Requests for comment/"But woe to you, scribes"

The following request for comments is closed. No meta action suggested, general review of Commons policy, no comment for over a year. This RfC was also inappropriately named, was entirely about behavior on Commons, except for a personal complaint about a specific user, which will not be resolved with this kind of RfC. It may have served a purpose for the user to air the grievance, but it's time to close it so that it does not clutter up the RfC page. Closed without prejudice against a new RfC opening with an issue that can be resolved at meta. --Abd (talk) 15:33, 7 February 2014 (UTC)[]

»But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.« (Mt 23:13)

I am a literature teacher intensively using Wikipedia and sister projects as a paedagogical tool. [1] Lately, I have gone through a series of unpleasant experiences concerning the licencing of photos uploaded on Wikimedia Commons. The photos which were uploaded years ago got marked suspicious from the legal point of view and then deleted. I accept warnings and deletion in case when files are not equipped with sufficient explanation of authorship or licence; however, my recent experience with deleting exceeds by far my reasonable understanding, as not only individual photos have been deleted but also whole categories of photos. Massive deleting has affected, for instance, a collection of bridges on a certain river, a series of observation towers, hayracks, crafted by an annonimous carpenter, information boards in front of sightseeing sites, even street lamps. All this stuff is declared art or intellectual product by a zealous Wikiexpert and, as a result, a request for an architect's/artist's/creator's permission is demanded.

In most cases, no creator's name could be found. When found, creators are astonished when being asked for a permission. Then they say yes, of course, you may publish your photo. As admin is not satisfied with the copy of a letter and he further demands that the creator fills in a complicated form which would exclude all doubts about the seriousness of his permission, the author stops answering the annoying Wikipedian and hence the photo is deleted. To generalize the new behaviour concerning the authorship:

  • Till recently, no hayrack has been declared intellectual property.
  • Till recently, no newspaper and no TV have been practising legal protection of hayrack photos.
  • Since recently, only on Wikimedia photos of hayracks present a problem.

Though I am not enthusiastic about the copyright which is getting more and more aggressive trying to maintain privileges of a few legally well supported, and I prefer the CC-licences much more, I do respect the limitations that copyright exercises upon intellectual products. On the other hand, I put a lot of hope in an alternative view of artistic and other intellectual products, the hope which came true with the Internet and especially with Wikipedia. I used to understand Wikipedia as a metaphor for a civilisation change. Wikipedia embodies the new attitude towards human knowledge which is not about hiding it from users but offering it openly to them. This is what Wikipedia is all about and this is why I find the current awe of copyright on Wikimedia Commons (»more papal than the Pope«) so strange, sad and dangerous to the information society. The place where an alternative to the copyright should be promoted is becoming the place where the copyright is respected more than anywhere else. In this new Orwellian atmosphere Wikipedians are permanently scared they may brake one or another weird law. The deleting passion of some experts keeps poisoning the pleasure other users have with Wikipedia, some veterans have even stopped uploading their photos and literally "do not want to have anything with this" any more. Enforcing literal interpretation of law, though it blatantly opposes common sense, reminds us of biblical scribes (»teachers of the law«); in the past, they presented great danger to God's project and nowadays they endanger our endeavour for well informed and responsible society.

Please, comfort me, that my recent experiences and my concerns are a mere exception, just a nightmare that dispels with wakening up into a sunny day. Do confirm that generally a scribal understanding and enforcing of copyright is not the case in Wikimedia and that Wikipedia hasn't given up its main mission, which is giving knowledge to people instead of hiding it from them.

If your answer is comforting (which is my sincere wish), I am going to point to a particular reason of my concerns, which are, I may say, shared by the whole Slovene wiki community. The scribe who makes our life difficult and has raised a lot of indignation and revolt among local Wikipedians is called Eleassar. Eleassar has simply gone too far with his permanent erasing proposals of all possible »suspicious« stuff (see [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8] and much more for our conflicts with him). People are exhausted from permanent proving the originality of evidently legal photos to chronically distrustful Eleassar. They are not able to follow his calls to supplement the licencing information and cope with his deleting pace.

Would you please check on the Eleassar's activities on Wikimedia? Here are some recent examples:

Deletions happen when nobody notices the proposals or when people get tired of argumenting and defending the evidently legally uploaded pictures. We are wasting time lurking on Eleassar's massive destructive proposals.

I claim Eleassar has lost sense for measure hence causing more damage than benefit. I suspect he is a victim of a compulsive deleting obsession. I am accusing him of advocating the most radical interpretation of copyright, thus disregarding common sense and acting against the very purpose of Wikipedia which is to open access to knowledge and to promote sharing information instead of preventing it. Please help. --Hladnikm (talk) 08:25, 17 December 2012 (UTC)[]

Please read the comment of my parallel posting in the Humanist Discussion Group by Serge Noiret. --Hladnikm (talk) 10:30, 22 December 2012 (UTC)[]
I fully support Miran's observations. However, the main question of Slovene FOP cases is that it is unclear whether or not the problem (collision between CC licence and general copyright law) exists at all.
No court case where author (or alleged author) would demand a financial refund due to disallowed commercial “usage” of his own work placed into public space is known. On the contrary, there is quite a lot of (perfectly legal) turistic agencies that live solely from guiding groups (clear commercial usage) through the centre of Ljubljana and showcase them exactly the architectural works that have been deleted on Wikimedia Commons (it is next to impossible to get an OTRS confirmation by the copyright holders if they are unknown as it is probably the case with Plecnik's works). I ask what is the difference between this and making a photo that can be used commercially? (A copy is a copy regardless how it is stored – in memory or on the Internet.)
Not at last, any author of architectural work had to sign a contract with the contracting authority (the later owner of the building), where he renounces from the material rights derived from his author work. The presumably problematic 55th article specifically addresses the material usage, so it is again questionable whether the moral rights by the author play here any role. (Furthermore ,can be taking a photo considered a usage in the first place?)
What really annoys me is not just the total lack of common sense, but that all those arguments have already been arisen, but never properly discussed as the specific user is very immune on other opinions and likes to lurk behind pseudonyms. Consequentially he lacks any kind of basic respect for authorities (although he is inconsistent on that). I doubt he would dare to publicly state that Mr Kozelj's claims can't be considered a professional opinion since he works for Ljubljana city administration and might be biased (see here) under his real name.
Once again, IHMO all those deletion requests are premature, but the damage has already been done – there are now other Commons admins that tend to delete more or less any picture taken in Slovenia without thorough consideration solely because there are existing “successful” deletion requests. As the case is also discussed outside the Wikipedia, the entire project not only lost valuable images but also on its credibility.
Update: another example of abusive behaviour
--Smihael (talk) 23:26, 23 December 2012 (UTC)[]