A call for editorial input in developing new Creative Commons licensing
Countries to which Creative Commons licenses have been ported (green) or are being ported (blue)
- Community-elected Wikimedia board member Kat Walsh is a copyright lawyer and free-culture advocate. This month she joined the San Francisco–based non-profit Creative Commons (CC) as an attorney. CC is devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build on legally and to share, and has released several copyright-licenses free of charge to the public.
Creative Commons (CC) is currently working on version 4.0 of its suite of copyright licenses, which include the CC-BY-SA and CC-BY licenses used by the Wikimedia projects. Wikimedia adopted BY-SA-3.0 in 2009, and we hope that the 4.0 version will be superior for all license users, including Wikimedia. But to meet its goals, CC needs your input into the revision process.
Background and goals of the 4.0 process
The CC wiki lists five ambitious goals for the revision:
- Internationalization, by further adapting the core suite of international licenses to operate globally, ensuring they are robust, enforceable and easily adopted worldwide;
- Interoperability, by maximizing interoperability between CC licenses and other licenses to reduce friction within the commons, promote standards, and stem license proliferation;
- Longevity, by anticipating new and changing adoption opportunities and legal challenges, which will allow the new suite of licenses to endure for the foreseeable future;
- Focus on data, public-sector information (PSI), science, and education, by identifying and addressing impediments to the adoption of CC by governments and other institutions in these and other critical arenas; and
- Support for existing adoption models and frameworks, by accommodating the needs of our existing community of adopters leveraging pre-4.0 licenses, including governments and other important constituencies.
Wikipedia was launched in January 2001, almost two years before CC published its first licenses. All Wikipedias were initially licensed under the GFDL, a Free Software Foundation (FSF) license intended for software documentation; the main advantage was its "copyleft" terms, which allow any user to reuse and remix GFDL works as long as the result is shared under the same license.
But before Wikipedia, GFDL had not been widely used for cultural works outside the realm of free software, and some of its requirements weren't well-suited for the uses people were making of freely licensed content. Other licenses existed, but were incompatible with the GFDL and with each other.
Meanwhile, CC quickly rose to prominence, gaining wide adoption among communities of creators, including other wiki projects such as Wikitravel and WikiEducator. Many Wikipedia users were already choosing to dual-license their contributions under both GFDL and one or more of the CC licenses (Wikinews was already using the non-copyleft CC-BY license). Wikimedia worked with CC and the FSF to bring the two licenses into closer harmony, ultimately leading to the release of GFDL version 1.3, which allowed collaborative works licensed under it to be relicensed under CC-BY-SA. Wikimedia held a successful community referendum on adopting 1.3, and began dual licensing with the CC-BY-SA-3.0 in June 2009.
CC published the 3.0 license suite in early 2007. Over the past five years, those licenses have been widely used for works that are free to share without all of the restrictions of standard copyright. They've been adopted by cultural institutions, national and local governments, media-hosting websites, educational projects, and popular artists. Wikimedia is one of the largest and most prominent users, with a community whose goals to make available the free and open sharing of knowledge are closely aligned with those of CC, so the needs of the Wikimedia communities are an important consideration for CC.
In the past several years, use by the Wikimedia communities and others has revealed opportunities for improvement. For example, the specific requirements for attribution have proved difficult to follow, even for the most diligent, good-faith reusers. Many users have been concerned that the licenses don't adequately address database rights, moral rights, and copyright-like rights, to ensure they create the right expectations for both licensors and reusers. And while CC licenses have been officially "ported" to many jurisdictions to make them more closely aligned with local laws, the international (formerly "unported") license is in wide use globally; to make it as good a legal tool as possible for a worldwide community of users, it needs revision to better address the legal requirements of all national jurisdictions.
All of this is done keeping in mind the need to be responsible stewards of the license, and that the new version needs to continue to uphold the expectations of those using them to extend the commons. CC has been actively consulting with organizations such as Wikimedia, the Free Software Foundation, and the Open Knowledge Foundation to ensure that changes to the licenses don't inadvertently harm the freedoms those licenses are intended to help in the first place.
CC general counsel Diane Peters explained the goals in more detail in her blog post following last year's CC Global Summit.
Your help is needed
To achieve these ends, the CC community is currently discussing several open questions on its mailing lists (community and licenses) and wiki. Many members of the Wikimedia communities have already contributed to those discussions, including individual volunteers and Wikimedians who are part of CC's international affiliate teams. The first public draft is now open for comment and discussion. Throughout the drafting process, CC will make more focused calls for input, asking specific questions. (The most recent call was five open questions on attribution here.)
Wikimedia has already been involved in the drafting process. I attended the CC Global Summit last September on behalf of Wikimedia and began talking to the CC legal team about the variety of issues Wikimedia faces with licenses. Wikimedia's Legal and Community Advocacy team (especially legal counsel Michelle Paulson) has been giving input on the process since the announcement in September.
But for the licenses to be suitable for diverse uses, it takes more than just a few heads coming together. Copyright mavens outside the US are especially needed to look at jurisdiction-specific issues to ensure the licenses are valid worldwide. Many of the open questions depend on knowledge of a wide range of community practices. Do you work with print reusers, GLAMs or other national institutions, or mirrors and forks of Wikimedia content? Do you handle photo submission requests, or use freely-licensed photos in MediaWiki skins? Every volunteer has a particular area of expertise that is difficult for others to know about without your help. Where do you see the greatest opportunities for improvement in the licenses, to best encourage sharing and reuse?
Even if you're not a licensing expert, you can help by sharing the calls for comment with parts of the community who would be interested and haven't seen it yet, and by translating the calls for information and posting them on your language's community forums.
4.0 process timeline
According to the draft timeline, the second draft will be published next month, with another comment period before the third draft in September; by that stage, the process should be nearly complete. Final comments will be taken after the third draft, and if all goes as scheduled, the final draft of the licenses will be published sometime around December 2012. (The earlier that proposed changes are discussed, the more likely it is that they can be addressed and potentially included!).
After the final revision is published, Wikimedia will begin a process of deciding whether to adopt the later version of the CC-BY-SA license as the primary license for its projects. With board, staff, and community input from the earliest stages, we hope this will be a smooth process, and that potential problems will be raised and discussed well before the final draft is published.
By taking a legal counsel job with CC, joining its small legal team, I'm thrilled to have the chance to work on these issues full-time. The most frequent question put to me about the job is "will you have to leave Wikimedia?" I'm happy to say that the answer is no. Instead, I'm looking forward to using my knowledge of Wikimedia and its legal and strategic challenges to help CC achieve its goals of creating infrastructure for sharing knowledge and culture.
One challenge I'll have is being clear who I'm speaking for when talking about licensing. (Here, I have my Wikimedia hat on!) I'll also recuse myself from board decisions involving CC and CC licensing. But in practical terms, I'm hoping to face very few actual conflicts: one of the most rewarding things about being part of Wikimedia is that I think that Wikimedia's goals really do serve the public interest, and I think the same of CC. This licensing process is intended to be the last revision for a long while; what is at stake is powerful long-term effects on the ability to share and reuse material in the commons all over the world.