User:JWSchmidt/Blog/12 January 2008
Understanding the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL)
I hope that Wikiversity will soon be able to switch from the GFDL to CC-BY-SA. Hopefully doing so will remove our need to listen to all of the popular FUD about the GFDL (such as the claimed need to print out the entire GFDL if you want to hand someone a GFDL-licensed image). As cheering as this thought is, I suppose we will ultimately face a new harvest of FUD about the CC-BY-SA license.
.....in the previous episode....
In a previous blog post I asked:
What does it mean to "violate the GFDL"?
The context of that post was questions about the correct ways to copy GFDL-licensed works and give attribution to the people who make GFDL-licensed works.
Another GFDL "puzzler" is the idea that the GFDL is pathologically viral in the sense that if you place a GFDL image on a page of text then somehow that magically transforms the text into GFDL content (see discussion here).
Below, I explore yet another GFDL "issue", the idea that when we create a GFDL-licensed wiki, we have a legal obligation to adjust our behavior so as to make it easy for other people to sell the wiki content.
The GFDL and transparency
The GFDL reminds us not to create content that will, "thwart or discourage subsequent modification by readers". Does such language in the GFDL have implications for the use of fair use content at Wikiversity? Some people seem to imply that when we include fair use content, we violate the GFDL because, "By knowingly entering data that will prevent our database to be used by our end users you are in breach of the license". The "argument" seems to be that while Wikimedia has an educational mission that can benefit from fair use content, "our end users" (such as companies that use Wikipedia content for commercial purposes) might get sued if they try to make "fair use" of copyrighted works in their efforts to make a profit from Wikimedia content. Does this make any sense at all?
First, I think Wikimedia has no legal obligation to protect companies from being sued for making profits off of fair use content. Any company that copies content from a Wikimedia website takes full responsibility for how they use the content. If I have a valid fair use rational for including a quote or an image at Wikiversity, I have no obligation to avoid that fair use of copyrighted content just because some company might be sued if they copy that content from Wikiversity and try to use it to make a profit.
Second, I reject the idea that using copyrighted content under the doctrine of fair use amounts to, "entering content that is incompatible with our license". The GFDL has a section called, "AGGREGATION WITH INDEPENDENT WORKS" which makes it clear that GFDL content can be aggregated with works that are not under the GFDL.
The context of the current debate over fair use is the idea that many fair use images at Wikipedia do not increase the information content of Wikipedia articles, they only make the articles nicer to look at. In an encyclopedia article about a television program, is there any need to show images of the characters from the television program? In an encyclopedia article about a music album, is there a need to show an image of the album cover? I'm not a lawyer, but I think the answers to such questions should come from looking at past legal cases where there has been legal debate over fair use images on the internet. At w:Fair use#Fair use on the Internet a case is described in which a website was supported for its fair use of images on the internet. I agree that fair use content should not be "decoration", but educational websites should have the ability to use quotes of copyrighted text and fair use images to stimulate the thinking of readers in the context of reviews and other scholarly endeavors.
Wikiversity has a fair use policy, but does that policy need to be reviewed and approved by the Wikimedia Foundation? At the very least, it would be nice if a lawyer would look at it and say if it is in compliance with the Wikimedia Foundation licensing policy.