Lyza Danger Gardner contributed this image, from a Fred Meyer supermarket, to Wikipedia.

 Last night, I had two separate conversations (by coincidence) with mostly-amateur photographers Lyza and Cam, who want to contribute images to Wikipedia.

Both were driven by a desire to contribute to a common repository of knowledge and beauty, and both were frustrated by Wikipedia’s requirement that their contributions be made available for commercial use.

This is not a new debate, but it’s one worth delving into a bit.

The key befuddlement, of course, is this: why would Wikipedia (and related Wikimedia Foundation projects), which is a non-profit venture both in spirit and its technical classification, require that photographers release their property for unlimited commercial use?

The answer appears to date back to the Wikimedia Foundation’s decision to use the GFDL as its basic license. I haven’t been able to uncover the deliberation that led to that decision, but the reason is generally this: we’re seeking to create an encyclopedia that can be freely republished, in many formats and with many variations, so that it can be available to an enormous number of people in an enormous number of ways.

For instance, I just installed a neat program called Quickpedia on my new cell phone. This program fills a need that Wikipedia itself hasn’t, and possibly never will: it makes it really easy to browse Wikipedia articles on my mobile phone. But the program contains advertising, making it a commercial enterprise.

If Wikipedia allowed photographers to upload content that doesn’t permit commercial use, that would mean programs like this couldn’t exist; or at least, it would massively increase the complexity of making such a program, and force the developers to create an incomplete version of Wikipedia, absent of any photos that don’t permit commercial use.

I brought this up to Lyza; she explained that as far as she’s concerned, programs like Quickpedia are Wikipedia; she’d be happy to use a license, if it were available, that permitted uses like that, but that disallow people making commercial products (advertising, calendars, etc.) that are completely unrelated to Wikipedia.

So, my question is this: is there a way for the copyleft geeks and attorneys of our community to craft a license that hews closely to Lyza’s stated desires?

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