[okfn-discuss] Porting a wiki to an open license

Ed Pastore epastore at metagovernment.org
Mon Jan 3 16:06:46 UTC 2011

Hi, folks.

A couple of years ago, a member of the Metagovernment project joined  
an OKFN discussion to discuss changing our copyright.

When we opened our wiki, we made it CC:BY-NC-SA. It was something  
someone suggested, and it sounded right: very open, very non- 
commercial. But, hm... apparently a lot of the free content people  
have a problem with NC, so we're game to change it to BY-SA or even  
something more open. For the record, our wiki has always had this  
copyright page, which has been basically unchanged for the history of  
the wiki:

My question is about the logistics of porting our wiki. People  
familiar with the concept have suggested that it is not possible to  
simply remove a copyright restriction from a wiki because when people  
contributed to the wiki, they may have had the expectation that their  
contribution remain under that restriction. Is that right, and if so,  
can you help us work out a way to port?

I have come up with some possibilities, but I don't know if any of  
them work and/or are practical.

1. We just remove the NC. When people contributed content, they gave  
it to us, and we now have the ability to change the copyright if we  
please. Um... would that fly? I suspect some may have problems with  
it, but what precisely would be the consequences? For the record, we  
are not incorporated: we are an adhocracy that is very loosely  
governed by consensuses formed on an open list server (though some day  
we may incorporate). We also are not associated with any country: our  
members span the globe.

2. We port all the content to a new wiki with an open license, but on  
each old/ported page, we put an exception note at the bottom saying  
that this content is restricted by NC. However, if we did that, could  
we ever remove that tag? At what point would the page be edited enough  
to make us free to change license?

3. We ask ever contributor to the wiki to release their contributions  
to the new license. This can be problematic because some contributors  
have left the project and have not responded to recent queries.

4. Same as #3, but we put a deadline, and if anyone does not respond  
by the reasonably-long deadline (say one month), then they  
automatically consent to the port. Note that this is a very common  
governance mechanism used within our project (that is, when we have a  
consensus, we allow a time for dissent, and if there is none, we  
declare approval).

Can anyone comment on any of this and how we can most easily proceed?  
Clearly #3 would work, but it is also the most laborious and  
difficult. #1 or #4 would be the easiest practically to do, but I'm  
unclear on the legality, or what happens if it is not considered  
legal, since we aren't incorporated or localized. If the consequence  
is just one of opening us (or me personally?) to a lawsuit, then  
wouldn't the plaintiff have to show that they were somehow harmed?


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