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Citizendium chooses CC-BY-SA December 24, 2007

Posted by keito in : News, Websites , comments closed

Citizendium, the fledgling semi-user editable online encyclopedia that aims to unseat Wikipedia from its cyber-throne by enforcing strict editorial guidelines, has chosen to license its articles under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (CC-BY-SA) license, according to a press release.

This doesn’t come as much of a surprise — Citizendium has some articles that are forks (copies that are subsequently modified) of their counterparts on Wikipedia, which is licensed under the GFDL. Since the Wikimedia Foundation has announced plans to work with the Free Software Foundation and the Creative Commons to make the GFDL compatible with the CC-BY-SA license, it’s only natural that Citizendium should go ahead and make their content available under the Creative Commons license. (For the time being, though, they are required to keep the originally Wikipedia-based articles licensed under the GFDL due to the viral provisions of the license.)

Apparently, however, there was a huge discussion among Citizendium editors on whether to use a non-commercial license (in this case it would be CC-BY-SA-NC) or not. The discussion (available in paraphrased form on Citizendium) seems to revolve around the practical reasons to choose one license over the other, such as distribution to those without Internet access.

What’s notable is that one of the major reasons against the GFDL/CC-BY-SA seems to be “we don’t want Wikipedia to reuse our articles,” along with a general feeling of hostility towards allowing other websites to redistribute Citizendium content. This seems to say a lot about Citizendium and its real thoughts on Open Source and free licensing — are they really out there to share a good encyclopedia, or are they just doing it to spite Wikipedia?

While I applaud Citizendium editors for ultimately choosing the CC-BY-SA approach, and thus allowing greater redistribution and reuse of its content, there seems to be a troubling sense of exclusivity among the Citizendium community. I can’t help but compare this with the Wikipedia community, whose foundations are built on selflessness and creating an encyclopedia for the (actual) better good.

The GNU Free Documentation License December 24, 2007

Posted by keito in : Licenses , comments closed

The GNU Free Documentation License, or the GFDL, is a free license probably best known for being the license used by Wikipedia. It was designed by the Free Software Foundation, which is the parent body of the GNU Project (including Linux) and other famous licenses such as the GNU General Public License (GPL).

The GFDL was originally designed for licensing software documentation for free software products. As the Preamble states, the license was developed “because free software needs free documentation: a free program should come with manuals providing the same freedoms that the software does.” However, the license goes on to state that the license can be used for other, more general documents (such as Wikipedia).

In a nutshell, the GFDL offers licensees the ability to “copy and distribute the [work] in any medium, either commercially or noncommercially,” and allows licensees to modify that work and redistribute it — provided that the derivative work be made available under the same terms as the original. The GFDL shares this viral quality with the GNU GPL, the other major license that the Free Software Foundation provides. This locks modifiers and distributors into the same licensing scheme; you can’t, for example, take a GFDL-licensed work, make a derivative, and release it for non-commercial use only.

One controversial aspect of the GFDL is that it provides provisions for “Secondary Sections” (basically, any sections in the work that describes the author or publisher’s connection to the work). These sections may not be modified in any resulting derivatives, and are called invariant sections. (If they are modified, the resulting copies must be redistributed under a different title). Secondary sections usually include documents detailing the philosophy of the original author (in the GFDL-licensed Emacs manual, for example, it is a lengthy section in the form of a Manifesto). Apparently this was written into the GFDL so that subsequent authors of documentation, who were sometimes in violation of the original philosophies as stipulated by the original author, would not be able to change the original manifestations thereof.

Another more practical problem of the GFDL is its full license text provision. Any distribution of GFDL-licensed material is required to include a copyright notice as well as the full text of the GNU Free Documentation License, which, when printed on US Letter size paper, is almost 8 pages long. Not only is this a problem, for example, when reprinting a GFDL work in a book, it’s an even bigger problem when all you need to do is redistribute one small image for inclusion in, say, a magazine.

Although it’s still rather rare for GFDL-licensed content to appear in print, the full license text provision of the GFDL has already led to some unwieldiness. For example, on Wikibooks, a Wikipedia sister project that collaboratively writes GFDL-licensed books instead of an encyclopedia, completed books are often distributed in PDF form. PDF such as these come with an 8-page appendix with the GFDL license text, complete with a paragraph on “How to use this License for your documents.”

While this is all well and good for spreading the GFDL, it leads to wasted paper and frankly, it looks rather unprofessional to have all this stuck to the back of a book. The GFDL still has a sense of the Unix geek ethos — the war they’re fighting is more guerilla than anything professional.

There are, however, alternatives to the GFDL that provide much of its liberties as well as its protections. A very good example of this is the Creative Commons licenses, specifically the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (CC-BY-SA) license. In the next post I’ll cover Wikipedia and its relationship to the GFDL, and then go on to cover the Creative Commons licenses.

Wikipedia to be compatible with Creative Commons December 6, 2007

Posted by keito in : News, Wikipedia , comments closed

Wikimedia, the non-profit organization that runs Wikipedia, the Free Software Foundation, and the Creative Commons have agreed to make the GFDL (the GNU Free Documentation License, the license that Wikipedia is licensed under) compatible with the Creative Commons licenses.

The blog post linked above is sort of inaccurate, calling it a “switch” to Creative Commons, but the real deal can be found in the official resolution from the Wikimedia Foundation.

This comes as a welcome development for Wikipedia – the GFDL has always been a dark, kept-under-the-rug feature of Wikipedia, as it has caused some well-known inconveniences to the Wikipedia community and those wanting to reuse Wikipedia content. (I’ll cover the details in a later post.)

So what exactly is the difference between the GFDL and the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (CC-BY-SA) license? We’ll cover that next time.