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From MeatballWikiCopyrightDiscussion

this version is provided for those interested in the historical discussion that let to MeatballWikiCopyright with as little taint as possible. The refactored, living version is at MeatballWikiCopyright.

This version came from the May 13, 2002 version of MeatballWikiCopyrightDiscussion.

Cliff has pointed out the need for a decent, open and free copyright policy before things get along too far.

There isn't a policy yet. When there is a set policy, it will be posted on a non-wiki page. (So nobody can add conditions like selling your children. :-) --CliffordAdams

Various policies I think are plausible follow. Please add your own and discussion.

Public domain

Everything posted on MeatballWiki is placed into the public domain.

You probably can't quite do that. From my reading, "public domain" status requires an explicit declaration from the author. (In some countries, even the original author can't sign away certain rights, like the right to attribution.) If you want to do that, you should probably make a very clear statement.

I think you can get close enough to this goal, however, with a good copyright policy. -- CliffordAdams (in an email to SunirShah)

This does have the advantage of being simple(r) in principle. -- SunirShah


All content is copyright MeatballWiki. All rights reserved. Anyone is permitted to use the content on this Wiki in any way provided this copyright notice is preserved and propagated prominently near the use.

This is the "give credit where credit is due" philosophy.


I find this policy overall weaker than it could be because of:

It's not in line with the realities of Wiki. People never respect ownership of work on Wiki. How many times do people email original authors and wait for explicit permission to delete their words? Indeed, for a community effort, individual ownership is an unwanted force.

However, it has some excellent parts too. Quoting:

And this part is debatable:

I probably just violated the copyright there... -- SunirShah

Summary of Solid Points


Basically, what I feel would make a good policy would include (not necessarily limited to; I'll think about it):

Does it make sense to give copyright to the "project?" Does anyone own the project? Cliff technically owns this Wiki (for good legal reasons too). Do I own Meatball itself? Does Meatball have to be a legally registered entity to assert ownership? I am not a lawyer, so this is above my head.

There will likely be a copyright policy for Meatball content itself, although for now it will all be "Wherever possible, the material is Copyright SunirShah. All rights reserved," until I can figure out what to do with it. Not that there is any Meatball content yet. I'll wait for insightful comments from those more knowledgeable than I.

Finally, Meatball asserts no copyright policy on subprojects until the Meatball "banner". Let them do what they feel is best. -- SunirShah

What about the right of authors to remove text they contributed?
Giving others the ability to edit your work without restriction. - Although I think I know what you mean, as drafted it makes me uncomfortable because it is so wide. For example, it suggests someone could replace my signature with their own, or they could insert the word "not" and reverse the meaning of a signed statement.

Some general points... under the BerneConvention (which the USA, UK and Canada are signatories to), original work is copyright the author automatically; that is the default position. The "right to be identified as author" cannot be assigned so you can never claim you wrote stuff you didn't.

There is a separate copyright in the collection of messages and you can reasonably stake a claim for that. You can use this to prevent other people copying the site as a whole. (This is what Ward does.) Also, if several people work on a paragraph they all have rights and you need permission from all of them to make copies. It becomes a "derivative work". This is what happens when you edit a page.

I think what you want is not so much the copyright as a limited and non-exclusive licence to do certain things. Those things you can list more or less explicitly, and for anything else you would need to seek fresh permission. For example, if we don't mention movie rights, they should/will belong to the author not the site.

I believe a degree of common sense may be assumed. Courts will make "reasonable" interpretations. For example, if you post stuff to the web it doesn't make sense to try to stop it being cached by browsers. Common practice and standards will apply. Courts are not as dumb as people sometimes make them out to be.

If you need to seek fresh permission to do something new, and you can't identify the original authors, that's tough. It means you can't ethically do whatever it is you wanted. Lack of a signature does not mean "anything goes".

How much of the law is actually enforcable is questionable, but I don't think that should affect this debate much. Specifically, it'll be hard for us to enforce our copyright unless we can prove we wrote the stuff, which we probably can't, but we should form policy as if we could. (And someone may surprise you by keeping notorised, dated copies of everything they wrote so that they can prove original authorship.)

In my view you should aim to minimise the rights the site has over the content, to what you need for the "usual" day to day running of the site. By default, I think this would certainly cover publishing the content as a web page with all that that implies. I think it would probably cover the Wiki-like editing and refactoring, moving the site to a new server and even mirroring. But not setting up a separate "Best Of Meatball" site, nor republishing content in book or magazine form.

I suspect if you want to do things like that safely, you need to get explicit permission in writing from the authors. Just having a paragraph somewhere that says, "Don't post unless you give permission" is not likely to stand up in court. You will probably have to prove the author read it, that it was the author who posted the content not someone else faking his ID, etc. Generally you need a lot of infrastructure to exploit the content like that.

A link on the edit page to the policy would be sufficient. One doesn't need to prove that signs are read, merely that they were prominently displayed.

To put it another way, I suspect that discussions like this, and "policy statements", can only clarify the existing situation. They can't change it; at least, not if the change involves taking rights away from original authors. -- DaveHarris

(Sunir below is commenting on an earlier version of the above, which was shorter and more personal. I rewrote it because I didn't like my tone. -- DaveHarris)

You should aim to minimise the rights SunirShah has over stuff that I write.

I totally agree. It is not acceptable to concentrate any control like that in my hands. I certainly don't want to feel like the "owner" of anything except the servers that I pay for and content that is clearly mine like my homepage and the engine behind TheProgrammersBooklist. TPB content is actually in the public domain.

A limited licence to copy within the site and within the WWW is necessarily implied by posting it to the site.

I don't think is sufficient. This limits the ability to edit. For instance, on UserName, I extracted statements from the argument between Richard and myself to build the PlusMinusInteresting. What would you recommend?

Copying "within the site" is reasonably implied by submitting the text. Copying "within the WWW" may be controversial. This is why I recommended that the policy state that the repository has the right to redistribute contributed works. --CliffordAdams

By "Within the WWW" I meant downloaded into browsers, and probably mirroring, but not copying onto a separate site. -- DaveHarris

Of the things I've been mulling over these days (as well have a lot of people by evidence of SlashDot) is how intellectual property works online. I do remember back in the mid 90's when people were threatening to sue over browser caches. Similarly, with universal editing, something has to give. -- SunirShah

Eventually DigitalSignatures will permit verifiable authorship and permission-granting in an easy and lightweight way, which will help. -- DaveHarris

I think something subtle was missed above--I was unclear in my original email to Sunir. I do not recommend that the site take ownership of contributions. The original author should retain ownership. However, by contributing the content to the site, the author should give the site an additional (non-exclusive) right to copy the content. I also think that it's important to claim rights for unsigned/anonymous editing.

Personally, I think the general "community" would be best served if the additional right is relatively broad, as it is on the C2/PPR wiki. If you don't want your content copied, edited, or possibly published in other media (like a mirror or a CD-ROM), then don't submit it, or submit only a link to offsite media. I'd love to have the Portland Pattern Repository wiki on a CD, and I believe Ward (as the PPR) could publish it. Much of the PPR content is already available through Wiki:WikiMirrors. Ward might not be able to do this if he hadn't claimed it as the site policy.

I mentioned this issue to Sunir since I've been thinking about my "ViewPoint" project. For ViewPoint, I plan to make it very clear that people can do extremely radical copying and editing. All contributed works could be used by any viewpoint, in ways that the original author may not agree with. Indeed, one planned viewpoint is a "pure idea" view which would strip all attribution from contributed works. I don't expect everyone will like that policy, and I don't want people to contribute unless they can live with it. --CliffordAdams

I don't see anything thing in Ward's Policy (at http://c2.com/ppr/about/copyright.html, not Wiki:WikiCopyRights) which allows him to republish on CDROM. It's actually pretty limited. -- DaveHarris

After rereading the policy I'll agree that Ward's rights do seem limited. I think he would get away with a CD if it was a publication of the PPR, but a court might think otherwise. --CliffordAdams

I am not personally concerned much about republishing on a CD-ROM, although that is an interesting concept. I am concerned about moving material off of MeatballWiki and onto other Meatball related sites. Technically, MeatballWiki is independent of other Meatball material. It's also unclear what constitutes a Meatball site and what is merely affiliated with Meatball in some way.

I'd also like to state that I'm not really keen on talking about copyright policies because it's not really important right now. However, since it will be important and there's no other time to deal with it than now, it must be done. sigh...

Anyway, now to make some real points. Quoting DaveHarris:

But not setting up a separate "Best Of Meatball" site, nor republishing content in book or magazine form.

I wonder about this. It is common enough practice to archive interesting threads to newsgroups. For instance, news:comp.ai.games has the Influence Mapping thread archived and Strategy and Tactics. If material is otherwise "out there", is repackaging that material illegal and--more importantly--unethical? Also, preventing wholesale or partial reproductions of the site is ridiculous; search engines and archivers quite happily violate this constraint. AttritionDotOrg?, DejaNews?, Google...

Also, it is not really impractical to ask people to adhere to looser copyright policies. The International C Echo on Fidonet (C_ECHO) asserts the requirement that all source code must be accompanied by a copyright banner that suggests either the code is in the public domain or is freeware. The sole license agreement of propogating the copyright banner is permitted, but no "for non-commercial use" or any of that. It's a good policy, people adhere to it without complaining and it isn't too much to ask.

Basically, I'd think that if you want to write material that you want to own, this isn't the place to do it. Post it on your own server and link to it from here. -- SunirShah

I think I have figured out the perfect precedent to rely upon: If MeatballWiki is a daily published journal (as it claims to be), submissions to the journal are in the same class as letters to the editor. All original material submitted to the journal is considered property of the journal. All previously published material maintains its copyright, but that must be compatible with the copyright of the journal.

Thoughts? I'm just allergic to throwing a carrot and yanking it back at the last minute. -- SunirShah

Good metaphor, and it partly jives with what I meant by "common sense". Obviously a letter knowingly sent to an editor is "for publication" unless marked otherwise, and obviously something posted here will be published onto the web.

I am not sure whether the letter is truly considered "property of the journal" in the wide way your phrasing implies. For example, if I wrote a letter to The Times I would be surprised to see it published in The Sun even if both papers had the same owner. I'll ask some lawyer types about this and report back. -- DaveHarris

A CopyrightTrap might be harmful to the quality of the WikiForum. -- FridemarPache

Certainly the site should not claim exclusive ownership. On the other hand, however, giving one's work to the site may encourage a community spirit. There are better places to post personal or commercial web pages. If a wiki owner chooses to accept only "given" pages, I think that would be a reasonable policy. --CliffordAdams (who is passing the buck to Sunir)

Post it on your own server and link to it from here. - I don't think this is feasible for day to day contributions. It wouldn't be practical for me to publish this paragraph from my own web site and link to it from here. In practice it will be close to a binary choice - accept the policy, or don't contribute.

the general "community" would be best served if the additional right is relatively broad - If you grab too many rights, some people will refuse to contribute. You have to balance opposing forces here. The "community" might be better off with fewer rights but more people willing to take part. -- DaveHarris

One certainly needs to choose one's audience. Many people are uncomfortable with the concept of people changing other people's words. I'm sure a few people would rather have a moderated/edited forum than the current openness of Wiki (if only to remove the WikiOnWiki). Not everyone will be happy (until ViewPoint ;-).

Regarding the "binary choice"--it already happens today. If you post messages to public forums you may not be able to remove them. (For instance, SlashDot doesn't let you remove your postings, at least if you post as an "Anonymous Coward".) If you want control over your work, a wiki is a rather poor choice for making it available. (At least on SlashDot your content would remain intact in the archives.) On the other hand, if you like the original idea of Wiki:DocumentMode, the development of ideas without asserting control and ownership, then a wiki is a fine choice.

In practice, I hope that there will be enough people willing to share their ideas and views without insisting on control. I would rather not have to worry about editing pages without permission. Not everything should be on a publically writable wiki, however--see the Wiki:OrgPatterns site for an example of a restricted wiki-like site.

A good policy should make clear what kinds of contributions are wanted, and not surprise people after they have invested significant time. I apologize to anyone who has wasted their time here, and anyone who thought the policy was clearly different than that envisioned by myself and Sunir. --CliffordAdams (who will leave the final decision to Sunir)

It was a general point about the trade-off, not an argument against any specific policy. -- DaveHarris

After a lot more thought, I would be content to leave the copyright in its default status. After all, if anyone cares enough to make an issue, the only safe thing to do is to delete that person's content from the site. (Personally, I would delete all of their content, and suggest they find a web hosting provider.) I brought up the issue because I was thinking about ViewPoint's eventual policy, which will allow practically unrestricted copying (including other media). See ViewPointCopyright for what I hope to encourage in that project. --CliffordAdams

This statement has generated some controversy, and I'd like to clarify a few things. First, by "make an issue" I meant a legal issue (like a lawsuit). After all, if a user doesn't want their content to remain in the wiki, they can simply remove it. I encourage vigorous discussion, but not actions which threaten the availability of the site for anyone. By "delete all of their content" I mean that if a person cares to sue me, then I don't believe I'm obligated to keep providing wiki services to them. Finally, I wouldn't take permanent action without consulting Sunir. --CliffordAdams

Thanks guys; I really appreciate the input. I'm starting to consolidate your advice into a policy (at least in my head). I'll write something clear down very shortly. For what it's worth, I'd once again like to point out that the copyright policy on MeatballWiki is independent of the copyright policy of Meatball itself. That's an entirely separate issue and needs to be dealt with again. But we'll do that later.

I'm aiming for a broad fair use policy. That is, copyright belongs to you, but the site will reserve some rights in the name of fair use. This will include editing, deleting, copying, etc. plus the ability to archive (timestamped) snapshots of content and publish those on a separate server. That's for some special cases like FAQs and How Tos that would be nice to distribute on the net. Those will have restrictive licenses (don't alter or republish; just distribute). I believe that's fair--it's a nice community donation to the larger community of the net plus it's good marketing. ;) And that's as far as the "broad" part goes.

In the event of a dispute, the site would suggest the following recourses:

(Note: I don't like the tone of the above; I don't want to be confrontational. Maybe I just won't mention it until necessary, but reserve the necessary rights. Input here would be appreciated.)

The site also maintains a copyright on the collection of material. This copyright will not be extended, so no duplications of the site will be acceptable. Hence the necessity for the archiving (because it's nice).

Regarding citations, the site should also be considered a daily webjournal with myself as the editor. Currently, the "publisher" title is confused between Cliff and I. i.e. we keep passing the buck back and forth. ;) Thus, I recommend making Meatball the publisher. Archived pages will be considered "back issues" of the site; archived material will be considered a new collection of the above material, I suppose. (??) -- SunirShah (enjoying the theoretics of this more than anything!)

By the way, the above section is kind of moot. I've written the new MeatballWikiCopyright which does not necessarily reflect what I wrote above. Frankly, comparing the two gives me a headache, so just pretend that I didn't really mean any of the above. --ss

Another solution may be similar to HammondWiki:HammondWikiCopyrightIssues. Use the OpenPublicationLicense.

I have just upgraded the legal verbiage of the MeatballWikiCopyright to be more legally correct. Also, it is not legal nor natural to assume ownership of anonymous material, so that provision has been dropped. Finally, I'm not going to be happy to get sued because Joe Random User posts a link kiddie porn or DeCSS?, hence the limitation of responsibility. -- SunirShah

Right now, on WikiWiki, much material on religion is being moved to Wiki:WhyClublet, including some words of my own. Now I really understand why preserving copyright is important. While I have nothing against the clublet itself, I do not really want things I've said about religion (or politics) being moved around without my knowledge. Those topics, as you know, are contentious and easy to misrepresent. Anyway, I asked to be decredited for my comments and they have graciously agreed. But if you agree with KeithBraithwaite on [1], then my wishes may not have been necessarily respected if worst came to worst (anally, er, legally speaking). -- SunirShah

The Stanford University Libraries have a good site on "Copyright & Fair Use" at [2]. It has links to several current laws (at least as of 1997), and several explanations and overviews of copyright law.

At [Wikipedia], we are making use of the GNU Free Documentation License. Without getting all "free software holy war" on you, it is worth noting that your existing license doesn't really qualified as "free" or "open source" under standard definitions.

Of particular importance is the right to copy, MODIFY, and redistribute. In a sense, that's the essence of what we do on a wiki. There can be no guarantee that 'authorship' will be respected _within_ a given wiki, so why should we try to enforce _among_ different wikis?

Even copying and _giving credit_, which is easy to do in non-wiki contexts, is problematic in the wiki world. If someone copies an article from Wikipedia and into another wiki, then even if I ask them to reference us, as a practical matter we know that upon repeated revisions, the original credit will vanish.

To some extent, Wikis simply can not be about "taking credit" for one's work. This is very different from a project like Nupedia, in which authorial credit is a very big deal.

So, I'm here to encourage you, and all Wikis, to use a very open licensing strategy, and we should _in particular_ use a strategy that is "viral" in the sense of GPL vs BSD, and _free_, including (radical even for GNU) giving up the idea that we will be properly credited.

We provide even more freedom than that. We make no condition on licensing of content, leaving all such choices to the author. (Fortunately, most MeatBall authors seem to be quite generous. :-) We merely stipulate that authors provide MeatBall a license to distribute their content. Authors wishing to provide their contributions under an open-content license need merely indicate such.

Shouldn't we modify the text to read that MeatBall is granted a non-exclusive, royalty-free license? Some other license I've seen adds the word perpetual and universal in there, too.

This is less "activist" than OpenContent, GPL, etc. But it is in better keeping with our strong academic roots, which date back centuries rather than decades. -- anon.

What does non-exclusive mean? -- SunirShah

That we cannot claim exclusive use of people's contributions. I.e., if a contributor here grants use of their contributions to some other entity, this provides assurance that we cannot stop them from making use of it.

I'll make the changes. I have qualms changing the policy to be anything but a restatement of existing law, but I think these are acceptable. I will not put "universal" in the main policy because people have the right to remove their works, ala a WikiMindWipe. Sure, it's not very nice, but it's fair. But I will copy the AndStuff:AndStuffCopyright?'s use for the archive clause. -- SunirShah

But on WikiMindWipe, it states as a possible defence: "It is also appropriate to edit the pages so the WikiMindWipe instigator's contributions are anonymous". How can this be accounted for if authors own their contributions and are free to removed them?

Sure, but no one said they were exerting their copyright when removing them. They could simply be removing them, even with a WikiMindWipe, and that could simply be vetoed like any other edit. Copyright is a heavy club; it's only used when necessary, so we shouldn't assume it's being used always. -- SunirShah

I guess since IDs can be faked, WikiMindWipe can be treated like any other vandalism. WikiMindWipe leaves ugly scars, whether in a documentation wiki or a discussion Wiki. I was wondering if there could be a way to protect against it if a writer did invoke their copyright when wiping.

Well, there is always FairUse. If they wrote it, you can quote it--to some degree. In some ways, everything we write here is a "quote". That's part of the reason we sign with a double hyphen. It's typographically one way of citing a quote. -- SunirShah

CategoryCopyright, CategoryWikiTechnology -- well, whatever


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