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This page talks about problems, potential and real, of a CopyLeft license for an OnlineCommunity (rather than for software and documentation). With CopyLeft anyone may take any page from your online community (e. g. wiki), add a reference to the origin and the license and use and publish it freely, the critical condition for its reuse is that it remains in this state.

Recall that the lessons from FreeSoftware cannot be directly applied to online communities, as software and other content are very different beasts (cf. WhatIsContent#differences)

Reputation / Copyright problems

Wrong content. Assume you have written a page that contains a vital error (maybe medical information). You find the error, and change it at your site. However sublicensees may have copied an old version of your text, and this risks damaging your reputation as well as theirs. If you were closed content, maybe people would just link to you instead.

Incomplete content. Online communities live by doing things together. This means that many or most pages are "work in progress", not meant to be published. But you hardly ever know, when they are finished. They may be incomplete, rest for months, before someone gives the final touch, if there ever is. You will not want that these pages are copied out uncontrolled.

I'd still like to know, why not? Why don't we want those works in progress copied out freely? I think there must be some underlying motivation here - what is it?

Copyright violations. Sometimes people will contribute text to your community that is in fact owned by someone else. There is no major difference between a CopyLefted community and any other community here - you just need to add appropriate disclaimers, remove infringing content when you see it, defend against CopyrightParanoia, and AvoidLegalRisk. Your sublicensees have to do the same, of course, but that's their problem. So this isn't a problem unique to CopyLeft; it's just one that CopyLeft doesn't solve any better than anyone else.

Social problems

Private content. The internet is not always polite and friendly. There are occasional FlameWars. A RecordKeeper may try to store or redistribute those flame wars, damaging reputations, hindering ForgiveAndForget, and invading privacy. On a closed content site you can use your DefensiveCopyright to try to block that - an option not available for copyleft communities.

Split of the silent public. Our silent readers are an unseen but important part of the online community (see TheAudience). We know they are there, they are the potential from which new contributors come from. We want to be polite and friendly with respect of them looking at us, to attract new contributors, to find new friends. CopyLeft splits this valuable resource. This is discussed further in ForkingOfOnlineCommunities and RightToFork.

Aura of uniqueness. In communities that value CommunityOverContent, the actual text produced is but a small part of the "output" of the community, compared to the inherent joy of communication and collaboration. In such communities, simply copying the text is typically a rather worthless activity. This removes one of the key benefits of a copyleft license in a ContentOverCommunity site.

Reducing the chances for personal relationships. If someone needs content, he may turn to a community, tell about his projects, get support and advice, get trust and be allowed to use what he needs. He may in turn give something back later, perhaps thankfulness or trust. It's not difficult to become friends. An open license removes the need for, and some of the chances for, such personal relationsships. No ownership. No need for talk. No need for trust. No need for decisions. No obligations. No relationships.

Wiki development problems

Few professional writers contribute to online communities. Maybe because they feel that the work they produce is hardly protected. It's nice to have free content. Why not ask for free bread, free cars or a free haircut? It's unclear why a group pressure is built towards free reuse of content. Even if content is not free for reuse, it is a value given to the public - anyone can read it, anyone can learn from it. If that's all, it should be enough. It's up to the founders, members and contributors to decide this.

For professional writers (at least for me), protection of the work is less important than the opportunity cost. The number of words I can write in a day is finite. Words I write for a wiki are words I don't write for a paying client. I won't bother unless contributing is rewarding in some other way. Yet the wiki ethic favoring anonymous contributions and heavy refactoring makes it difficult to use wiki contributions to network, support one's professional reputation, and other traditional non-monetary rewards. -- KatherineDerbyshire

Group pressure towards free content. Currently there is a pressure on wikis and wiki founders to use an open license. This is completely unjustified. To agree to this in general would put wiki in an ideological niche and reduce the chances for wiki applications in other fields. "Wiki is not an ideology". While anyone should be free to produce free content, no-one should be pressed to produce free content.

Pressure in the form of "people saying they think free content is a good idea" seems entirely justified; people are supposed to express their opinions. Pressure in the form of death-threats should be reported to the police. *8) This item doesn't IMHO belong in a list of "problems caused by adopting a copyleft license". --DavidChess

I hope that it becomes clear from this first draft ("work in progress") that I think those who dislike CopyLeft in online communities don't do this because they want to excert power over their text or to deny access to users. Anyone can read and use it anyway and in the intended way. We primarily want to know who is copying what and for which purpose. We want to make certain that the content that is copied out is ok. We may even - rarely - try to make a deal and get value back for the value we give (this is what we are typically accused for). In fact, the value of what we write is often lower than we would like to admit. We also want to maximize the value of the content for strengthening the community itself, because that's where the value (and the fun) comes from. -- HelmutLeitner

So, I don't really agree with a single thing on this page -- not least the disingenuous final disclaimer. However, it'd probably be worthwhile to differentiate between:


OpenContent is never a SuperordinateGoal. You choose your goals and then decide which license fits best (if you work rationally). There are goals where CopyLeft is better and there are goals where CopyLeft is worse. It would be ideal if we could calculate this exactly. As a founder you are free in your opinion and you are free to choose. Every argument has a place on this page. But "CopyLeft because you feel you have to have some kind of copyright statement" is exactly this kind of irrational decision making that I often meet and don't understand. -- HelmutLeitner

Well, I'd disagree with the statement, "OpenContent is never a SuperordinateGoal." I know that for WikiPedia, for example, their goal is this:

Our goal with Wikipedia is to create a free encyclopedia--indeed, the largest encyclopedia in history, in both breadth and depth. We also want Wikipedia to become a reliable resource.

Most of the WikiMedia projects are for creating OpenContent works. For WikiTravel, ours is:

Wikitravel is a project to create a free, complete, up-to-date and reliable world-wide travel guide.

(Here "free" == OpenContent) (note: WikiTravel isn't WikiMedia). Neither of those goals, by the way, is about Wiki or community. In a way, Wiki and community are ways we coordinate and get to our goals -- not the other way around.

I think in these cases, OpenContent very much is the SuperordinateGoal. Anything else comes second. --EvanProdromou

Didn't I just say that below? Often open content people cannot articulate their purposes very clearly, and typically they also do not understand CopyrightLaw, because both of these are obscure. Yet purposes and philosophy of OpenContent are still very important in the world, but they do not necessarily map to CopyLeft in every situation; I think CopyLeft is very clever, but it isn't a panacea. Meatball is allergic to not thinking through things. At least that is one value that I can say we all share. This page is imbued with the fallacy that OpenContent == CopyLeft. And further, there is a huge fallacy to think that an OnlineCommunity is anything at all like a document. For one, while a document has no author, an OnlineCommunity is filled with people who can make contingent decisions. And finally, there is a huge fallacy to think that the text of an OnlineCommunity is the OnlineCommunity. (cf. LifeInText) These are all major faults in most arguments that a discussion forum should or should not be CopyLeft. -- Sunir "I am a social construction" Shah

What, am I not allowed to restate things? B-) I definitely agree that OpenContent is not necessarily CopyLeft content. However, I think you've got an excellent point about the relationship between community and artefact. I think it's pretty tangled, actually. But good points all. --EvanProdromou

Some communities want to generate open content, in the sense that statement is equivalent to "we want free information." (really, as in beer, because you can buy it) This is a moral stance that believes the divide between those who hold and generate the good content and the rest of the population must be collapsed. While one can buy into the elite sphere, this is very expensive. Conversely, generating good content is very expensive. For most of the population, however, good for cash doesn't matter because mediocre for free is better. Ultimately, it comes down to our now extreme need for information, which would otherwise force us to spend a lot of money to accomplish what we want. It's all about increasing our opportunities to emerge fully as beings. Free information to free thought. This says nothing about whether copyleft is better or not. -- SunirShah


Private content

Two versions:

The internet is not always polite and friendly. Often conversations get rough, sometime people insult each other or fight with unconstructive means. We do work hard to avoid it, but it happens. In wiki we make peace, reach consensus. Do you want that everybody can rightfully publish and copy these complete conversations? With your names on it?

The internet is not always polite and friendly. There are occasional FlameWars?. A RecordKeeper may try to store or redistribute those flame wars, hindering ForgiveAndForget. On a closed content site you can use your DefensiveCopyright to try to block that - an option not available for copyleft communities.

Helmut suggests thst the latter is completely different from the former - it may be, possibly because I don't know the precise intent of the two rhetorical questions. I've added "damaging reputations" to "hindering ForgiveAndForget", but I can't think of any other reasons one might want to put copyright-based restrictions on one's LifeInText. Anyone help me out? --MartinHarper

Copyright is constructed to protect your LifeInText, especially for such things as your private journals. Copyright is fundamentally defensive, hence the BerneConvention. Text is fundamentally private as text is an extension of thought, and I think there is no deeper meaning of private except to exclude what impugnes your psyche. Some people like Google:Mark+Federman argue that we are inverting this situation by entering discussions into the public domain massively, but other people argue we are just returning to the village model of the lack of privacy. [ed: Actually, Mark may be arguing this too, but I haven't had a chance to track him down and ask him, and since he's exactly one floor below me right now that's not much of an excuse.] -- SunirShah

No it's not! You're conflating locks on diaries with copyright. CopyRight is a monopoly on publishing granted to the creator of a work. It's primarily an economic and not a privacy issue. If you don't want people to know what color underwear you wear, don't publish that information on the WorldWideWeb. --EvanProdromou

I'm not conflating the two; personal diaries (and nefarious butlers) is one case that motivated the BerneConvention's policy of copyrighting everything. In an information society, where all information is eminently copiable, the only protection against socially unfit uses of that information is society, which is the law. Now that we understand how our lives in text are social constructions as well, it seems reasonable to not throw away this great social win, but extend it further, but in new digital ways, not in the old industrial solutions of the DigitalMilleniumCopyrightAct? for instance. I intend to use SoftSecurity as much as possible. -- SunirShah

Don't forget that the freedom of speech is formulated as choice. We choose what we say and what we don't, but we all know that we say things that we do not mean, so I am actually suggesting the the freedom of speech as formulated in the Western tradition is too weak. While you cannot undo a FirstReading, if you can prevent a FirstReading, you should be given a reasonable chance to do so, especially since the effective reach of common speech today is much, much larger than the Athenian agora--it extends across all space and time. Note that previously we at least had editors who would stop us from saying something stupid in print for the most part (although VanityPresses and journalists undermined that). Wikis can return this right provided we grant it. -- SunirShah

I'm starting to understand this discussion a bit better. The question is about copylefting discussion boards or ThreadMode wikis, not copylefting OpenContent created by wiki. Personally, I think this weakens the idea of creating works in DocumentMode that can be useful outside the wiki environment. The question of whether CopyLeft licenses should be used for ChatterBoxes is less interesting to me. I guess it's about equivalent to copylefting a mailing list, a discussion board, or a WebForum?. Probably not all that important, really, to do. An OpenContent license that doesn't allow modification would work, or just something that forbids replication at all. If your problem is saying things you'll regret strangers seeing later, well, you've got an anger management problem, or an over-sharing problem, not a licensing problem. --EvanProdromou

The only issue is the tension between the seeming manipulability of a person's LifeInText versus the embodiment of that person, despite the fact they are not distinct, but unified. This manifests in several interweaving forms that are not apparently as they are very complex. One is chatter. Another is the inability to fork someone's attention as time remains linear and scarce. Another is the investment in capital to create that content generator that needs to be remunerated back in some fashion lest that content generator die from starvation, or more likely because he or she becomes too busy working for money to have time to generate free content. The arguments that suggests copyleft is imperative are flawed in deep ways, and that is because copyleft restricts the number of options you have (it's socialist). The only valid solution will have to be at least as powerful as the number of desired uses of text (a liberalist solution), and while CopyrightLaw may not be this powerful yet, CopyLeft is going backwards, even if it might be legitimate for certain uses. I recognize this is dense, but read LifeInText and it'll hopefully be clearer. -- SunirShah

With current licenses, one typically needs to copyleft the LifeInText on a wiki in order to copyleft the more general purpose content that we want to redistribute, as the one frequently becomes the other. Having ThreadMode and DocumentMode under seperate copyrights is probably not a very HumaneInterface, as it forces contributors to think about copyright law. One possible aid (though not solution) is a permission grant of ExtendedFairUse?, though the RightToInclude may also be useful in some circumstances. --MartinHarper

The end goal is to construct a new license system that reflects the nature of wikis and OnlineCommunity without blowing our FeatureKarma allotment for this lifetime. -- SunirShah

So, I think what's broken about this entire conversation is the overemphasis on TheIndividual and the failure to recognize the importance of TheCollective. CopyLeft is an agreement that allows members of a loosely-coupled collective to add, edit, remove, update, refactor, collate and copy work by other members. With many hands touching the text, the rigid distinction between my LifeInText and your LifeInText breaks down -- we make our LifeInText.

Sure, there are plenty of OnlineCommunitys where each community member has their silo of production, which none may touch or edit or copy -- UseNet newsgroups, mailing lists, Web forums, blog clusters, etc. There is usually some kind of HardSecurity that enforces these boundaries, or they're just built into the metaphor of the medium. Most of these community types are extremely successful, and they definitely have their place.

On the other hand, CopyLeft communities -- FreeSoftware projects, OpenContent projects, most Wikis -- don't do that. Individual contributions get melted and patched into something that speaks from the voice of the community, not that of the individual. It becomes greater than the sum of its parts. CopyLeft -- or, perhaps, the PublicDomain -- provides the framework to allow this melting. I find it hard to believe that this is somehow deleterious to the community as a whole. --EvanProdromou

The voice of the Community, CollectiveIntelligence, is like the sound of a band that is grooving, which is worth more than a sum of its parts (cf. SuperordinateGoal). We should welcome people with an invitation to leave their egos at the door. Everybody can hand in his ego free of charge when entering and get it back inviolate for real-life use, when leaving again. And then let's groove. -- MattisManzel

This is real life (cf. CyberSpace#quixote). I think wikis are a strong reflection of how we mutually construct each others' identities (qua LifeInText), which is an important aspect of the definition of community as given by some sociologists. It's fallacious to say that your identity becomes submerged as the PeckingOrder emerges as always. It's more like your identity becomes co-opted, which is a wonderful thing when it works (ourselves as barns?) and a terrible thing when it doesn't work. The barrier we are creating is OpenContent within the community, and closed content outside the community. That is because PeerReview can only protect you amongst your peers. And while this is not a perfect boundary, it is sufficiently restrictive for now. -- SunirShah

I see theoretical merit, at least, in the arguments on both sides of this discussion. One way to slice the above arguments against various uses of CopyLeft would be according to whether the argument objects to the "viral" nature of CopyLeft (i.e. to the restrictions it places on behavior), or whether it objects to the "open" nature of CopyLeft (i.e. to the restrictions it doesn't place on behavior). The latter objections would also apply to, say, a policy that all the content on the Wiki (or whatever vehicle) was instantly in the Public Domain. If I were founding a Wiki, I'd probably start out PrimarilyPublicDomain and see what happened; while there are theoretical problems, I suspect that in actual fact it'd work just fine. (Some page with an error on it, or that wasn't entirely perfected yet, might get copied elsewhere without the community knowing about it? Oh no! Huge Disaster!!! Or maybe not. Someone might take a bit of embarrassing flamage and post it elsewhere? That will happen, or not, pretty orthogonal to license issues; when was the last time you heard of a successful lawsuit for copyright violation based on someone's quoting a flame from List A on List B?) But that doesn't necessarily mean that other founders, or community members, are equally sanguine (I've always been an optimist...). -- DavidChess


That is a perfect example of why one should not copyleft the ongoing discussions of an OnlineCommunity. That text was originally from WikiPedia. While one might argue that RecordKeepers would make a copy of that text anyway, since it is so contentious, 4reference.net is not a RecordKeeper, but merely a consumer of the Wikipedia TarBall?.

The CopyLeft text published from an online community should merely be the text that is free of the LifeInText of its membership. Text fit for publication, that is. In this case, the user and talk pages from Wikipedia should not be republished. -- SunirShah

Other cases involve user pages showing up on other sites using Wikipedia content, making it appear that these people are contributors to these mirror sites. A good example is [this discussion] at Wikinfo, a Wikipedia fork that automatically transcluses Wikipedia's pages. This [Google search] for "User:Stephen Gilbert" finds various versions of my Wikipedia user page scattered across multiple Wikipedia mirrors. -- StephenGilbert


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