Yelabuga Medieval Tower / Ерней / Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Every day, millions of people rely on CC licenses for all manner of sharing, from merely redistributing recordings or using images found on Flickr in presentations, to leveraging massive collaborative works developed on wikis in educational settings. All of this normally happens very quietly and without fuss or exception, so long as simple license conditions are respected and those involved have no other reason for complaint. But the exceptional (rare, that is) conflict proves the simple rule that CC licenses operate as designed and as advertised: disregard the license conditions and copyright is at issue; follow the conditions and copyright is not.
As an example of the former, almost exactly a year ago we announced that the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike (BY-SA) license had been successfully enforced in a case in Germany. There, a far-right political party had used a photo under BY-SA without providing proper attribution to the author and other information required by the license. The photographer sued to enforce the license, and the district court of Berlin agreed and issued an injunction against the user.
As an example of the latter, members of the Wikitravel community (together with many who left long ago to found Wikivoyage) recently announced plans to migrate to a new travel project hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation (meaning a new sibling project alongside Wiktionary, Wikibooks, Wikisource, Wikipedia and others). All of these sites use BY-SA, which enables the reuse of content among those sites even when conflicts arise or differences of opinion exist about website administration or community management, for example. Indeed, BY-SA was designed precisely to enable this kind of reuse and repurposing of content. In this particular instance, Internet Brands, which currently runs WikiTravel, sued (PDF) two Wikitravel volunteers for trademark infringement, unfair business practices and conspiracy, and seeks a court order enjoining them generally from doing anything that misleads the public into believing the new website is affiliated with Wikitravel, among other things.
Wikimedia Foundation decided to support those volunteers (who are also Wikimedia volunteers) in their legal defense, and in its blog post explained that it did not think it appropriate for Internet Brands to attempt to intimidate the volunteers from communicating freely on their dissatisfaction with IB’s management of the Wikitravel community. As a result, Wikimedia Foundation filed a separate request for declaratory judgment (PDF) seeking a declaration that, “under the terms of the CC License, [Internet Brands] may not restrict the use, reproduction, sale, or modification of content on the Wikitravel website in any manner other than requiring attribution to the creator of the content and that the content be maintained under the same licensing terms”. In addition, the Foundation argues that “[Internet Brands] has no lawful right, title or interest under the CC License to prevent use of such content created by volunteer users and administrators on the Wikitravel website”.
A few claims in the dispute provide the opportunity to highlight some important features of BY-SA and the other CC licenses. First, all CC 3.0 licenses contain mechanisms that protect licensors wanting to distance themselves from the projects and individuals reusing the CC-licensed content in ways allowed by the license, for any reason whatsoever. Our licenses contain a “no endorsement, no sponsorship” clause that prohibits users from implicitly or explicitly asserting or implying “any connection with, sponsorship or endorsement by” the author, the licensor or others to whom attribution is being provided, either for the licensee herself or the work as reused. Additionally, anyone modifying content (when allowed by the license, as BY-SA does) must clearly label or identify that changes have been made, thereby ensuring modifications are not wrongly associated with the original author. Finally, where the original author or licensor wants to completely disassociate themselves from particular reuses, they have the right to request that all attribution and mention of them be removed, and those reusing the work must do so to the extent practicable. These mechanisms provide effective tools for those concerned about being affiliated with permitted reuses of their works.
Second, an assertion in the dispute relates to whether proper attribution has been provided. While the factual underpinnings of this claim are not provided in the court filings and it does not appear the content is question is being used at this time, it’s worth mention that Creative Commons tools provide a sophisticated yet flexible method for reusers to provide proper attribution. All CC licenses permit attribution to be provided in a manner “reasonable to the medium or means” used by the licensee, and for credit to be provided in a “reasonable manner.” This flexibility facilitates compliance by licensees – minimizing the risk that overly onerous and inflexible attribution requirements are simply disregarded as being too difficult – while at the same ensuring that credit is still provided. This makes it easy for reusers to “do the right thing.”
Whatever the decision the court makes regarding the other claims by Internet Brands against the Wikitravel volunteers, it is clear that under the terms of BY-SA, the Wikitravel content can and should be used on other websites, so long as the users comply with the requirements of the license.4 Comments »
This is one for all those interested in the use of CC licences by archives, broadcasters or news organisations.
CC Australia has just announced that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia’s largest public broadcaster and news service, has used Wikimedia Commons to release a selection of historically significant television news stories under CC BY-SA.
Much of the material on Wikimedia has been released along with other archival material to celebrate the ABC’s 80th birthday as part of the 80 days that changed our lives website. However, this is just part of a broader Open Archives project by the ABC which has released hundreds of archival objects, encompassing audio, video and photographic material, including many more news and current affairs broadcasts, for reuse under CC licences. All of this builds on the ABC’s social media site, Pool, which has been working with the CC licences for some time and which we’ve written about before.
While other news broadcasters are also making material available under CC licences, what makes this project significant is that the news segments that have been released aren’t obscure archival material or raw footage, but rather polished stories broadcast by some of the ABC’s premier current affairs programs about major events in Australian history. It includes, for example, news reports on the Apollo 11 moon landings, the Azaria Chamberlain case, and the floating of the Australian currency. Not to mention this 1974 footage of Arthur C Clarke predicting the internet, with uncanny accuracy.
The release of the material via Wikimedia Commons will act to encourage its reuse on Wikipedia, like this report on the introduction of World Series Cricket. This in turn will expose it to a far broader audience than the ABC’s own website, and encourage its dissemination further. As Angela Clark, Director of ABC Innovation, says in the press release, “sharing content in this way not only makes more ABC content available to everyone, it also facilitates creativity and the possibility of new audiences for the footage.”
Wikimedia notes that this is “the first collection of broadcast “packaged” footage released to Wikimedia Commons under a free license,” aka CC BY-SA, the same license Wikipedia uses. We’d love to hear about any other similar uses to add to our Case Studies wiki.2 Comments »
The hearings are still going on; please keep calling, emailing, and otherwise spreading the word!
Tomorrow the House Judiciary Committee will debate and potentially vote on SOPA, the Internet Blacklist bill that would break the Internet.
Our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation have compiled a list of 12 actions you can take now to stop SOPA.
Soon you’ll find a huge banner at the top of every page on the CC site protesting SOPA. The Wikimedia community is considering a blackout to bring massive attention to the danger posed by SOPA. Many others are taking action. What are you doing?
For background on the bill, why it would be especially bad for the commons, and links for news, check out our previous post calling for action against SOPA and a detailed post from Wikimedia’s General Counsel.
Finally, remember that CC is crucial to keeping the Internet non-broken in the long term. The more free culture is, the less culture has an allergy to and deathwish for the Internet. We need your help too. Thanks!3 Comments »
Pete Forsyth lives and breathes wikis. He is owner and lead consultant at Wiki Strategies, and has extensive experience in working within online peer production communities, specifically the production of open educational resources (OER) using wiki-based web sites like Wikipedia. Forsyth was the Wikimedia Foundation’s first Public Outreach Officer and key architect of the Wikipedia Public Policy Initiative, an innovative pilot project to support university faculty and students in the use of Wikipedia as a teaching and learning tool. With more than 17 million articles in over 270 languages, Wikipedia is the Wikimedia Foundation’s largest and most visible project.
Wiki as a Vehicle for Self-learning
Forsyth became interested in wikis in Oregon, where he was an editor and community organizer for Wikipedia. While he had long been interested in Open Source Software, he didn’t know how to code. “Wikipedia was a natural entry point for me,” he says, “because you don’t have to be a computer programmer to contribute.”
Forsyth spent five years creating and revising Oregon-related content on Wikipedia, and during this time a group of similarly-minded people came together to form a wiki project in the Portland area. “Portland is home of the wiki,” notes Forsyth, referring to its invention in 1994 by Ward Cunningham.
The participants in the Oregon wiki project helped each other navigate their way around Wikipedia, mastered the art of good reference, and pieced together a better sense of the history of the state. Being in that group allowed Forsyth to explore intellectual pursuits he might not have explored if Wikipedia wasn’t there as a vehicle to nurture them. “The process was in its own way every bit as educational as the college degree I earned,” he said.
The Public Policy Initiative: Open Content, Open Practices
The Public Policy Initiative (PPI) is designed to engage professors in public policy programs at universities across the U.S. to work with their students and the Wikimedia community to improve articles on the English-language Wikipedia as part of their course curriculum. Forsyth notes that the PPI aligns with a set of Wikimedia’s long term goals: it cultivates more Wikipedians, champions subject matter experts, and works toward improving the diversity of its contributor base. He says that the public policy arena has been an exemplary pilot initiative because it is such an interdisciplinary field. “Public policy cuts across so many areas, such as law, economics, and philosophy,” says Forsyth, “and keeping this project open to people with different kinds of backgrounds was an important design consideration.”
The characterization of Wikipedia as an open educational resource platform is at once completely obvious and also a departure from many of the traditional OER delivery mechanisms. While Forsyth agrees that Wikipedia is as valuable an open educational resource as any encyclopedia, he thinks that open educational practices (OEP) is where the value of the Public Policy Initiative really shines. He believes that the really transformative outcome enabled by the technical and legal innovation of wikis and open licensing is the process of being able to collaborate with a broad group of people quickly and seamlessly. “By participating in that kind of community,” says Forsyth, “the student is learning skills from the process itself, rather than extracting information from a particular resource.”
Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia sites represent the largest collection of CC licensed works on the web. Forsyth believes that a project like the PPI–and Wikipedia itself–couldn’t exist without easy-to-understand open licensing. “Users clarifying their intent to work openly is the most important thing,” he says. “The existence of Creative Commons opens up a new avenue for individuals and organizations to do things in the public interest.”
Forsyth thinks that Creative Commons should attempt to provide more clarity about the consequences to using different CC licenses. “I’m not excited about the noncommercial condition,” he admits. “It all boils down to clarity, and attaching a noncommercial condition onto content immediately creates exceptions to that clarity.” He notes that many people new to open licensing are initially drawn to the more restrictive licenses, but don’t realize until later that the content they are licensing is incompatible with Wikipedia or other projects they’d like to engage with.
Public Policy Initiative Ambassadors
In addition to partnering with interested faculty, the Public Policy Initiative involves members of both the university (via campus ambassadors) and the Wikimedia community (via online ambassadors) to provide assistance and guidance. Bonnie Mccallum volunteers as a campus ambassador for a participating class at Montana State University, where she is a web services technician at the University Library. Mccallum, who had no previous experience in creating or editing Wikipedia articles, teamed up with Mike Cline, a seasoned Wikipedian, to assist Professor Kristin Ruppel in her course on Federal Indian Law and Policy. While Mccallum and Cline worked as on-site campus ambassadors, various distributed online ambassadors helped mentor students on the ins and outs of editing Wikipedia.
“There was relatively little available on Wikipedia about the content taught in the course,” said Mccallum. Professor Ruppel had the graduate students create a new article around the general topic of the course, stepping through the process of publishing and defending their articles on Wikipedia. The undergraduate students were responsible for editing articles that were already on Wikipedia. One example of an article worked on by the students is the Native American Languages Act of 1990.
Mccallum notes that Professor Ruppel believes participation in the PPI is a more worthwhile writing exercise for her students than cranking out a term paper. Ruppel feels that her students had to learn how to collaborate and communicate in a neutral voice, and learn how to monitor issues and discuss changes with other editors. Mccallum said she’ll be continuing work with the PPI next year, and was excited that there were so many women participating in the project. There are a few things that she’d like to change for next year. She notes that some of the students got hung up on the technical issues around editing wikis, so they’ll be structuring that course module differently next time around.
Mccallum proudly recounts a story passed on by one of the older students in the course, who has a child in middle school. The child’s teacher discouraged her students from using Wikipedia at all. However, after the boy had gone back to the teacher and showed her how his mom was using and contributing to Wikipedia in her graduate school course at MSU, the teacher softened her position. According to Mccallum, those ‘it might not be so bad after all’ moments seem to become more common as teachers learn about the varied uses for teaching via Wikipedia.
Public Policy Initiative as a Bridge
Sometimes open source projects find it difficult to break into the mainstream, especially within the traditional higher education space. Forsyth says that one reason why the PPI has been initially successful in getting buy-in from faculty is because they tailored the project to the existing goals of the educators. He says that working with existing incentive systems as much as possible and providing support to faculty is an important baseline to making the project successful. Also bubbling around recently is the idea that a condition of tenure might be participating in an online community or contributing to a collaborative project like Wikipedia, in addition to the traditional publishing venues. “It will be a gradual shift,” says Forsyth, “but the reality today is that both teachers and students need to possess the cultural fluency and information literacy skills to engage online.” He thinks that these traits will come to represent a set of important skills that students will need to master in any field. “I believe that in time, tenure processes will come to reflect that.”
Forsyth thinks the Public Policy Initiative is well on its way. “Professors are the experts in educating their students, and with a little nudge and some support, they can do great things with a tool like Wikipedia,” he says. So far, the PPI has turned out to be an enlightening exercise and productive process. As it’s seed funding winds down this September, the Public Policy Initiative will continue to transition from a staff-led to a volunteer-led project. The PPI aims to expand its reach of the Ambassador program to work with faculty and students in other countries, languages, and topic areas.
Forsyth is continuing his involvement in leveraging wikis within the education space, working to start the Center for Open Learning and Teaching (COLT), to be hosted at the University of Mississippi. The center will support the study and implementation of effective and open Internet-based learning practices in formal education. “As institutions of learning are engaging with concept of OER and online learning communities, they’re going to want to figure out how to update their practices, reap the efficiency benefits of ‘open,’ and stay relevant as education evolves,” says Forsyth. He notes that the goals of COLT include 1) setting up a cohort-based research network investigating open, online collaboration in education; and 2) establishing a teaching and learning center that would partially fund faculty salaries to explore OER and open collaborative practices in their classrooms and share what they’ve learned.
Forsyth believes that teaching and learning has very suddenly changed in only a few years. “The education system used to exist in a world in which information was scarce and access to information was hard to come by,” he says. “Now, learning something about any topic is easy, and universities no longer have a monopoly on how we educate ourselves.” Forsyth thinks that libraries, museums, governments, and news outlets still provide great value, but they’re gradually waking up to the idea that they now have to compete. He thinks that these changes should be viewed as an exciting opportunity, not something to be disregarded because they challenge the status quo. “We need universities to embrace the changing landscape, not erect walls trying to protect the role they’re used to playing.”