User:Omegatron/Non-free content

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My thoughts on the use of content in Wikipedia that has not been released under a free content license (sometimes referred to as "non-free content", which includes copyrighted quotations, images, audio clips, video, etc.)

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia[edit]

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia.

A free encyclopedia. A free, community-written encyclopedia. An effort to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language.

But first and foremost, it's an encyclopedia.

I certainly do not share the attitude that Wikipedia is better than Britannica merely because it is free. It is my intention that we aim at Britannica-or-better quality, period, free or non-free. We should strive to be the best.

When we have to choose between providing useful information and allowing anyone to edit, we choose to protect contentious articles from editing or block disruptive editors from the site.

When we have to choose between providing useful information and being freely modifiable and distributable by anyone, we likewise have exceptions. We allow quotation and uploading of copyrighted material under a fair use defense, with the permission of the copyright holder, or with a non-commercial-use-only license.

Lately, however, a number of misguided users are trying to change this; to eradicate all non-free content from Wikipedia, and they're making major changes to our policies to prohibit it. Apparently this has already taken place on other-language sites. We can't let this happen here.

We don't use copyleft to push an anti-copyright agenda; we use it because it's conducive to our objective of providing a high-quality information resource that can be accessed and edited freely forever.

Wherever possible, we should use free, copyleft content. But when not possible; when a free equivalent to encyclopedic content does not exist, it's our duty as encyclopedists to include non-free content whenever legally possible.

Foundation licensing policy[edit]

For example, should we have an official position on the free culture movement? Wikimedia is part of that movement, but I would say this is so because of practical considerations, rather than ideological ones. It was assumed that people would be more willing to contribute to wikipedia if they knew their work could not be seized and owned by someone else, and it was decided that all contributions would be licensed accordingly.

Wikipedia does not have an official policy about the propriety of the institution of intellectual property. We should not attempt to advocate a policy whereby we try to impose on other Wikipedians the view that intellectual property is wrong.

Yet this is exactly what has happened. The Wikimedia Foundation, whose members "have a duty to conduct the affairs of the Foundation in a manner consistent with such [public] purposes and not to advance their personal interests", have officially taken the position that the concepts of copyright and intellectual property are a form of government suppression and are illegitimate and morally wrong:

These freedoms should be available to anyone, anywhere, anytime. They should not be restricted by the context in which the work is used. Creativity is the act of using an existing resource in a way that had not been envisioned before. In most countries however, these freedoms are not enforced but suppressed by the laws commonly named copyright laws. They consider authors as god-like creators and give them an exclusive monopoly as to how "their content" can be re-used. This monopoly impedes the flourishing of culture, and it does not even help the economic situation of authors so much as it protects the business model of the most powerful publishing companies.

The first draft of this text was published in May 2006, written primarily by a Board member on an external site, to restrict "non-free content creep".

On March 27, 2007, the Wikimedia Foundation officially adopted it as their definition of acceptable free content and unanimously approved a Licensing policy resolution which mandates restrictions on the extent of non-free content in our projects.

From what I've seen around the English Wikipedia, this licensing resolution is not widely supported by the community. Yet any attempts to change the English Wikipedia's non-free content policies by consensus are quickly shot down. "The Foundation's policies are non-negotiable", they say. Your personal goals for the project are no longer relevant.

Then what can we do?[edit]

  • Discuss on the Mailing lists, which is apparently where decisions like this are actually made (discussions on Wikimedia projects themselves are largely ignored).
  • Discuss on Wikipedia:Non-free content
  • Vote in the Wikimedia Board elections. Research the candidates, try to find ones that share your viewpoints on the issue, ask them questions, and vote for them. Raise awareness and try to get other regular users to vote who wouldn't otherwise.
  • Try to work within the current restrictive system to improve the quality of the project as much as possible

What should the Foundation do?[edit]

The Foundation should definitely encourage free content whenever possible; it's one of the most important aspects of the project. But it's not the most important aspect. It's a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Wikipedia was not created to fight against the "evils of copyright". Our fundamental goal is to make the sum of all human knowledge as accessible and useful as we can to every single person on the planet. Free content is one of the tools we use to reach that goal. Translating into many languages is another. The wiki editing model is another. Publishing the content at zero cost is another. Using only free software for the backend is another...

The Foundation should create a fork of the free content definition, hosted on their own site, that describes the same principles, but from a neutral point of view, without ideological statements that aren't supported by much of the community.

Fixed! The editorial was removed in version 1.1 of the definition.

As for policy, the Foundation should concern itself only with legal issues, and let each project decide the ideological/practical issues by consensus and community support, not by top-down authoritarianism. Legal issues are for legal entities to decide; community issues are for the community to decide. The issues surrounding use of images in Wikinews are drastically different from those in the Chinese Wikipedia, which are drastically different from those in Wikibooks, ...

New guidelines[edit]

Let each project decide what types of non-free content they want to use, as long as it fits the three-step criteria:

  1. Inclusion of the content improves the educational quality of the project.
  2. There is no content under a more permissive license on our servers that can provide the same information.
  3. It is legal to use the non-free content in the project.

The criteria should not be limited to a risky "fair use" defense, or based around the theoretical possibility of free replacement at some indefinite point in the future:

  • If a quality article would have an illustration, and no one can find or trivially create a free one, we should use a legal non-free alternative until a free one has been found. Non-free content is better than no content at all.
  • If no one wants to release their content under a free license, we should always prefer content we have permission to use over fair use content. It's better from a legal standpoint and it's better from a moral standpoint.
  • Fair use media should no longer be permitted unless the copyright holder cannot be found or has been contacted and refuses to permit us use. This would probably be rare. A template system would be needed for image pages to identify which copyright holders have been contacted and which have not, along with a copy of their response. Most copyright holders would gladly give us limited permission to reproduce their work, and many would release an alternative under a free license if asked nicely (an equally informative but less stunning photo from the same shoot, for instance).
  • Of course free content is not subject to these requirements. It can be used for decoration, we don't have to delete inferior equivalents, etc.

It's often said that a less-restrictive policy would discourage the creation of free content. This is just argument from lack of imagination. There are much better ways to promote and encourage the creation of free content than deleting useful information from our projects.

Who I am[edit]

I'm not just some disgruntled newbie who got burned after I uploaded a gallery of images from my favorite anime. I don't think that we should be lazy about conforming to copyright law. I don't hate the idea of giving away knowledge for free.

I've been editing Wikipedia for four years, an administrator on en and Commons, contributing over 30,000 edits and more than 250 images, all released under multiple free content licenses. On more than one occasion, I've encountered people using my contributed content in real life without knowing that I created it. It's incredibly rewarding to see things reused in this way.


Multi-licensed with the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License versions 1.0 and 2.0
I agree to multi-license my text contributions, unless otherwise stated, under Wikipedia's copyright terms and the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license version 1.0 and version 2.0. Please be aware that other contributors might not do the same, so if you want to use my contributions under the Creative Commons terms, please check the CC dual-license and Multi-licensing guides.