Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Wikipedia is free to relicense under CC

From the Wikimedia Foundation resolution (December 1, 2007):

  • The Foundation requests that the GNU Free Documentation License be modified in the fashion proposed by the FSF to allow migration by mass collaborative projects to the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license;
  • Upon the announcement of that relicensing, the Foundation will initiate a process of community discussion and voting before making a final decision on relicensing.

From Jimmy Wales (on the Jamendo blog):

...If Wikipedia had been founded after CC it would certainly have been under a CC license but [CC] didn’t exist at the time, so we started with a license called the [GNU] Free Documentation License [GFDL] which is a good license but very complicated and very difficult to use.

So a couple of years ago, Larry and I were walking in a park in Barcelona and started talking about license compatibility and how important this is....[W]e said, “How can we make [Wikipedia] compatible with the whole CC movement?”

So we went through a long process of negotiation with the Free Software Foundation [which drafted the GFDL], many many different conversations, very complicated and with lots of legal aspects.

What I’m happy to announce tonight is that just yesterday the Wikimedia Foundation board voted to approve a deal between the FSF and CC and Wikimedia. We’re going to change the GFDL in such a way that Wikipedia will be able to become licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license....

From an unnamed contributor to the Jamendo blog:

So what does this mean for Wikipedia? A lot of people will now be able to legally mix Wikipedia and Creative Commons content. This announcement marks the end of a lack of interoperability of the licenses that was making the content less “free” for the users....

Anyway, Creative Commons will definitely have more weight and credibilty tomorrow than it had this morning. 4 out of the 10 biggest websites in the world now integrate Creative Commons....

From Lawrence Lessig (on his blog):

...[T]here has been important progress in making Wikipedia compatible with the world of Creative Commons licensed work. But we should be very precise about this extremely good news: As Jimmy announces, the Wikimedia Foundation Board has agreed with a proposal made by the Free Software Foundation that will permit Wikipedia (and other such wikis) to relicense under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

That is very different from saying that Wikipedia has [already] relicensed under a CC license. The decision whether to take advantage of this freedom granted by the FSF when the FSF grants it will be a decision the Wikipedia community will have to make. We are very hopeful that the community will ratify this move to compatible freedoms. And if they do, we are looking forward to an extraordinary celebration....

My endless thanks to everyone who has helped make this possible, from Richard Stallman and the FSF board, to the important leaders within the Wikipedia community who [saw] yet another legal obstacle to freedom that they could remove.


  • I can tell from blog comments elsewhere that this is confusing.  Here's my take.  Wikipedia is licensed under the GFDL.  The Wikimedia Foundation (WF) has formally asked the Free Software Foundation (FSF) to modify the GFDL so that it is compatible with the CC-BY-SA license.  The thanks and celebrations suggest that FSF has already agreed to do so, although the modified GFDL has not yet been released.  When it is released, the WF will ask the Wikipedia community to decide (by "a process of community discussion and voting") whether to relicense Wikipedia under the CC-BY-SA.  But even if the Wikipedia community votes no, the new GFDL will still be compatible with CC-BY-SA, allowing users to mix contents under the two licenses in the same work. 
  • Disclaimer:  I'm on the advisory board of the WF.  The WF request came from the board of trustees, not the advisory board, and I had no role in it.
  • This is a major step.  It not only makes a premier example of open content compatible the premier family of open licenses.  It highlights the problem of license interoperability and shows that thorny incompatibilities can be overcome.  Open licenses need interoperability more than closed licenses.  They may permit important kinds of reuse, but that fulfills only part of the promise of openness.  As far as possible, the new uses should be compatible with one another so that users are free to use them together, not just separately.