Licensing policy FAQ draft

This page answers frequently asked questions about the Wikimedia Foundation licensing policy.

Why this policy? edit

As stated in the Wikimedia Foundation bylaws, the mission of the Wikimedia Foundation is to "develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain." While the understanding of free license has often been referred to, it has never been made explicit. Many Wikimedia projects have been using content that does not meet the conditions defined in— this new policy clarifies that such content is only acceptable under an exemption doctrine policy defined by the project.

Unfree content not under an 'exemption doctrine policy' edit

Should existing unfree content be deleted? edit

Not necessarily. However, such content (including images and quotations) may only be used under an exemption doctrine policy, and if no such policy exists, then they must be deleted.

This policy should have very little effect on established projects that use such an exemption doctrine policy, but editors should consider this a renewed call to the community to examine its use of non-free content to ensure it is in line with the policy's intent and the Foundation's mission.

Why not leave it until free content is available? edit

Existing content tends to discourage others from creating free content to replace it. For example, people who see an article with an image don't generally check to see if it is free or not; they just assume the need is already filled and move on. However, articles which have no image, or have a "dummy" placeholder image, let people know there is something missing; people see them and want to fix them.

Why is this a problem? No one is likely to sue over most of them. edit

We are a project built on a principled mission, a major component of which is to create and encourage free content. Because of this, our policies are intended to further that mission, and not just to keep us from getting sued. Using content under licenses other than the ones we choose to accept may not get us in legal trouble (although in some cases it definitely can), but it doesn't help us with our goals. There are plenty of projects on the web that you can access for no charge, and some of them are pretty good. But we are unique in being free content, not only available without payment but for anyone to use and modify as they see fit. Allowing everything that won't necessarily get us sued makes us just another site you don't pay to use.

How is any kind of "fair use" exemption more free than a Creative Commons license like CC-BY-NC, which only forbids commercial use? edit

Creating an exemption doctrine policy (EDP) edit

Does the Foundation have to approve our EDP? edit

Each project community that wishes to use an EDP should develop it individually, according to the individual project's needs and situation. However, no EDP should contain any term that is contrary to this policy, and the Board may reject any term in a project's EDP that does not comply with it.

Can our EDP allow content that is non-commercial or used with permission? edit

Yes, content with requirements that otherwise violate the Licensing policy can be permitted under an exemption doctrine policy, if it meets the criteria set out in the policy and that EDP.

Is non-free content restricted to certain namespaces? (articles on wikipedia, modules on wikibooks) edit

What about countries without fair use? edit

There are several projects which have chosen not to allow unfree content at all, and whose images come entirely from the Wikimedia Commons; it is certainly possible to build a high-quality project in this way. Most countries do have some similar concept in their law; you may wish to seek help from lawyers and legal scholars in your community to help you determine what your project may allow. The only legal requirement imposed by the Foundation, whose servers are located in the United States, is that the EDP be no more permissive than "fair use" in the United States.

What does "reasonably replaceable" mean? edit

In many cases, unfree content can be replaced with free content, such as descriptive text, freely licensed photography, an informative user-made diagram, a quote in the public domain, a link to the copyright holder's website, etc. In some cases, such as in encyclopedia articles discussing contemporary artworks, we cannot reasonably expect the material we need to present to be freely licensed. Wikimedia users are expected to rely upon informed community consensus to determine when content is not reasonably replaceable.

I don't agree with these policy changes. Where can I say something? edit

Many editors participate in projects without agreeing with every policy in place. Wikimedia projects are explicitly free content in nature, but valuable contributions can be made by users who may not share that goal. If you have substantive comments on the policy, the best place to comment is probably the wikimedia-l mailing list. However, please be aware that there have been hundreds of messages already exchanged; please read the archives beforehand to see if your point has already been discussed.