A discussion on wikiEN-l about yet another Wikipedia alternative prompted me to wonder about the status of the GNU Free Documentation (GFDL 1.3) to Creative Commons (CC-BY-SA 3.0) license transition – its FAQ is handy too. Because voting for the proposal is supposed to happen in two weeks, I thought I might as well make my considered decision now.
In general, I think it is a great idea: GFDL is inappropriate for a number of reasons, and this will further the flow of content between Wikipedia and other projects. I have two hesitations, if I understand the proposal correctly.
First, the dual licensing provision (where all Wikipedia developed content continues to be available under the GFDL, but imported CC-BY-SA content is not) is complex as it places an obligation upon the user of content to investigate if CC-BY-SA-only content was ever used; the FAQ recommends such information be placed in “the article footer or the version history.” It would be useful to me to see a couple “screw cases” and their implications. For example, for a user who makes use of Wikipedia content – including their own derivations – what happens if they fail to note it is only CC-BY-SA-only content? (What if it was indicated but they fail to notice, or that it was not indicated but is learned of later?) However, evidently this is a compromise necessary for the sensitivities of the parties involved, and I don’t think this will massively impact anyone.
Second, one of the benefits of CC-BY-SA is that attribution is specified by the licensor, which can be a URL from which the content was obtained – instead of listing dozens of authors. But Wikimedia wants an exception: for articles with less than six contributors, those contributors must be listed. This just seems like a hassle. It may be moot, if the percentage of Wikipedia content with less than six contributors is near zero, but if not, I think this will be a headache for those wanting to make use of Wikipedia content. I presume one would count unique IP addresses (for anonymous contributors) and log-in names without concern whether these might be the same people. Even so, the proposal is talking about name attribution for less than six contributors, and by “reference to an online copy of the history page” for more. It is not as if the authors of content with less than six authors are greater auters. Why is this distinction even meaningful? And, the history page is easily accessed from the actual content, which would be referenced anyway, so now we have two URLs for no reason. Whereas one might have easily scraped a selection of Wikipedia (e.g., wget) for printing in developing countries or including it on a mobile gadget, one now needs an application to count contributors and include superfluous URLs.
I’m generally happy and excited about the transition, but I wish the attribution was simplified.
Joseph Reagle on 2009-01-26
Thanks Sam, while I made some substantive comments, I’m not plugged in enough on this issue to know if there’s still a chance for change in the proposal and, if so, how to be effective.
Sam J on 2009-01-25
You are absolutely right about the attribution requirements, and I’ve been arguing for exactly the same thing.