As you probably know, the Wikimedia Foundation hosts several wiki-based projects in addition to the wildly popular Wikipedia. None of them (with the possible exception of Commons, a free media repository) has an editing community that’s nearly as active as Wikipedia; however, there’s high-quality work going on all over the place.

One of my personal favorites is Wikisource. This site serves as a repository for historical documents. Unlike the other projects, Wikisource editors don’t create content, but instead gather it from existing sources, and update its formatting to make it more web-friendly. Why is this such a good thing? Well, let me give you an example:

My biggest project on Wikisource, currently underway, has been “wikifying” the Oregon Constitution. Wikipedia editor Athelwulf has set a high standard for making a clear presentation of this foundational document.

The Constitution is, of course, online on a couple of different State web sites; but it’s presented in ways that scream “best of the web, circa 1995.” The formatting makes it very difficult to read lists; there are few if any web links to clarify concepts, or indicate which ballot measures approve certain amendments; and numerous other problems make it much less useful than it should be.

But no matter. With Wikisource—and because the Constitution is in the public domain, owned by the people of Oregon—it’s in our power to build a better resource. In time, I hope this will set the standard for the state’s presentation of this vital document. Or if not, perhaps Wikisource will become a core resource for law students, legislative aides, historians, and others all over the state.

Like what you see? Please help us finish the project! Article I (the Bill of Rights) is more or less complete, but most of the others still need a lot of work.

Hearing details
Thursday, June 19
10:30 AM
Hearing Room A
State capitol, Salem

This Thursday, the Oregon Legislative Counsel Committee (LCC) will be holding a hearing that should be of major interest to anyone with an interest in Oregon law, and in building (or using) public resources on the Internet. The topic: whether or not the laws that we, the people of Oregon write are in the public domain, or whether the State can prevent their republication by insisting on licensing arrangements.

A couple months back, the LCC — which provides legal advice to the state legislature, and edits draft legislation — issued a takedown notice to justia.com, which was hosting the Oregon Revised Statutes. Justia is a web site that publishes state laws (free of charge, and without advertising) from all states, in a standard format.

Legislative Counsel Dexter Johnson issued the takedown notice under direction from the LCC, and cited a 1953 law that gives it authority to make determinations about ownership of various works of the Legislature. He wrote that although the words of the laws themselves are in the public domain, some of the text involved in their publication — the section numbers, descriptive text, etc. — is owned by the State, and protected by copyright.

California-based nonprofit public.resource.org has been the leading advocate for getting this policy changed. They have retained counsel to challenge the policy. Their research indicates both that there aren’t solid legal grounds for this policy, and that it is contrary to the public interest.

The LCC has invited Public.resource.org to give testimony at their next public meeting, but there is no formal representation for Oregon’s community of wiki editors, bloggers, etc. (more…)

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