As the Signpost has previously reported, the Wikimedia Foundation is currently considering re-licensing Wikimedia material so it is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license (CC-BY-SA), while retaining dual licensing with the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). Currently, all of the Wikimedia projects (with the exception of Wikinews) are only licensed under the GFDL. In the coming weeks, community members will be asked to vote on the re-licensing proposal. In this article, we cover the background of the proposal and arguments regarding it, in our ongoing coverage of this issue.
This shift in licensing was not possible before the introduction of the GFDL version 1.3 in autumn 2008 by the Free Software Foundation. This new GFDL release provides a specific clause for any "Massive Multiauthor Collaboration Site", specifically any public wiki, that is currently licensed under the GFDL to relicense their content under the CC-BY-SA license if they desire, provided that the content was added to the wiki before November 1, 2008. This clause has an expiration date; sites can only choose to switch until August 2009. The FAQ for the new license notes specifically that Wikipedia is eligible.
Wikipedia chose the GFDL license in 2001, before Creative Commons released their first licenses in late 2002. Subsequently, there has been much discussion over whether the GFDL is the best free content license for Wikipedia to use, and whether the site should switch. In the past few years, CC licenses have become the most widely used free content licenses. The new clause in the GFDL came about after extensive discussion between the Wikimedia Foundation, Creative Commons, and the Free Software Foundation.
The two licenses, though they are generally similar in intent, do have a number of differences. Perhaps the most striking difference is in how information about the license itself must be included when distributing a work. The GFDL—originally designed for software documentation—requires inclusion of a complete copy of the license whenever content is distributed. This requirement has been a cause for complaint in recent years among Wikipedians and others who wish to reuse and reprint Wikipedia articles and other content, although some users take advantage of that requirement by licensing photographs solely under the GFDL (effectively preventing use without permission by traditional print media while still enabling online uses). For the CC family of licenses, it suffices to "make clear to others the license terms of [the] work".
Another difference between the two licenses is how authors must be attributed; the GFDL requires a section entitled "history" and attribution to the authors of a work, while CC-BY-SA, although by default it requires that authors can be credited, allows the copyright holder to specify the manner in which a work must be attributed.
The Wikimedia community debate on the subject, which has been held primarily on the mailing list Foundation-L, has mainly centered over the attribution clause. The CC-BY-SA 3.0 license requires re-users of content to provide attribution in a manner "reasonable to the medium or means You are utilizing" but also spells out the types of attribution information that may be required—including "the name of the Original Author (or pseudonym, if applicable) if supplied". The debate has centered on whether providing a link to wiki content (where individual authors can be found through the history function) is an appropriate method of attribution, as opposed to publishing a list of all article authors whenever an article is reused. Some mailing list discussants would rather that any re-use of content (whether online or offline) include a list of all contributors, an attribution model that others fear would introduce unnecessary obstacles to re-use.
Timetable, vote, and licensing committee
According to the license update timeline, in the next few days the update committee will finalize the translations of the update proposal and the voting interface, and prepare the voting software and authentication software. The community-wide vote on whether to switch licenses will then take place from 2 April to 23 April. All users with at least 25 edits to any project prior to March 15, 2009 will be eligible to vote. The results of the vote will not be the final word on the license update, but if the switch receives less than 50% support, "further Board-level and community consultation will follow" before a final decision is made. If the vote gathers more than 50% support, the matter will be referred to the Board of Trustees for the final decision. The Board has stated  that they support the proposal.