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

Mike Linksvayer ml at creativecommons.org
Mon Jan 3 16:34:56 UTC 2011

On Mon, Jan 3, 2011 at 8:06 AM, Ed Pastore <epastore at metagovernment.org>wrote:

> 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:
> http://www.metagovernment.org/wiki/Metagovernment:Copyrights

> 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.

You might be able to do this and hope that nobody complains, but probably
not the straight and narrow path unless all contributors have been assigning
copyright to ... I highly doubt that, given lack of formal organization to
assign copyright to. :)

> 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?

A new wiki would probably be really suboptimal. If you want to take
something like this path, require that all contributions to existing pages
be dual licensed under BY-NC-SA and BY-SA, all new pages under BY-SA, and
remove BY-NC-SA from the former when you (ie some interested community
members monitoring the situation) feel a page has changed enough that none
of the BY-NC-SA contributions remain, or that all previous contributors to
page have agreed to offer past contributions under BY-SA (ie, this and the
next item together).

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?
I can't comment on the legal details, but using existing community processes
is always a plus. The closest relicensing project I can recall is
Wikitravel's upgrade from BY-SA 1.0 to BY-SA 3.0. The former did not allow
adaptations of a work to be released under a later version, so they were
stuck at 1.0, without getting agreement, from all contributors in theory, to
change to 3.0. If I recall correctly, they took an approach similar to #4,
though over a longer time period and with lots of public discussion. I
haven't looked in awhile, see http://wikitravel.org/en/License_upgrade

Not a lawyer,

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