It’s easy to forget just how old Wikipedia is, compared to many of the free culture organizations on the Web. One looming example of this has always been our use of the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL).
Founded before Creative Commons, the GFDL was the only copyleft license that even came close to making our work free for others in a way that fit our mission.

But it’s never been a perfect fit. Far from it, in fact.

Clauses such as the invariant sections rule and the burden of printing both the full text of the license and a list of authors have seriously handicapped past efforts to republish works of Wikimedia projects. The GFDL is not really to be faulted for this, since it’s written with software documentation in mind, not an encyclopedia with thousands of authors.

But there’s a solution on the horizon. With the advent of Version 1.3 of the GFDL, we can now legally transition to the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. But the choice to move to Creative Commons rests not with our non-profit, the Wikimedia Foundation. It rests with the people who have licensed their contributions: namely, you. If you’ve got more than 25 edits to a Wikimedia project before the 15th of March, please make your voice heard by voting!

More information:


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?

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.

The 3 millionth image!

The 3 millionth image!

Wikimedia Commons, the free-content media repository that is a sister project of Wikipedia and WikiProject Oregon, now has 3 million media files to choose from. The milestone file in question is an image of Haishan Station, which is a stop on the Taipei (Taiwan) rapid transit system. Since March 2007, Wikimedia Commons has routinely had over 100,000 files uploaded every single month. It is now not uncommon for tens of thousands of files to be uploaded in a single day.

Within Commons, WikiProject Oregon draws primarily from Category:Oregon and its 27 sub-categories. I’m unsure of the exact statistics of Oregon files on Commons, as categories don’t automatically count how many files are within them. But I do know that there is still a vast amount of images requested for Oregon Wikipedia articles. These requested photos are a great way for people who aren’t interested in writing an encyclopedia to participate in the project.

CrayonsWe’ve had some pretty heady discussion of copyright ’round these parts lately. Longtime Wikipedian Durova recently wrote a blog post entitled “Everything I really needed to know about copyright I learned in the first grade.” It’s about crayons. Enjoy!

Oh, and don’t forget to come down to WikiWednesday this evening, if you’re in the Portland area!

Last week, Pete showed us How to publish a photo on Wikipedia. Here’s another easy and important thing you can do: Release your Flickr photos under a Creative Commons license that allows derivative works and commercial use. Flickr enables users to share their work with others by publishing images under a Creative Commons license. Many people choose a CC license that prohibits commercial use, thinking that they don’t want their beautiful photos of Mount Hood to show up on a postcard or in a Mazda commercial. What they don’t realize is that they are also preventing their work from showing up on Wikipedia.

When Wikiproject Oregon editors want to add an image to the article, they frequently go rummaging through the wonderful world of Flickr looking for Creative Commons photos. Nothing beats stumbling across a photostream — like Marc Shandro, eyeliam, mulmatsherm, pfly, or atul666 — full of commons-licensed Oregon photos. We need more of these! If you don’t want pictures of your kids showing up on in travel brochures, you can always choose to license some of your photos under a CC-BY-SA or CC-BY license, while reserving additional rights on more personal and private photos. Flickr’s organizer tool makes it easy to apply licenses to large batches of photos at a time. Make sure you tag and caption your photos well so that editors can find them easily for Wikipedia, identifying location, geographic features, buildings, notable people, and plant and animal species if possible.

Here’s another thing we should do. Let’s start a photo pool called “Oregon Commons.” Flickr already has many great pools like Oregon and Northwest Outdoors, featuring the best Oregon images. Unfortunately, the Flickr search engine doesn’t provide an easy way to search within those pools for Creative Commons-licensed images. What we need is a pool for the best Oregon photos released under CC-BY and CC-BY-SA licenses. We could send notices to the members of those other pools inviting them to join our pool and teaching them how to license images so that they can be used on Wikipedia. And over time we’ll build up a useful resource. Who wants to take the lead?

UPDATE: More instructions in the comments below. In Flickr’s terminology, the CC-BY license is “Attribution Creative Commons” and CC-BY-SA is “Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons.” These are the only two licenses compatible with Wikipedia.

Interesting blog post about licensing photos possible violations.