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Dear Wikimedia community,
I am posting this to multiple lists, as I believe it is relevant to each of them (more on that below).
For years, we have been using the term "free content" to refer to our projects. However, what exactly is free content? Does it include the right to make commercial use? Does it allow derivative works? A year ago, Anthere, one of our elected trustees, noted that the English Wikipedia article [[free content]] is confused and contains no clear definition. This is no surprise, as the term has evolved purely through its usage. One year on, the article doesn't look much better.
It is clear that we need a definition. With the help of feedback from the likes of Richard Stallman and Lawrence Lessig, and an increasing number of collaborators, I have drafted up a first version of such a definition, called the "Free Content and Expression Definition":
You can also use the URLs <http://freedomdefinition.org/> or <http://freedomdefined.org/>. Please use the URL
- http://freecontentdefinition.org/static/ (with trailing slash)
when submitting this link to high traffic sites.
Licenses covered by this definition must grant the following freedoms:
- the freedom to study the work and to apply knowledge acquired from it
- the freedom to redistribute copies, in whole or in part, of the information or expression
- the freedom to make improvements or other changes, and to release modified copies
The essence of these freedoms is not negotiable. However, in order to best express, interpret and elaborate on these freedoms, I would like to announce an open editing phase to push this Definition to a 1.0 version. There is a stable, protected version of the definition and an unstable, openly editable one. The openly editable one, which may already differ significantly from the one above by the time you read this, can be found at:
You can suggest changes on the talk page, or be bold and make them directly. The change process will be consensus-based. In order to decide when a consensus has been reached on a change, I have appointed three moderators besides myself:
- Benjamin Mako Hill. Mako is a co-initiator of the definition and a prolific figure in the free software community. To quote Wikipedia, he "is a Debian hacker and author of the Debian GNU/Linux 3.1 Bible (...). He currently works in the electronic publishing group of the MIT Media Lab, and is on the boards of Software in the Public Interest, Software Freedom International (the organization that organizes Software Freedom Day) and the Ubuntu Foundation."
- Angela Beesley. You may be familiar with her. ;-) She's the other of the two elected trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation, and also the Vice President of Community Relations at Wikia, Inc.
- Mia Garlick. General Counsel at Creative Commons, and an expert on IP law. Creative Commons is, of course, the project which offers many easy-to-use licenses to authors and artists, some of which are free content licenses and some of which are not.
None of them is acting here in an official capacity related to their affiliations. Please treat their comments as personal opinion unless otherwise noted. See <http://freecontentdefinition.org/Authoring_process> for details on the authoring process and <http://freecontentdefinition.org/Moderators> for more about moderation.
In addition to changes to the definition itself, we invite you to submit logos that can be attached to works or licenses which are free under this definition:
Why is this relevant to the projects I am alerting about it?
- Has the most significant problems distinguishing between free and non-free materials simply because of the sheer amount of uploads and user-submitted content. The English Wikipedia, for instance, allows limited "fair use" in addition to free content uploads, but prohibits licenses which forbid commercial use. This definition allows us to state clearly: "An uploaded work must either be free content, or fair use. If it is fair use, strong restrictions apply, and your upload may be deleted or replaced at any time."
- The definition also contains remarks about interoperability with other licenses. This is a problem that concerns us at the moment when it comes to importing texts under licenses which are philosophically similar, but legally incompatible with the GFDL. If the definition gets widely adopted, we can push for changes to licenses to make them more compatible with each other.
- Wikimedia Commons
- Commons was launched as a free content repository. We have effectively followed the terms of the definition in the licenses we allow and prohibit for uploaded files; however, the discussions about whether to allow, for example, pictures which cannot be used commercially keep coming up. Clearly labeling the repository as a free content archive under this definition will help to avoid that.
- I've seen some uploaded photo galleries that were under licenses which forbid derivative works. If we limit Wikimedia projects to free content, that would explicitly not be allowed. This is an example of "non-free content creep" that may be observed on other projects as well.
- The definition contains recommendations about license complexity. Wiktionary as a resource for terminological and lexicological data does not benefit from the highly complex terms of the GFDL, which require, for example, reprinting the entire license text when copying a single page.
- The definition makes it easy to resolve the question of which licenses to allow or disallow across projects. For example, a Wikimedia-wide policy could be that: "All content in all projects must be free content as per the Free Content Definition 1.0, with the exception of works which are used under exemptions granted by national copyright laws, such as 'fair use' in the United States. These exemptions are defined on a per-project and per-language basis."
Outside Wikimedia, the definition will make it easier for us to communicate. For instance, many people use the very vague terms "open access" or "open content", or simply talk about "a Creative Commons license" when describing licensing of their work. The term "free content" has an existing usage in the sense described herein. With the additional support of this definition, it is a powerful and simple way to determine whether a work is usable in the context of the Wikimedia projects.
One note on the choice of name. Not all people will be happy to label their works "content", as it is also a term that is heavily used in commerce. This is why Mako and I have compromised on the name "Free Content and Expression Definition" for the definition itself. We are suggesting "Free Expression" as an alternative term that may lend itself particularly to usage in the context of artistic works. However, we remain open on discussing the issue of naming, and invite your feedback in this regard.
All that being said, I hope that you will join the open editing phase or the logo contest. Even if there will be very little feedback, I hope we will be able to release a 1.0 version of this definition fairly soon.
You will find a general announcement that you can copy and paste to other places at:
Thanks for your time,