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The copyright question in online communities is an unsolved problem. OpenContent is advocated and fought and no conflict resolution seems near.

There is another solution, which might resolve some problems and which should in its total effects strengthen the community.

Together with CommunityMember such an option could pave the way for a lot of useful developments. It would also grant the transition from a founder wiki to a member wiki.

Of course this is only a rough idea, that has to be worked out.

(*) In Switzerland and most other European countries you cannot give/transfer/assign your copyright, so instead one would need to grant an unrestricted, non-exclusive license to do X, Y, and Z.

Contributors: HelmutLeitner AlexSchroeder SunirShah ThomasKalka ChrisPurcell BayleShanks AnonymousDonor

Professional writers might not happy to hand over exclusive rights to their own content in this manner. They could keep their rights and just not apply for membership. There could also be special "high quality essay" pages (maybe even locked) with special copyrights (e.g. all rights reserved, or public domain).

An alternative would be to have professional writers write off-wiki and link to their writings. If it's a good essay we could use an ExternalRedirect? to make linking to it easy. However, writers might prefer to stay on-wiki, because that will get more attention, and because wiki is faster and easier for authors.

You don't lose the wiki-ness just because if only one person can edit a page (contrast WikiDefined). Wiki != openness. This is an important point and should be written down in more places. The wiki technology seems to fit well or encourage certain social/editorial structures, but it does not force them. To the contrary, wikis can emulate more restrictive editorial processes, provided there is a social constraint to enforce them. The egalitarian/open nature of sites like MeatballWiki, WikiPedia and WardsWiki aren't necessary. If you wanted to, you could run a wiki exactly like a scientific journal, with strict limits on who may edit and post what. As CliffordAdams said, "Wikis replace technical security with social and political limits".

Of course, it seems silly to use a wiki in such a context. But using a wiki would probably open up opportunities to tweak the editorial process slightly in ways that make it more efficient, even if not more "open".

The technology of wiki is in contrast to TheWikiWay

-- BayleShanks

What is the Decision-making for granting permissions? That's a subproblem from making decisions at all. But in general: Those who want to use content should write about their project, about what support (need not only be content) they need and what they offer in return.

Decision-making. Currently MeatBall as a whole is unable to make decisions. Only the founder can and he has very little headroom to do anything. At some point, there will have to be members that decide democratically (perhaps with a veto for the founder). Decisions should be prepared and discussed in the public. Then normal voting could happen. I think, voting can be good when you know and can trust those who vote. (assuming VotingIsGood)

How do you handle mixed content that contains contributions from both members and non-members? Mixed content would be much rarer than now. If problems remain, the members could care for a common text that can be given away. -- HelmutLeitner

I think that handing over your content to the commuity would fail to bind people to be CommunityMembers as they are no longer responsible for that content. I think you can already hand over your content by simply unsigning it. That is what it means, after all, to write anonymously here. It's a gift to the community, and the legal situation works out to the same thing. -- SunirShah

I don't agree. If I handle over my content, then nothing changes in my responsibility, my signing and my relationship to the text. I just declare that the community may decide how to give this text away. Removing signatures would sometimes remove a necessary context. It would make the donation invisible. It also wouldn't help move towards membership and a common decision process. -- HelmutLeitner

Does the BenevolentDictator need this much power? Can he lead without a LegalSolution veto?

Maybe. These concerns exist since the beginning of wiki. But the voting members are an inner circle of users, that identify with the community and are trusted by its founder and the other members. It is important that no-one can become a member on its own decision. If the founder vetos the majority of his trusted collective, he will weaken his community very much. So he can do this only in rare cases, if at all. On the other hand, how should a founder give away his responsibility without having a safety net, when he really thinks something is going wrong? -- HelmutLeitner

It's sad how much time has to be spent on the topic of copy prevention. If you regard to a wiki as a garden, why should you care about, if someone get seeds to grow his own. In fear of loosing the gardeners: i would suggest that all pages of a wiki should be public domain except the home pages and signatures. Thus taking seeds is allowed without restrictions, the gardeners move by their own decision. -- ThomasKalka

How many real world gardeners do you know, that work that way? Perhaps some have tried, but people (whether gardener or not they couldn't tell) trampled through their flowers doing more harm than good. But there are surely many gardeners that you can make friends with, who - if you show to really love plants - will show you and help you and give what they have. I think we are all more than ready to give, but not like slot-machines. I think cooperation should be a human give-and-take between friends or neighbours, not an altruistic give-away between strangers. -- HelmutLeitner

I regarded content without gardeners as seeds. It does not do any harm at all to the gardeners to take the seeds, even does not consume any of gardeners time or other ressources. On the contrary it brings peace to the community of gardeners: if we dont agree You or me may go an take as much as we think we need. One of the attitudes I dislike most at communities is the attitude to prevent people doing experiments. Creating artificial scarcity is the way dominance rules. I would like to avoid it, where it is so obviously artificial. -- ThomasKalka

I think that's not good enough to "do no harm". If someone wants to take some value (seeds, content, whatever) then obviously this gives him an advantage, let's name it AAAAA. In my opinion it would be fair to give something back - for example AA - in exchange. This can be negotiated and in the end both sides have an advantage and I would call this a fair deal. What you try to enforce is, that the authors should give up their freedom to negotiate their terms of cooperation (which is in general a very silly thing to do). -- HelmutLeitner

Someone benefits from your work. You want to be able to force him to work for your benefit by beeing able to dis-operate: deter him from what he is going to do except he signs a deal. That's the way we learn to live: accept beeing forced and force other poeple. I hope we get richer, if we can overcome this. The most important jobs are the least paid. We are free to decide which game to play in which context. -- ThomasKalka

I think the garden metaphor has broken down. I'm going to shift it. The seeds are ideas, not content. To get content, you need to apply effort and time, so content is represented by your plants. New ideas may spring from this process, just as new seeds spring from plants.

Copyright law says that people may freely take seeds and grow them into their own plants - they may even take clippings - but they are not allowed to copy the plants (the analogy breaks down here) and put them directly into their own garden without attribution. The plants represent some time and effort.

FairUse says you may copy the plant provided you attribute it correctly: take a photo, if you like. FairUse does not let you copy the whole garden, or even substantial parts of it.

What you suggested last is: if the garden is abandoned, to copy a small or large amount of it and bring life to it again, which FairUse (targetted at a different medium in a different time) does not allow. -- ChrisPurcell

I feel misunderstood with my garden metaphor: it was not about content. I dont feel, that content is what make me excited about wikis. The library is not the university. -- ThomasKalka

So you think it's ideas? Ideas aren't covered by copyright law. -- ChrisPurcell

What about the people? You can't recreate the garden without the gardeners. --anon.

Name it culture, wisdom, I'dont know. You cant steal it. You may try to seed it and let it grow. Dont fear about content getting copied to another place. -- ThomasKalka

Sigh, that's exactly the point. AvoidIllusion. You can't transfer content and think you transfer a culture or some wisdom with it. We would be bad gardeners if we would suggest this. You can't create a community, you can only grow it. Grow it on its own thoughts and originality by reworking or refactoring anything you find and like - but don't just copy. It's absurd when people come and like the content but don't like the conditions and the culture under which it was created. -- HelmutLeitner

Yes. But dont stop people from making mistakes, encourage them to do experiments. It's not possible to learn without mistakes. As a gardener: take care of your own garden. If someone wants to learn growing plants and takes all of your seeds: dont care. He will learn to ask for advice. --ThomasKalka

I think wikis are a part of our life. If we cooperate or communicate, something may go wrong and we may learn from it, but I would not call this experiments. I do not like experiments with people. To create an online community as an experiment is a serious fault. -- HelmutLeitner

Excuse me lacking the right words in english. In german I would say "probieren" instead of "experimentieren". Please adjust the above paragraph to point in this direction. Maybee the term "try things out" would be better. But i dont know. If I say: this is a soical experiment it has the meaning of: lets try it, lets see what we will find out, i just dont know it before doing it. That's the reasen why I wrote experiment: we do not know in advance. --ThomasKalka

Sorry, I didn't want to be harsh, the argument "don't experiment with people" just formed so easily that I was unable to resist. I know, that you didn't mean it the way I have put it. Put there is a serious problem in it. I know a number of projects, which are labeled as experiments, and they have a low chance to work. The reader typically thinks "Why should I take part in an experiment?" and turns away. Often you can feel the experimental character of sites, because founders fail to explain their commitment, fail to explain their mission and vision, often don't even properly sign their systems - so it's obvious that they don't want to bind their identity and their reputation to what they are doing. Visitors can feel this and turn away. So such experiments won't tell you the truth. But it's even worse when founders succeed in hiding the experimental character of their system and turn their system off, when they are tired of it. They will leave disappointed users behind, who have put trust into the community, made it a (whatever small) part of their live and who now turn away and distrust online communities in general. These systems hurt all, who do not believe in playing games online. Whatever you do, there is no sensible way to do online communities as experiments or to try things out. You can do a little experimenting within them, but you can't - as a whole - create them as experiments. They are also not reproducible in a scientific sense. In a way, the moment you think "experiment", you have already lost. -- HelmutLeitner

So lets try to put this seeds in every package waiting for someone to start a garden with. If you try something be not trying, be doing. -- ThomasKalka

Another approach is (with a wiki at least) to resurrect it there for a while. Let us suppose this is Meatball. If Sunir really does give control of the copyright to the community, it could legally sound to say that you now are the community, and thus have copyright ownership. You can then move everything.

Equally, if the "old guard" and "new guard" are conflicting, the newcomers have as much claim to being the community as the old. It would be interesting to explore the legal issues here, since this situation is exactly what I have seen mentioned as a major reason to choose a CopyLeft/PublicDomain license. (This idea is probably better situated on another page. Perhaps on CommunityWiki, just to be ironic.) -- ChrisPurcell

What type of community should use this?

I think the structure Helmut has articulated here is a good one. I'm interested in what community goals this structure would be especially appropriate for. I will restrict myself to considering communities which have some sort of written discussion as one of their activities.

Use case 1: The community wants to write a text

This seems like an especially good structure if the community has some sort of project in mind, some sort of project that either is the production of a text, or that has the creation of a text as a subtopic. Once the text is produced, or as it is produced, the community wants to trade it for stuff.

You can also do this with CopyLeft - on WikiPedia we "trade" gratitude for donations of cash, we trade external links to a news site for donations of PublicDomain text, and we're thinking of trading links to bookseller sites for cash (Amazon referrals, et al). But a CommonCopyright? would be an interesting alternative. Both these options presume that the generation of cash is not the primary purpose - if it is, then just set up a company, and license the text to the company in exchange for shares.

Use case 2: The community doesn't initially care about the transcript of their conversation, but is planning ahead

This may be a good structure if the community is just sitting around and talking, but they may produce a text as a byproduct at some time, quite by accident. It sounds like SunirShah is saying that that is what has happened here. This structure allows the potential text to have a concrete ownership which can make decisions about what to do with it later, if a text is ever produced.

(not) use case 3: Guaranteed non-reproduction of text

Some communities may say at the beginning, "we want to guarantee that our text won't ever be reproduced, and that's final". In this case the best mechanism is a DefaultCopyright; a DefaultCopyright guarantees each individual that their text will not be (legally) reproduced without their permission (except as permitted by FairUse). By contrast, Helmut's structure may allow the community to overrule an individual and use their text without their agreement.

(not) use case 4: Production of text for the public

The case in which OpenContent or PublicDomain would be better than this structure is when the dissemination of a text is sought (maybe because you want to disseminate a text, or because you want to disseminate ideas), without commercial advantage for the authors. In this case, the text will most likely have more longevity if it is released from any CopyrightTrap.

Use case 5: Setting ground rules for dialog

Perhaps the earlier members want to ensure that they have a mechanism with which to decide what the "rules" are for discussion.

If this was all they wanted, though, you don't really need the CommonContent part. So the reasons for having CommonContent can probably be reduced to those of use case 2.

Other issues: restriction of membership

Another aspect of this structure is that it is clearly a club which has criteria for becoming a member. This seems necessary for the two use cases cited above, because the purpose of this structure there is to allow decisions to be made, either about the text, or about rules for discussion.

For a group to make decisions, you must define who can participate in the decision-making process. But now, if you just let anyone become a member of the group, then there would seem to be no way for earlier contributors to ensure that they will retain a voice in the group's decision-making process (but see below).

As a result, it seems that it is necessary to restrict membership if you want to be able to make decisions as a group.


-- BayleShanks



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