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I propose we scrap this project (has it already been scrapped? The link doesn't work) and use the ShareAlike license instead because it is supported by a lawyerly organization and may already have critical mass (answering Mike Widmer's concerns). -- BayleShanks

Looks good. And I like LawrenceLessig. -- AlexSchroeder

Yeah, he's awesome.

I've copied the shortcomings to FreeDocumentationLicense. There's some useful thoughts on the problems of using a RareLicense?, which might be spun off. Otherwise, perhaps this should be deleted? --MartinHarper

The FreeDocumentationLicense has a few shortcomings when it comes to wikis. It is complicated by lots of parapgraphs that have no meaning in the wiki context (front-cover, back-cover, history, invariant sections). These can all be ignored, but it still makes for difficult reading. At the same time, there are some difficulties when it comes to some of the requirements in environments without a perfect AuditTrail (such as KeptPages expiring, and people reworking pages such that attributions get lost).

This is why some people proposed simpler licenses for wikis. One of them was proposed by AlexSchroeder and called the FreeWebsiteLicense. The text is still available at the end of this document.

Using it is not recommended! Use the FreeDocumentationLicense, or a Creative Commons licenses such as ShareAlike instead.

Generally speaking, enforcing a license is difficult, if usage is not wide spread. Without widespread usage, there is no consensus of how it should apply. That makes life difficult for lawyers and laymen alike, and eventually results in more legal uncertainty than necessary. It is better to use an existing, well-known license and point your audience to a readable discussion of the implications of the license. (This is based on a discussion of AlexSchroeder and Mike Widmer, a law student in Switzerland.)

For the readers that are interested in the FWL nonetheless, the rest of this page is dedicated to its discussion.

Comparing FWL and FDL

Main points that contain the same:

Missing features of the FreeDocumentationLicense, because these usually are meaningless in a wiki context:

New feature:

Unsolved problems:


Any contribution remains copyrighted by its author. By modifying the orignal work, however, the contribution is licensed under the FreeWebsiteLicense to the general public. This means contributions may be modified at any time. It also means that authors can distribute their contributions in parallel under other licenses. Only the copy that was licensed under the FreeWebsiteLicense remains unrevokably under that license.

The FreeWebsiteLicense cannot be revoked. So eventhough you can contribute modifications that undo your previous contributions, other people may undo them in turn. The license does not guarantee your right to remove your contributions, and at the same time, the license does not forbid any attempts at removing your contributions.

The license does not say anything about attributions. Under copyright law you have the right to be named the author of any work you contribute. When the document is modified, such that your contribution is negligible, you no longer have a right to be named the author under copyright law.

The FreeWebsiteLicense does not protect slander, falsification, or copyright infringements. Contributors can be held responsible for their contributions. If the contributors can no longer be identified, the people responsible for the distribution of the document can be asked to modify the document, removing any offending contribution. This includes book publishers, editors, domain owners -- basically anybody with a sufficiently strong connection to the document. If you want to publish the document, you are advised that the document may contain undetected copyright infringements.


This license basically says that 1) the "source" must be available, 2) you can modify the document however you wish, provided that you release the modified version under this license, and 3) you can combine the document with others, if they are under the same license, or under the FreeDocumentationLicense (since you can always upgrade).



I think you've created a great license here; it would be too bad if it were forgotten just because there are already lots of competing licenses. While I know nothing at all about law, I know that there are lots and lots of different free software licenses (in both senses of the word), and university departments didn't seem to hestitate to create a new one to accomodate some small extra restriction or detail. I think you have to weigh the benefits of the license against the cost of it being new; I feel that this license delivers significant extra benefits.

The benefits are not only in the details. I agree that a wiki complying with the FDL seems possible albeit with paperwork. However, I get this feeling that you are going against the grain of the FDL when you do that; that worries me, because what if I have misinterpreted or overlooked some small legal detail? I would feel happier wiki-fying something with this Free Website License, because its intent clearly supports such an action. This is a big benefit.

Another benefit is that an author may license their work under the FDL but not really expect the kind of stuff to happen with it that would happen were it made into a wiki; if they had thought of such a scenario they may not have wanted it to happen. The clarity of the Free Website License may prevent this unhappy possibility.

If you really think it is unwise to have a license with only a few users, then the thing to do is not to drop it get the license adopted by some organization with sway (like RMS, but there are others). (of course, I don't expect you personally, or anyone in particular, to have the time or energy to devote to this little project, its just a suggestion for people in general.)

(and yes, I consider RMS an organization unto himself! but I guess I meant the FSF)

-- BayleShanks

Mike Widmer pointed out a negative aspect of creating new licenses: Go to SourceForge, and look at how many projects use each license. You will see many licenses that are used in just one or two projects. This is bad, because there are more legal risks involved (no precedents, no big user base).

I think you overestimate the problems of the FDL, as I did a few weeks ago. Why do you feel there must be paperwork involved? There is no need to assign copyrights. That would involve paperwork. This is not going against the grain of the FDL. RMS himself is advocating the use of the FDL for wikis.

You are right when you fear legal risks due to my interpretation of the FDL. I am not a lawyer, and such things get decided at court. But at court, the intent of the license will be examined, and I think the intent is quite clear: It is part of the preamble. Therefore all we need to do is explain how the intent is achieved, and how this applies to wikis, such that people do not need to read and understand every piece of the FDL. We need "executive summaries" for contributors, founder-wannabes, and content-copiers.

-- AlexSchroeder

By "paperwork", I meant the overhead of complying with the modification section, sorry; no actual paper is involved, just setting up static pages, etc.

"Going against the grain of the FDL" is of course a subjective term. I just get the feeling when reading it that authors want to have their name attached to derivations of their work. While we can fulfill this requirement technically on wikis, in actuality I forsee some bits of text getting so cut up and reassembled that the authors may consider it a perversion of their work, or, worse, bits and pieces getting copied from here to there until some bits of the author's work is not right next to their name. While this may be legally correct as long as each page has a link to some page that says "this wiki has taken bits from these FDLed works by the following authors: ", it wouldn't really preserve the author's desire for most readers to encounter their name before or at the same time that they see content from the FDLed work.

That being said, I don't feel this interpretation is correct enough that I think it would be unethical to put FDLed stuff on wikis, just enough that I feel less legally safe with it.

-- BayleShanks

When I talked this over with Mike Widmer, he was convinced that this is not a problem, because the user interface makes it clear that your name may be removed. But I need to talk it over with him. -- AlexSchroeder

Oh, if you contribute to an FDL wiki then I think it would probably be fine. I am worried about when someone writes FDL content in a non-wiki form and it is imported into a wiki. -- BayleShanks

I talked to Mike Widmer again and explained the parts about the founder being both author and publisher in the Free Document License, and the part about copying bits of text from the wiki. He then felt that I was really stretching it, and that perhaps cutting the license down to the really useful bits might be more appropriate (ie. the Free Website License). We will talk again, later. -- AlexSchroeder

I looked at the FDL for using it at LinuxWiki, but wasn't too happy with it, because it is really made for paper stuff and not for wiki content (and it is simply too long). Then looked at GPL and this didn't fit either. I even began making some GPLish license a few days before, but now I'll look at your license as you seem to already have done the work.

Thanks, that was something severely needed for wikis!

Some more comments:

-- ThomasWaldmann

As I said above, the current status is still unclear. My local expert, Mike Widmer, is pretty busy, and he remains undecided between the FDL and the FWL. I will talk it over with him ASAP.

-- AlexSchroeder

-- ThomasWaldmann

perhaps after another month or two for thinking of improvements to the license, we should petition the FSF; either formally (a petition which we sign), or informally (those interested could email them and post some comments in their discussion section).

by the way, what is the purpose of copyrighting the license itself and disallowing modification? it seems that the FWL may be an illegal derivative work of the FDL, which seems silly.

-- BayleShanks

Well, I had to start somewhere, and so I wrote a proposal -- a draft. The reason the license is copyrighted and not to be modified is obvious: Nobody is allowed to rip a document under the FDL, and then change the FDL. As to where we stand right now:

  1. I decided I wanted a much shorter license, wrote a proposal, and discussed it with RMS, Deepak Goel, and Mike Widmer.
  2. RMS and Mike Widmer asked me to look into the FDL some more. They felt that using a longer but well-known license had definite benefits. So I wrote some explanatory notes on how the FDL might apply to wikis.
  3. I showed my notes to Mike Widmer again, and then he was not so sure anymore. He felt that the sheer length of the notes indicated that perhaps we were stretching the FDL too thin.

Since this is a draft that I still want to propose to the FSF, the reference to the FSF stays in. I also read the ADDENDUM again. I feel that the four lines of license info are not too much to ask. If you look at the EmacsWiki, I think it all looks very reasonable.

We could make the license even shorter by disallowing opaque copies in the first place. Then distributing opaque copies would require an update to the FDL. I think that makes sense. Draft version 0.5 now does just that.

-- AlexSchroeder

I don't think we want to disallow opaque copies. what if someone wants to print a book?

i like it a lot so far. i feel it is too long, but i can't find anything much that could be cut.

-- BayleShanks

If you want opaque copies, upgrade to the GFDL. This is in section 2: "If you distribute Opaque copies, you must change the license to the GNU Free Document License as described in section 8." Perhaps we should stress that this license applies only to transparent copies... As to shortening it -- we could cut down on the explanations of the term "Transparent".

-- AlexSchroeder

We offer a "wiki-snapshot" at http://LinuxWiki.de/StartSeite - a full HTML-dump of all wiki pages for offline usage. As this is "machine generated HTML", one might see it as opaque copy. So this latest modification of the FWL might turn the FWL license useless for us if we want to continue offering snapshots for offline usage.

-- ThomasWaldmann

it doesn't make sense to ask people to upgrade to the GFDL if they present an opaque copy. The GFDL has more requirements than the FWL, requirements that don't have much to do with opaqueness (i think..).

and, as ThomasWaldmann noted, this makes things confusing if someone wants to offer opaque copies alongside transparent ones.

i think it's easier just to use the FDL's "if you distribute an opaque copy, you gotta make a transparent one available" language.

it might help to modify the "one year" requirement. i think the one year requirement is too harsh. one should have the freedom to put up a wiki using FWLed material, then forget about it and delete it should one want to in less than a year.

certainly one should not have to save every version of the wiki for one year. in addition, i think it's okay if you don't save any version. the thing to prevent is when you have and are using a transparent copy but you refuse to give it out.

i don't know how to say this though. maybe something like "for any opaque copy which you are currently distributing, you must offer access to a corresponding transparent copy. also, you may not deny others access to any transparent copies which you yourself are using to generate opaque copies." (but better phrased)?

-- BayleShanks

I do not understand the argument: If you upgrade to the GFDL, then you have to accompany the opaque copy with a transparent copy, or offer a transparent copy via the network. This seems reasonable: If you accompany the book with a CD, there is no need to keep a snapshot of the wiki around. If you print a book without CD, however, then a snapshot of the source used for the book is not much to ask for. If the ThomasWaldmann offers a snapshot of the wiki, all he has to consider is wether the HTML is for human consumption. If it is, then people can modify it, and all is good. It does not have to be the exact same database, it just has to be modifiable! So unless the HTML emitted is total crud, the snapshot of the wiki is not necessarily opaque. The texinfo snapshot of the EmacsWiki, for example, is most certainly not opaque. I think the FWL continues as useful as before. I also do not want to allow the scenario where somebody prints a book, and if people want to change part of the book and print it for themselves, they find that the latest copy of the wiki no longer contains the passage they are interested in. This scenario promises less freedom to readers of opaque copies. Finally, if somebody does in fact distribute opaque copies, I think dealing with the FDL is appropriate. The FWL does not have to cater to this rare case. All it must do it allow the upgrading.

-- AlexSchroeder

Okay, perhaps the one year thing is good enough. It's certainly not crucial that it be removed.

But why not just leave that in the FWL, rather than forcing conversion? The import of the GFDL having more requirements is this. If you have to convert to the GFDL for a book, then you are obligated to make a list of new authors, deal with a history section, etc, all the things that make the GFDL less than desirable. If we are starting with the presumption that these things may be too burdensome for a wiki, then the conclusion is that no wiki will be really be able to convert to GFDL.

In addition, the only way to really fulfill the GFDL-extra requirements is to do them from the start. If a wiki starts incorporating FWL-licensed documents without remembering which pieces of text came from where, it may be impossible at some future time to decide that you want to print a book of it; this would necessitating involking the GFDL provision for each piece of text that was copied in; but no one may remember which pieces were copied from where, or even which pieces were copies at all. So such a wiki would be locked out of even issuing an opaque copy.

So, unless the FWL itself includes the opaque copy provisions, ThomasWaldmann is not safe just offering a CD if his wiki has incorporated material licenced under the FWL. He must go back and determine where all such material came from and comply with the GFDL for each one.

Also, if books are given out, anyone who receives a copy of that book has less freedom than they could; they have GFDL freedoms, but not FWL freedoms. They must maintain a history section, etc. Freedom for downstream users is lost in the transition.

-- BayleShanks

Just wanted to state that I do not intend to make a book out of the wiki or making CDs of it.

But whether the HTML snapshot code is considered as opaque or not is a matter of taste and a matter of HTML knowledge. The HTML is automatically generated by the wiki engine. It is of course not intentionally obfuscated, but it is maybe not generated for the purpose to be especially pretty or easy to read or easy to modify - so it may happen that some readers (especially including lawyers and judges) would think that it *is* opaque.

So the FWL as is and the impossibility to fullfil GFDL requirements in a wiki / wiki snapshot would effectivly mean not being able to offer such a snapshot. This is more a restriction than ensuring freedom.

-- ThomasWaldmann

Perhaps you are right. But note that the GFDL also makes this distinction: "Examples of suitable formats for Transparent copies include ... standard-conforming simple HTML designed for human modification. Opaque formats include ... the machine-generated HTML produced by some word processors for output purposes only." Therefore I do not feel that the FWL has to tackle this problem.

As to preventing a snapshot of the wiki that is "opaque" without offering a transparent copy of the exact same content: Yes it is a restriction, because it disallows making unfree presents. It all depends on your definition of "free" -- a very common discussion on news:gnu.misc.discuss and related forums. The FWL makes a document free by giving its users rights. It does not make publishers free to publish whatever they want. So yes, the meaning of the term free has a very specific meaning.

-- AlexSchroeder

The one major problem with the GFDL, other than its ambiguity as to what defines the Document when talking about a website, is its inclusion of Invariant Sections. As has been pointed out at the GFDL comment page at gnu.org, Invariant Sections make the GFDL incompatible with the GPL, which is a major pain. Invariant Sections lead to a host of problems, in fact. Otherwise it's quite good, and does fit quite well with wikis. The one important thing that should be done to ensure compliance is to make sure (and this would be great if someone enfolded this functionality into the software) that there is a History section, as defined by the GFDL, which keeps track of the documents (and their authors) sourced by the wiki. But I can certainly sympathize with such a stripped down license as the FWL. I suspect it could be even shorter. --AnonymousDonor

As explained elsewhere, implementing a History section would preclude ForgiveAndForget, since it is a perfect AuditTrail. Some people don't want that.

Why the GFDL has to be compatible with the GPL I do not know. The many difficulties that make using the GFDL non-trivial are discussed on the FreeDocumentationLicense page.

If you think the FWL could be shorter, please be more specific.

-- AlexSchroeder

Where has the FWL gone? -- ThomasWaldmann


	       *draft* GNU Free Website License *draft*
		      Version 0.5, November 2002

 Copyright (C) 2002  Alex Schroeder
 Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies
 of this license document, but changing it is not allowed.


The purpose of this License is to make the content of a website, or
any other written document "free" in the sense of freedom: to assure
everyone the effective freedom to copy and redistribute it, with or
without modifying it, either commercially or noncommercially.

This License is a kind of "copyleft", which means that derivative
works of the website content or document must themselves be free in
the same sense.  It complements the GNU General Public License, which
is a copyleft license designed for free software.

We have designed this License in order to use it for publically
editable websites.  These often allow anonymous contributions and have
very low accountability.

You may switch the website or document to the GNU Free Documentation
License at any time, as detailed below.  We chose to design a new
license instead of adding further clauses to the GNU Free
Documentation License, because the GFDL is already rather complex.  A
new and simple license was needed.


This License applies to any website or other work that contains a
notice placed by the copyright holder saying it can be distributed
under the terms of this License.  The "Document", below, refers to any
such website or work.  Any member of the public is a licensee, and is
addressed as "you".

A "Modified Version" of the Document means any work containing the
Document or a portion of it, either copied verbatim, or with
modifications and/or translated into another language.

A "Transparent" copy of the Document means a machine-readable copy,
represented in a format whose specification is available to the
general public, whose contents can be viewed and edited directly and
straightforwardly with generic text editors or (for images composed of
pixels) generic paint programs or (for drawings) some widely available
drawing editor, and that is suitable for input to text formatters or
for automatic translation to a variety of formats suitable for input
to text formatters.  A copy made in an otherwise Transparent file
format whose markup has been designed to thwart or discourage
subsequent modification by readers is not Transparent.  A copy that is
not "Transparent" is called "Opaque".

Examples of suitable formats for Transparent copies include plain
ASCII without markup, Texinfo input format, LaTeX input format, SGML
or XML using a publicly available DTD, and standard-conforming simple
HTML designed for human modification.  Opaque formats include
PostScript, PDF, proprietary formats that can be read and edited only
by proprietary word processors, SGML or XML for which the DTD and/or
processing tools are not generally available, and the
machine-generated HTML produced by some word processors for output
purposes only.


You may copy and distribute the Document in any medium, either
commercially or noncommercially, provided that the license notice
saying this License applies to the Document, and a link to this
License are reproduced in all copies, and that you add no other
conditions whatsoever to those of this License.  You may not use
technical measures to obstruct or control the reading or further
copying of the copies you make or distribute.  However, you may accept
compensation in exchange for copies.  If you distribute Opaque copies,
you must change the license to the GNU Free Document License as
described in section 8.

You may also lend copies, under the same conditions stated above, and
you may publicly display copies.


You may copy and distribute a Modified Version of the Document under
the conditions of sections 2 above, provided that you release the
Modified Version under precisely this License, with the Modified
Version filling the role of the Document, thus licensing distribution
and modification of the Modified Version to whoever possesses a copy
of it.

The author(s) and publisher(s) of the Document do not by this License
give permission to use their names for publicity for or to assert or
imply endorsement of any Modified Version.


You may combine the Document with other documents released under this
License, under the terms defined in section 3 above for modified


Translation is considered a kind of modification, so you may
distribute translations of the Document under the terms of section 3.
You may include a link to a translation of this License provided that
you also include a link to the original English version of this
License.  In case of a disagreement between the translation and the
original English version of this License, the original English version
will prevail.


You may not copy, modify, sublicense, or distribute the Document except
as expressly provided for under this License.  Any other attempt to
copy, modify, sublicense or distribute the Document is void, and will
automatically terminate your rights under this License.  However,
parties who have received copies, or rights, from you under this
License will not have their licenses terminated so long as such
parties remain in full compliance.


The Free Software Foundation may publish new, revised versions of the
GNU Free Website License from time to time.  Such new versions will be
similar in spirit to the present version, but may differ in detail to
address new problems or concerns.  See http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/.

Each version of the License is given a distinguishing version number.
If the Document specifies that a particular numbered version of this
License "or any later version" applies to it, you have the option of
following the terms and conditions either of that specified version or
of any later version that has been published (not as a draft) by the
Free Software Foundation.  If the Document does not specify a version
number of this License, you may choose any version ever published (not
as a draft) by the Free Software Foundation.


You may opt to apply the terms of the GNU General Documentation
License instead of this License to the Document.  To do this, you must
alter all the notices that refer to this License, so that they refer
to the GNU General Documentation License, version 1.1, instead of to
this License.  (If a newer version than version 1.1 of the ordinary
GNU General Documentation License has appeared, then you can specify
that version instead if you wish.)  Do not make any other change in
these notices.

Once this change is made in a given copy, it is irreversible for that
copy, so the ordinary GNU General Documentation License applies to all
subsequent copies and derivative works made from that copy.

ADDENDUM: How to use this License for your documents

To use this License in a document you have written, include a link to
the License, and prominently display this license notice:

      Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this
      document under the terms of the GNU Free Website License,
      Version 0.4 or any later version published by the Free Software

If your document contains nontrivial examples of program code, or if
your website relies on specific software, we recommend releasing the
code in parallel under the GNU General Public License.


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