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Friday, 22 May 2009 11:49

Wikimedia adopts Creative Commons

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Wikimedia has changed the terms under which the content from Wikipedia and other projects can be used.

Since its inception, Wikimedia has allowed the reuse of its content under the GNU Free Documentation Licence, as that was one of the few standardised licences allowing reuse and redistribution.

It wasn't ideal, but it was arguably the best choice at the time.

The year after Wikipedia kicked off, the Creative Commons licences were established, and provided just the sort of rights that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales had in mind.

A growing amount of content - such as texts, photographs, podcasts and other recordings - has been released under Creative Commons licences.

These licences range from 'Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives' (which basically means the material can only be given away in its original form) to 'Attribution' (which allows reuse of any part of the content, even for commercial purposes, providing it is credited appropriately).

Wikipedia has adopted the 'Attribution Share Alike' version of the licence. According to Creative Commons, "This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use."

The change of licence was enacted by a Wikimedia Foundation board meeting, following a community ballot in which more than 17,000 votes were cast. 88 percent of votes expressing an opinion favoured the change.

What did the Wikimedia chair and the Creative Commons founder have to say about the change? Find out on page 2.


"The volunteers who work on Wikimedia projects have very strongly supported making their contributions available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License (CC-BY-SA) in addition to the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL)," said board chair, Michael Snow.

"Updating our license terms will support Wikimedia's charitable mission, by making our projects legally compatible with others that have chosen the CC-BY-SA license. Our free information and educational content can be shared more readily and will be easier for everyone to use," he added.

The dual licensing system will mean that in most cases people will be able to choose between the GFDL and CC-BY-SA when reusing Wikimedia content.

The exception will that the GFDL will be dropped from content objects where this is necessary to support remixing it with existing CC-BY-SA content, Wikimedia officials explained.

Lawrence Lessig - the founder of Creative Commons, a free culture activist, and a law professor - said "Richard Stallman's commitment to the cause of free culture has been an inspiration to us all. Assuring the interoperability of free culture is a critical step towards making this freedom work. The Wikipedia community is to be congratulated for its decision, and the Free Software Foundation thanked for its help. I am enormously happy about this decision."

One question left unaddressed is whether the 17,000 or so people that participated in the ballot can be held to speak for everyone that has ever contributed to Wikipedia or one of the other projects.

To those who have ever provided or corrected Wikipedia content: did you even know about the ballot?

At least the two licences have similar intentions. That makes the situation very different from CDDB, where many people contributed to what they thought was a community project to provide automatic track and album naming for CDs, only to have their work appropriated when it turned into the commercial Gracenote operation.


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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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