User:AxelBoldt/Let's switch to CC-BY-SA

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The Wikimedia projects should switch from the GFDL to the CC-BY-SA license.

Why to switch[edit]

When we started, the CC-BY-SA didn't exist and GFDL was the only available license that expressed the "free-to-use-and-modify-but-creators-need-to-be-attributed-and-the-licence-cannot-be-changed" idea for textual materials. In fact, for the most part we have ignored the more arcane features of the GFDL, essentially telling our users "If you keep the license and provide a link back to the original, you're welcome to use our materials." In other words, we have always used GFDL as if it were CC-BY-SA. This practice is unfair for two reasons:

  • People who want to use our content have to trust that we won't enforce the more arcane features of the GFDL in the future, such as the requirement to change the article's title or explicitly list at least five principal authors.
  • Contributors to Wikimedia projects have to trust that no one will exploit the GFDL in the future and encumber their materials with non-changeable text ("invariant sections").

By contrast, the CC-BY-SA license has the following advantages:

  • It is simple and fits our precise requirements.
  • It is promoted, maintained and translated by an active organization, Creative Commons.
  • It is better known and more widely used than the GFDL, at least outside of Wikimedia projects, increasing the potential for re-use and collaboration.

We should do the right thing, bring theory and practice into alignment, and switch to the CC-BY-SA license once and for all.

How to switch[edit]

Here's the plan: we issue a press release and post a prominent website banner, saying that from some specified date on (maybe three months in the future), the current and all future versions of all materials on Wikimedia servers will be considered released under CC-BY-SA. Any content creator who does not agree with this change is invited to have their materials removed before that date (or even after that date if they learn about it too late).

I don't see how any good-faith contributor who has researched the licenses could prefer GFDL over CC-BY-SA and disagree with this change. A small group of disgruntled former contributors will probably use the occasion to get their material wiped from our servers, and I don't see anything wrong with that.

Retracted materials should probably remain accessible in the history under GFDL, since otherwise it will get to complicated to remove them. And we need to find some way to deal with discussion and policy pages.

I realize that this opt-out procedure is not perfectly clean from a legalistic standpoint, but neither is our current distortion of the GFDL. If we look at it pragmatically, considering for example that the huge Internet Archive routinely uses an opt-out approach to copyright licensing, there doesn't seem to be any appreciable danger that we could be successfully sued over this matter. And ethically speaking, there's nothing wrong with the opt-out approach since the two licenses are, in essence and intent, identical.

AxelBoldt 22:54, 8 September 2007 (UTC)

The Wikimedia Foundation's Way[edit]

The Wikimedia Foundation has chosen to follow a less controversial path to switch to CC-BY-SA. Seeing that our license allows to use any later version of the GFDL, they formally asked the Free Software Foundation to add a clause to the next version of the GFDL, allowing us to switch to CC-BY-SA (see here). Such a clause was inserted in GFDL v. 1.3 (see here). This gave us until August 2009 to decide on the switch, and we decided to switch (see here).


Please add your comments below.

  • Highly agree with your essay.--RekishiEJ (talk) 06:41, 28 November 2007 (UTC)
  • Looks like this is actually happening: [1] -- Taku (talk) 08:21, 15 December 2007 (UTC)
  • Axel, this is impossible. Wikimedia does not own the copyright to its articles--the authors do, so it is a huge mishmash of intellectual property with thousands (millions?) of owners. Getting approvals or licensing to change the license terms is impossible to the point where Wikipedia would have to start over from scratch—doing it without these approvals would be illegal copyright infringement. Preventing users from contributing GFDL-ed material that they had no authority to do would be a nightmare. The "out" as it were is that Wikipedia has always licensed the material under "GFDL v 1.2 or ANY LATER VERSION," which basically empowers the FSF, which has exclusive control over the GFDL, to change Wikipedia's licensing terms. This was probably not very well though out by Wikimedia at the time the original choice was made, but that's how it stands. Asking, or requiring, users to dual-license their contributions going forward, and trying to get the FSF to change the GFDL in a future version, is all that can be done. NTK (talk) 01:09, 3 March 2008 (UTC)