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04 November 2008, 12:52

GFDL 1.3: Opening up to the Creative Commons

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The Free Software Foundation has published Version 1.3 of the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). One big change is that certain content, previously published under the GFDL, can now be re-licensed under a Creative Commons licence. The change has been made on the initiative of the Wikimedia Foundation.

In 2001, for lack of any alternative, the founders of the Wikipedia, the free crowd-sourced on-line encyclopedia, decided to go for a free documentation licence and chose the GFDL, which was really intended for software documentation. As Brett Smith of the FSF explains, many wiki sources, on the other hand, are under a "Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license" (CC-BY-SA) and the incompatibility of the licences was a major hindrance to exchanging content between different sites.

It wasn't just exchanging content under a Creative Commons licence that presented a problem. Although commercial reuse of GFDL-licensed content in printed copies is explicitly permitted, in practice it often isn't possible. For one thing, the many pages of the licence text always have to be printed as well. That's fine in the case of books consisting largely of Wikipedia content, but newspapers and magazines found it difficult to comply. These problems are largely resolved with a changeover to a Creative Commons licence.

Wikimedia founder Jimmy Wales, who also has a seat on the board of Creative Commons, has been pushing for the new version of the GFDL for years. Clearly, the new provisions are especially intended to allow Wikipedia and other wikis to get out from under a licence they find inconvenient. According to Wikimedia's Deputy Director, Erik Möller, re-badging will only be permitted between 1 November 2008 and 1 August 2009, and only the operator of a website may make use of the re-licensing clause.

Nevertheless, in future Wikipedia will still contain a mixture of licences, so anyone who wants to reuse content will have to check exactly what licence it is subject to. Möller writes "Later this month, we will post a re-licensing proposal for all Wikimedia wikis which are currently licensed under the GFDL", in order to explain clearly which content is to remain under the GFDL.

Möller continues – users are to be able to continue making media files that comply with GFDL 1.2, but "communities should be more careful with importing external FDL content, unless they know for sure that it will be migrated to CC-BY-SA in the near future – If some GFDL 1.2 content that cannot be migrated later is imported by accident, that should not present any great difficulty – we will simply remove it as we would remove any other problematic copyrighted content."

(Torsten Kleinz)


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