Jay Walsh, head of communications at the Wikimedia Foundation — the organization which owns Wikipedia’s trademark and its equipment — announced on the Foundation’s official blog last week:
Today we announced some fantastic news. The proposal to see Wikimedia’s content adopt a new dual license system has been voted on and approved by the Wikimedia community. With the full approval of our Board of Trustees, this now means that the Wikimedia Foundation will proceed with the implementation of a CC-BY-SA/GFDL dual license system on all of our project’s content. The new dual license will begin to come into effect in June.
This is pretty inside baseball, but I can imagine the average Wikipedia reader would have at least two questions about this change: 1) Why did this change take place? and 2) How will this affect my experience at Wikipedia?
Fortunately, the Foundation released a FAQ answering those very questions (and many more, because many Wikipedia contributors may be unfamiliar with these issues). I will attempt to summarize:
- 1) The GFDL, which refers to GNU Free Documentation License, was the original alternative to copyright. It was created by software developers who wanted something in between “All Rights Reserved” and total public domain (because others would take their public domain material, modify it, and copyright it all over again). Wikipedia was always meant to be free (as in speech and beer) and GFDL was the only way to make this happen. However, it also required that GFDL content quoted elsewhere carry about three pages of documentation — cumbersome for quoting Wikipedia in a book and impossible when said content is audio or video, among other problems. In recent years, an organization called Creative Commons has released a number of similar licenses which are better-suited to Wikipedia. The move has been a long time coming, held up only by bureaucratic negotiations. Technically, GFDL isn’t going away, but when those complicating issues arise, Creative Commons’ rules will take precedence.
I’m not sure I succeeded in making that simple. But I promise I can make the second one easy, and I can quote directly from the FAQ:
- 2) “Our experience has been that relatively few editors and users are engaged enough with the licensing issues we’re discussing here to be affected in any significant way by the update.”
If most Wikipedia editors aren’t going to notice a difference, then neither will anyone who simply reads Wikipedia for fun and information. So rest easy — the new and improved Wikipedia and the familiar old Wikipedia are one and the same.