Charles Basenga Kiyanda

Wikipedia licensing will be compatible with creative commons

[I know I’d promised this post would be about the great idea I have and which I’ve been dangling around without really being descriptive, but as far as I can see, this has just come out and I need to talk about it.]

So the wikimedia foundation just announced a deal was accepted by everyone that would make the GFDL (the gnu free documentation license) compatible with the creative commons license. Wow, ok, so what does that mean? Two short points.

1- What’s a license again?

The “copyleft movement” doesn’t claim that it won’t use copyright, rather it encourages creators to voluntarily give some or all rights away formally, but within the confines of copyright law. How do you do that? You use a license. As an example, let’s take wikipedia. Formally, everytime you modify a page on wikipedia, you own the copyright to that page as a derivative work of all the stuff before… until the next edit of course. By using the wikipedia framework (the wiki, the site itself, etc…) you agree to post your copyrighted stuff according to a license. In this case, wikipedia uses the GFDL, the GNU Free Documentation License. It says many things, but the summary is that everyone is free to use the stuff freely for non-commercial or commercial uses, at will. What you have to do though, is that whatever is licensed under the GFDL has to be distributed under the GFDL and also carry along with it the whole text of the GFDL (which is pretty long). It also says that if you make a derivative work of the stuff (which is what you do when you edit a page) you have to distribute it under the GFDL, so that if you use something that’s licensed under GFDL as a base, you have to make your end product licensed under GFDL as well. It’s not as bad as it seems as the definition of a derivative work isn’t all encompassing. For example, if you quote something from wikipedia in a book, you don’t have to distribute the whole book under the GFDL. Is the GFDL the only license of that type? Absolutely not. There are dozens and they’re not all compatible, which has caused headaches at time. Another license which is pretty close to the GFDL is the CC-by-SA (creative commons attribution share-alike license). Now you may think, “wow!What’s that?!” Let’s describe it.

2-Wow! What’s CC-by-SA?!?!

CC-by-SA stands for creative commons attribution share-alike license. The creative commons is a not for profit organisation that came out of Stanford and whose purpose is to design license agreements that allow you to easily understand what you’re doing and easily give away some, all or none of your rights away. To achieve that goal, they have crafted a whole set of lienses (and are crafting more) as well as have ported them to different jurisdictions (different countries). So hte CC-by-SA is only one of those licenses. What does CC-by-SA say? Well, basically the same thing as the GFDL. It says you can use the work as you like, but you have to say where it came from and the resulting work has to be licensed with the same terms. Now, it’s nice and simple, but it’s not compatible with the GFDL? So at this point, you may ask “Why?”

3-Why are GFDL and CC-by-SA not compatible?

Simple. In fact, right now, the incompatibility is only one-way. You can take stuff that’s licensed CC-by-SA and integrate it (or just release it) under something that’s GFDL, because the GFDL has the same terms as CC-by-SA. You can’t take something that’s GFDL and release it under CC-by-SA because the GFDL says the derivative work has to be licensed under the same license. CC-by-SA only says the license has to have the same provisions, but it can be a different license. Annoying heh? Two things achieving the same goal can’t talk to each other. So now you may think “Well, that’s nice legal stuff, but why should I care?” Let’s look at that.

4- “Why should I care?”

Well, at least I (Charles) should care because I administer websites and I have to deal with these licenses. If you look at the right bar of this website, further down, you’ll see a little logo with the name of the license. That’s right, this site is licensed under a creative commons license. Neat heh? I don’t actually mind people reusing what I write here. I just ask that they be nice about it and follow my conditions. Now that’s nice, but I don’t often use wikipedia stuff in here. In fact I don’t. One area where this was a problem was wikiscuba. I started that website with a british diver and we had to decide, at the beginning, which license we were going to use. We wanted to have a creative commons license so that we could interface with wikitravel. Wikitravel is a travel wiki and since we have listings of dive sites, we wanted to be able to re-use stuff from wikitravel in ours. As a matter of fact, we did. Way at the beginning, I copied the country pages from wikitravel to give us a start and some structure in the dive site section. The problem is that we also have a techniques/gear/instruction kind of part of the site and it would have been nice to have GFDL licensing so that we could take stuff from wikipedia. We had to make a choice. We picked creative commons. With the hindsight, we could have picked both. It’s possible to dual-license all the stuff. We didn’t. Why? I don’t remember. That’s where the headaches start, you see. Thanks to this new move (I’m not sure whether it’s a done thing, but when it comes, you’ll know for sure, wikiscuba will gain about 1000 pages overnight and I’ll happily add information on there!) we won’t have to choose. Now we can just get back to the business of creating more information, adapting more information and distributing it so people can use it.

5-“That’s nice, Charles, you’ve told us why you should care, but why should I care?”

Ah! Good question. Well, in today’s world, it’s easy to create content and distribute it. Do you have blog? Did you take a picture of your dog and put it on it? Then you’re distributing content. (Just for the record, it could also be a picture of you, your boyfriend, your niece or anything else.) What about the text of your blog? What if you wrote down something, put it on a webpage for everyone to see? You’re distributing content. What if you sing a song you recorded? You’re distributing content. What if you write a piece of software and you put it on your webpage? You’re distributing content. (There are licenses specifically for software, for example linux is licensed under the GPL which is also very popular. There are, for software also, a lot of different licenses and they’re not a priori compatible, either because of the terms they use or of some technicality. Firefox, for example, is free and open source software, but is not distributed under the GPL.)

So as you can see, in today’s world, it’s easy to create and distribute content. (As a corollary, it’s also easy to copy someone else’s copyrighted content and distribute it.) An example which is hopefully more interesting to the scientist-readers of this blog, is the following:

If you write a report, produces plots, integrate it all in a pdf and put it on your webpage, you’ve created and distributed content. Now, what do you want? Do you want to make sure people know they can cut out a figure and re-use it in their Ph.D. thesis while attributing you as the source? This is probably something most scientists want. One option would be to release your work under the Creative Commons attribution share-alike license, the CC-by-SA. [Just for the record, I don’t work for creative commons and I don’t get anything from them for saying this or anything else.] In today’s massively interconnected world where fast communication methods are available to many, it’s important to know about copyright. Especially when it’s so easy to break the law by copying someone else’s copyright these days.

So that’s the long story about the short announcement. This is a great day. Interoperability between “open source” or “copyleft” projects is important or, at least according to me, desirable. Sometimes you don’t want interoperability. For example, I believe the license which governs the BSD operating system (most people have microsoft windows, mac people have MacOS, the free and open source operating system normally talked about is linux, BSD is another such free and open source operating system) allows people to take the source, modify it, compile it, package it in a machine and distribute it around, making people pay for it, without ever giving the program away. (If I’m wrong, someone correct me, but I believe it’s the BSD license which allows that.) Now I don’t think that’s wrong. It’s a choice. And the BSD people, at the beginning, made that choice. Linux, on the other hand, says that you can re-use linux code (well, GPL code really) as you will but you have to give the source away. Again, it’s a decision. It has good effects: the license basically tends to multiply and your code would never end up to disappear from the usable-for-free pool (which could happen to BSD although it’s quite unlikely). It also has undesirable effects: there are people who might want to use the code base and create something really awesome that you’d actually want to buy, but they won’t because they don’t want to give the source away. The original linux people made a choice.

My final point is that when you create content and distribute it, you have to make a choice as to how you’re going to distribute it. You can give all your rights away and put it in the public domain. You can give no rights away and simply not license your creation at all (or basically only license it for viewing). You can give some rights away in between those extremes. Still you have to know what you can give away and what your choices are. I recommend the creative commons website as a good start with information although there are more ressources out there.

[Originally seen on slashdot and Jamendo Blog]

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>