL 1.2, GFDL X.X and CC BY-SA X.X), and that is a huge difference that can’t be forgotten.

  • Dagobert Raff

    @Tomasz W. Kozlowski: Can you legally binding agree to any future changes? I guess not, at least not in the legal systems common in the so-called Western world …

  • Niccolò Caranti

    @Dagobert Raff: The possibility of revision of the GNU Free Documentation License is not without limit.

    In the 10th section of the license you can read:

    “The Free Software Foundation may publish new, revised versions of the GNU Free Documentation License from time to time. Such new versions will be similar in spirit to the present version, but may differ in detail to address new problems or concerns.”

    The second paragraph also considers explicitly the “or any later version” condition.

  • Niccolò Caranti
  • Evan Prodromou

    Your link to the license is incorrect; because you left out the colon after “http”, the browser renders it as “http://http//”. Adding the colon in should fix it.

    Please feel free to delete this comment after correcting the problem.

  • Evan Prodromou

    @Seth Finkelstein: one of the great things about Free Culture is that even bad people can use free works — even to do bad things! As an occasionally bad person, I find this aspect of the movement very encouraging.

  • Seth Finkelstein

    @Fred – I’ve become very cynical over the years. But I’m still uncertain on the particulars here. It’s basically a “corruption” problem – there’s no incentive for a disinterested party to thoroughly analyze a complicated issue, leaving us without adequate information.

  • Tor Hershman

    Dear Mr. Lessig,
    As you may see from this YouTube film/research (Creative Commons) , progress is relative.

  • crimeny

    Could someone please explain all this in plain English? What is the change with Wikipedia? Is this good or bad? Why? Thank you.

  • EVula

    I suppose I’m a bad en.wp admin for not really understanding why I should care about this. :)

  • joann

    This video, there has been important progress in making Wikipedia compatible with the world of Creative Commons licensed work. But we should be very precise about this extremely good news

  • David Tames

    Could someone provide an update of the current state of affairs? I have a very practical question: when and how will a wiki that is published under the terms CC-Attribution-Share-Alike be able to incorporate Wikipedia content which is GFDL licensed? Right now, even if I properly attribute, it’s a violation of the license terms, which is frustrating. This news to move towards compatible licenses is great, but when will the new compatible GFDL be published? What is holding things up?

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