Wikipedia and CC-BY-SA
A freely licensed adventure 2015-12-22
It’s been nearly a month since the Wikimedia Foundation announced compatibility of the CC-BY-SA license with the GFDL, but the details are still not clear.
Immediate reactions on the Wikimedia Foundation’s community mailing list, foundation-l, seemed positive overall but rather confused. Users wondered whether a license like CC-BY-SA and the GFDL (both of which have a “Share-Alike” clause, which essentially says that copies and derivatives must be made available under an identical license), could be made compatible, and whether a license switch would be legally enforceable. The latter is not an issue, as both the CC-BY-SA and GFDL contain clauses permitting the controlling bodies to upgrade the licenses without notifying licensors. There is precedent for this; for example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s now-defunct Open Audio License designates version 2 of itself as the CC-BY-SA license.
Members of the community were further confused by the inherent compatibility of the two licenses; the GFDL allows invariant sections, for example, which, they argued, is against the spirit of the CC-BY-SA license. This hasn’t yet been adequately discussed — even if it is legally possible to create a variant middle-ground of the two licenses that is compatible with older versions of both, that risks estranging content owners who published their content under a previous license. (Those using the invariant clause of the GFDL, for example, may not appreciate having even those sections licensed freely under a CC-BY-SA-like license.)
Since the actual process of conversion is taking place within the Free Software Foundation and Creative Commons, it’s not immediately clear to the average Wikimedian what is going where. My personal hope is that the two organizations will be able to come up with a new license that legally transitions existing GFDL (with no invariant sections) materials to CC-BY-SA in the not-so-far future. I also hope that people who have contributed content to Wikipedia in the past will be happy with the change; this should not be too much of a problem, since (1) most people do not really care about licenses and (2) the people who do care, or at least those who have voiced their opinion on foundation-l, appear to be in favor of a change.
There are some outstanding issues that have yet to be resolved though — those detailed above, and some issues to do with the Creative Commons organization itself. More than one longstanding Wikimedian has expressed his displeasure at the organization, calling it an organization whose purpose is for lawyer collaboration and self-promotion more than for the spread of free content. While I cannot tell if this is true, having no personal dealings with the organization, Creative Commons is rather successful with its public relations, so it’s not hard to imagine them worrying a lot about their public image. However, the overall effect of the Creative Commons movement, it seems, is overwhelmingly positive, and Wikipedia’s joining forces with them seems like a promising move (and as some members of the Wikimedia community mentioned, it also means that the Wikimedia Foundation will have a lot of leverage over the organization).