User:JWSchmidt/Blog/7 June 2007
My most recent blog entry was appended at Related licensing issue, a page dealing with free content licensing issues arising from version 3.0 Creative Commons licenses. I've also been working on Introduction to Wikiversity and thinking about what new editors should know about the GFDL. What do Wikiversity editors need to know about ways to violate the GFDL while editing Wikiversity?
Learning resources for wiki users
What does it mean to "violate the GFDL"?
Content from outside Wikiversity
If a Wikiversity editor copies content from another GFDL-licensed website and pastes that content into a Wikiversity page, care must be taken to indicate the source of the copied content.
At Wikiversity:Import it says, "Mediawiki, the software that runs Wikiversity and its sister projects, has a feature that allows importing of pages from other wikis. When a page is imported that way, the edit history is preserved and the license observed." In particular, the import function copies both the desired page content and the associated page history which shows the authors.
Page import not possible
Wikiversity also has some content that originated at other GFDL-licensed wikis for which Wikiversity cannot use the page import feature. We have some content that was created at Wikipedia and some content from Wikia. In general, for GFDL-licensed content that is cut from one wiki and pasted into another, I take the approach that if the original source of the GFDL-licenses content is mentioned (usually in the edit summary when the content is pasted), then it is possible to trace back and find the author(s). However, there are weaknesses in this strategy of stating the original source as a means of allowing for attribution of content to authors. It fails when the original source is destroyed. If you close a GFDL-licensed wiki because you cannot afford to keep it going, do you violate the GFDL by removing information about authorship of the content?
One power that all Wikiversity editors have is to merge similar articles. As far as I can tell, Wikiversity currently has no instructions for how to merge pages. Does merging two Wikiversity pages have important implications for compliance with the GFDL?
At w:Help:Merging and moving pages it says, "Save the destination page, with an edit summary noting "merge content from article name" (This step is required in order to conform with §4(I) of the GFDL. Do not omit it or omit the page name.)" The other required part of the process for preserving a record of authors is that the original page's history must be maintained.
What happens if I see a few lines of useful text on one Wikiversity page that I need on another page? I cut some text from one page and paste it into another page. Am I violating the GFDL?
Section 4i of the GFDL
What does section 4i actually say? "Preserve the section Entitled "History", Preserve its Title, and add to it an item stating at least the title, year, new authors, and publisher of the Modified Version as given on the Title Page. If there is no section Entitled "History" in the Document, create one stating the title, year, authors, and publisher of the Document as given on its Title Page, then add an item describing the Modified Version as stated in the previous sentence."
What is a "Document"?
The GFDL can be applied to "any manual or other work, in any medium" if the copyright holder states that the work should be distributed under the terms of the GFDL. At Wikiversity, every page says, "All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License". However, it seems like there must be some distinction to be made between rules that apply to authoring a work and rules that apply to copying work authored by someone else. In the case of websites, there would seem to be a significant difference between keeping track of your own authors at your own website and giving attribution to authors at another website.
In the context of a wiki website, what constitutes the licensed "work" or "document"? Is the entire Wikiversity website the "document" that we license or is it every page? If the Wikiversity project sometimes fails to perfectly attribute every word of its content to the original Wikiversity editors (authors), is that a violation of the GFDL? What does giving attribution to authors mean when most wiki authors are anonymous?
If Wikiversity has a list of its editors, then is it only required by the GFDL that people outside of Wikiversity who use Wikiversity content point to the Wikiversity website where that list of editors can be found? Or do they have to correctly attribute the authorship of every word that is taken from Wikiversity?
Let's say that a Wikiversity user creates a learning project about nipple rings. Imagine that this popular learning resource gets copied to many other websites and media, and they attribute the work back to Wikiversity by providing the URL of the Wikiversity nipple rings page. Then one day, a custodian decides to delete the Wikiversity article about nipple rings. Has that page deletion deprived the author of the nipple ring learning resource of their right to get attribution for their work? Is this page deletion a violation of the GFDL or is it just an editorial choice about what constitutes the "work" known as Wikiversity?
I find it significant that the GFDL does not use the term "attribution". The GFDL says that it "preserves for the author and publisher a way to get credit for their work", but it does not say that it is a violation of the GFDL if Wikiversity fails to correctly attribute every word of the Wikiversity Website to its original author.
Real world case
At Wikipedia, silly content can be removed from encyclopedia articles and placed on pages of w:Wikipedia:Bad Jokes and Other Deleted Nonsense. All of this "silly content" has been rejected as not constituting part of the desired content of the encyclopedia. What responsibility does Wikipedia have to track authorship of content that it rejects? Is it a violation of the GFDL if someone moves a bit of BJODN out of the Wikipedia main namespace and archives it at a BJODN page without making an effort to attribute that content to its original author?
Sometimes wikis fail to keep a record of exactly who wrote everything at the wiki website. Is this a violation of the GFDL? By using the MediaWiki software, we have ways of tracking authorship. However, there are weak links in the system that depend on editors providing an attribution trail for content that is copied and pasted from one page to another. Particularly in cases of content that does not serve the mission of the wiki, is there any suggestion of obligation to keep a record of the authorship of that content? Can failure to keep detailed authorship records actually be a violation of the GFDL or are such claims hysterical attempts to justify page deletions? Is inability to identify the authors of a wiki page justifiable grounds for deleting the page?