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A Rumble in the Wiki/Licensing World: Wikimedia Foundation Moves from GNU to Creative Commons

Slashdot reports that “The Wikimedia Foundation has resolved to migrate the copyright licensing of all of its wiki projects, including Wikipedia, from the GNU Free Documentation License to the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Here is the WikiFoundation site explanation for the change:

The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) has proposed that the copyright licensing terms on the wikis operated by the WMF — including Wikipedia — be changed to include the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC-BY-SA) license in addition to the current GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). This will affect all text and rich media (images, sound, video, etc.) currently licensed under “GFDL 1.2 or later versions”. This change is meant to advance the WMF’s mission by increasing the compatibility and availability of free content. Further details and motivation for this change are explained in the licensing update proposal and the associated FAQ.

There is a fair amount to unpack here. For example why use the phrase “in addition to”? It could be that this language is supposed to reflect a transition period such that old content may have legacy licenses under GNU and new material is all CC licensed. The background information on why change at all sheds some light on the issue, but there is enough to discuss that I will get to that in a post tomorrow. At bottom it is a big shift and indicates that CC may be better for sharing content.

Perhaps just as interesting is the process behind the change. The Foundation aired the topic for some time and took a vote. For “Yes, I am in favor of this change” there were 13242 votes or 75.8% of the total votes; for “No, I am opposed to this change”, 1829 votes, 10.5% of the total; and for “I do not have an opinion on this change”, 2391 votes, 13.7% of the total. The 17,462 total votes were cast and certified. This process reminds me of Dave Hoffman and Salhil Mehra’s paper Wikitruth Through Wikiorder in that the Wikifoundation seems to find ways to organize and direct a rather large and disparate group rather well. (The details of the voting process are set out here under Certification. They seem to track the paper’s finding that the system wishes to keep people in the system even if they misbehave.) Yet, the vote total seems quite small.

The site explains that suffrage was offered to “All users (excluding bots) who have made at least 25 edits to any Wikimedia project prior to March 15, 2009 are welcome to participate in this vote.” So perhaps there are not that many folks who have more than 25 entries or perhaps not that many chose to participate. Or it could be that the grand and glorious Wikipedia is run by around 17,000 people in total if one takes “run by” to mean 25 or more edits. (Wikipedia editors accounted for 16,785 or 96.1 percent of the vote.)

A quick glance at the stats pages for active users is not that helpful. If I am reading the stats page for active wikipedians correctly, as of 2006 (no idea why the English edits are not listed after that date) a total of 57,500 people were active with 5 contributions per month and very active wikipedians (100 or more per month) had a total of 7779. The new wikipedians (defined as Increase in wikipedians who edited at least 10 times since they arrived) is 17,437 as of April 2006 (again the data stops there). That number is awfully close to the total 17,462 certified votes. Given the gap in data it may be that one is seeing a leveling off in participation at the slightly active range. In addition, it may be that those who have put it in the 25 edits at anytime are engaged enough to vote with an astonishing participation percentage. So yet again there is more to learn about Wikiland and how it works.

5 thoughts on “A Rumble in the Wiki/Licensing World: Wikimedia Foundation Moves from GNU to Creative Commons”

  1. Hey Deven — Why did you say “Wiki *land*”? Reminds me a bit of “Disneyland.” Perhaps it is because when we see a self-governing collective, we tend to associate it with a particular place or space?

    I think this is interesting, but I’m trying to understand myself how it is much different than the “governance” of other large informal social activities. The decision to limit the voting to 25 entries seems kind of arbitrary, but I guess it is no more arbitrary than limiting voting rights by other criteria (e.g. legal citizenship).

  2. Let’s make Greg’s question a little more acute:

    Can we think of good examples of informal self-governing collectives that are *not* associated with particular places or spaces, at least metaphorically?

  3. Greg, yes, a Disney nod, but I am not sure that it is a space/place idea. I meant to evoke a slightly fantastic, constructed self-governing system. WikiMedia and its parts has its rules. Wikiland refers to that but also the more general idea that Mike points to: informal self-governing collectives merit some study to see how/whether they govern at all.

  4. The “in addition to” is because Wikimedia is not dropping the GFDL completely — all text that was previously submitted will be dual-licensed, so reusers may use the content under either license.

  5. Kat

    Thanks much. I haven’t gotten around to looking into the dual license stuff as yet, but that helps. It also makes me wonder what sort of messy licensing problems may arise as folks try to sort the licenses going forward. Wikimedia may have a way to migrate all content over time which would be impressive. But the dual license approach not matter how long could be a nuisance.

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