Association of Wikimedians

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There is a discussion found in various places about the Wikimedia forming a non-profit Foundation. There is another view, that an informal Association of Wikimedians is already a voluntary unincorporated association that has a fairly well defined structure.

Where is it defined? Right here and in all the other Wikimedia projects. Associations are allowed under the human rights concept of the right of association that is protected by national and international human rights instruments (those are documents, not trombones!). For instance, in Quebec one can create an association just by the consent of the parties involved. Must they know that they have created an association? Not necessarily. As long as it looks, acts, and has members (people who have a sense of belonging) then it can be an association. Must there be some formal documents that create it like a charter, articles of association, etc.? No. People associate by the act of associating, they create conventions between them (as in France an association as defined by the Law of July 1, 1901 as a contractual allegance). Do such conventions or contracts need any kind of formality or written document? Not necessarily (anyway everything on Wikimedia is pretty much a writing, so that is not even an argument).

So, even though there is a de facto Association of Wikimedians, there is still a Wikimedia Foundation. Are they one and the same thing? Definitely not! The Wikimedia Foundation has clearly been created as a not-for-profit vehicle that can help Wikipedia and other associated projects to become independent of any of the accidents of its birth, but as an association of individuals have these people been combined into a Foundation? No. They are two different things (and may remain so in the future, though they may also become more synonymous with each other.

Tax effects of a Wikimedian corporate structure in the USA


It seems that the discussion regarding creating a Wikimedia Foundation centers around obtaining tax exempt status under sec. 501(c)(3) of the United States Internal Revenue Tax Code. Well, not all organizations need to file to be exempt from tax under the IRS Code, specifically if the organization's gross receipts are under $5,000 per year then the organization does not have to file an application for tax exempt status. See IRS Publication 557 Chapter 3, page 17 Organizations Exempt from Filing Form 1023. As Wikimedia would probably not be considered a "private foundation" under tax law then it already has some exempt status, though perhaps it is a little too informally organized to obtain the benefit of such exempt status.

As you can see by reading Publication 557 the organization should have Articles of Organization if it needs to apply under Form 1023. If it does not have these articles does that mean it cannot make use of the under $5,000 de facto exemption? Well, the question is: Does the Association of Wikimedians have such a document or documents? There is an argument that becoming a member of Wikipedia (or any associated sister projects) creates membership in an organization whose rules can be found within the Wikimedia community (sort of like law in a Anglo-American legal jurisdiction that is uncodified into one document and putting it together would be like a w:civil code of Wikimedia. Queare: Does that mean that Wikimedia will be more philosophically European?). These rules by which the Wikimedia community operate (perhaps better than most associations) have been developed on a consensus basis over the history of the Wikimedia community. The only thing to do may be to go through all the Wikimedia community namespaces and to compile a single page (probably here in Meta-Wikimedia) that reflects the common will of the Association of Wikimedians. Perhaps at that point creating a procedure of updating those Articles of Organization (by protecting the Articles and having discussions on the associated talk page) by having an open community committee that can review suggested changes, post them somewhere for comments and then add them (or modify) the Article of Organization. As well, Wikimedia could establish some kind of steering committee elected on a periodic basis and it could have a small budget and accept donations (by PayPal or some other mechanism). If the time came when the budget grew to over $5,000, at that point Form 1023 could be filed with the IRS to seek the exemption under sec. 510(c)(3).

-- Alex756

The wikimedia foundation needs to:

  • Own the domain name and related domain names
  • Own the Wikimedia trademarks
  • Own any "collection copyright" and similar copyrights that would otherwise fall to Jimbo Wales or be unclaimed
  • Own (or lease, etc) the Wikimedia servers
  • ....


I do not see how the above comment relates to the top statement. Why does the domain name, the trademark (if there is any) and any collection copyright need to be owned by a foundation (I thought there was an open source ideology here)? Doesn't the collection copyright belong to everyone who has contributed and haven't they agreed to the GNU Free documentation license? there is no transfer of copyright to Jimbo Wales. Just because he owns the server does not mean he owns the information on it. The last point by mrd above is probably a good reason to try and get organized and get some money, paying for these expenses can mean longevity for Wikimedia. No? Alex756

the relation is that you said "the discussion [...] centers around obtaining tax exempt status" - I was merely pointing out other aims in creating a foundation.
A domain name needs to be owned by some person or some legal entity. This is in the nature of domain names. Currently, (and, etc) is owned by Jimbo Wales. It is better that it is owned by a foundation. I'm not clear on the relevance of your "open source" comment here: domain names are not source. Nor am I clear how you expect an unowned domain name to work, or even what you might mean by this.
Copyrights are complicated. You are correct that when submitting material to Wikimedia one does not transfer the copyright ownership to Jimbo Wales. However, it has been argued that the grouping of material on the server is a creative expression and hence copyrightable. I have no opinion on the accuracy of this argument. See Wikipedia and copyright issues. --mrd

I don't see tax exempt status as a major factor in developing an association or foundation. Being outside the United States, an American tax deduction is not going to be very useful to me at all. But I recognize that in due course it is a feature that could attract more funding. For now I'm sure that active Wikimedians would all be willing to contribute a fair share if that were needed to ensure the continuing viability of the project. I agree too in the need to have somewhere to park domain name registries, but that would likely be a routine task. As much as Jimbo has proved himself benevolent in his dictatorship there is a need to recognize the insecurity that comes from having a project that is dependent on one single individual. The project can rise or fall with his fortunes, and could be seriously afeected in the event that he is the victim of an unforseen catastrophe. Dispersed ownership would apply the same principles to our operations an budgetting as now apply to our edits.

The copyright matters are even more interesting. Even though some of us will be dilligent in avoiding copyright violation and drawing attention to such violations by others, the violations that are noticed are probably only a fraction of those that occur. A widely dispersed pattern of assett ownership across legal jurisdictions could make any possible suit for violation of copyright very unattractive. I do not say this to encourage copyright violation, but to protect bold editing in cases of doubt such as in interpreting fair use policy. Even more important is to look at copyright from the position of owner. We are not looking at Free Licensing as a strictly proprietary right, but as a kind of public trusteeship. Our acts of publication become prima facie proof that those who use and credit our materials are not in violation of copyright long after Jimbo and all the rest of us who are here now have vanished from the scene. When some future person publishes a selection of Wikimedia material and alleges his own proprietary copyright, that allegation will be unsupportable. Eclecticology 04:03 16 May 2003 (UTC)

Interesting that the collection copyright of Wikipedia will always belong to all the contributors; there are joint copyrights and collection copyrights operating here; that means that if someone contributes to a page they are joint copyright owners with all other contributors and collection copyright owners with the authors of other pages; even with the creation of Wikimedia (which is not necessarily the same as the Association of Wikimedians BTW) even if some people give copyright to Wikimedia, basically there will always be this joint ownership. That is a fascinating idea as the rules that apply to joint ownership are different than the rules of ownership by single authors. Alex756 23:21, 28 Aug 2003 (UTC)

See also