Press releases/Dual license vote May 2009

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Wikimedia Foundation announces important licensing change for Wikipedia and its sister projects

Adoption of Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License will support greater interoperability and re-usability of Wikimedia content. The current GNU Free Documentation License will continue to be supported.

May 21, 2009

San Francisco, California -- Earlier today the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees passed a resolution that will bring about significant changes to the way the content of the Wikimedia Foundation projects, including Wikipedia, will be licensed. This resolution follows a vote among the international Wikimedia community. More than 17,000 votes were cast, with strongest participation in English, German, French, Russian, Spanish, Polish, Italian, and Chinese. 88% of all voters who expressed an opinion supported the change.

All Wikimedia content can be used for any purpose, as long as proper credit is given and modifications are made available under the same terms. This open access approach to copyright is supported using a license which explicitly grants everyone those freedoms. The decision will result in all of the Wikimedia Foundation's projects moving from the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) to the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License (CC-BY-SA) as their primary content license. The GFDL, which has served Wikipedia since its inception, will continue to be supported where possible, but not to the detriment of interoperability.

The licensing change means that all Wikimedia project content will be more interoperable with existing CC-BY-SA content and easier to re-use. "The volunteers who work on Wikimedia projects have very strongly supported making their contributions available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License (CC-BY-SA) in addition to the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL)," said Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees Chair, Michael Snow. "Updating our license terms will support Wikimedia's charitable mission, by making our projects legally compatible with others that have chosen the CC-BY-SA license. Our free information and educational content can be shared more readily and will be easier for everyone to use."

Wikipedia has historically been licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, which was developed for software documentation by the Free Software Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Richard Stallman, with a worldwide mission to promote computer user freedom and to defend the rights of all free software users. At the time of Wikipedia's inception in 2001, it was one of the few licenses available for works other than software which focused on granting freedoms to re-use and re-distribute information.

Since their creation in 2002, the Creative Commons licenses have provided a practical and simple means for authors to choose licenses that grant broader freedoms than publication under normal copyright. They have since seen strong adoption in science, education, photography, music, and many other areas. Major search engines, photo sharing sites like Flickr, universities, archives and libraries have all begun supporting the Creative Commons licensing model, and the idea of a culture which grants broad freedoms to remix and re-use information has become mainstream.

Lawrence Lessig, the founder of Creative Commons, offered the following comment on the announcement of the licensing decision: "Richard Stallman's commitment to the cause of free culture has been an inspiration to us all. Assuring the interoperability of free culture is a critical step towards making this freedom work. The Wikipedia community is to be congratulated for its decision, and the Free Software Foundation thanked for its help. I am enormously happy about this decision."

Because Wikipedia's license was chosen by project founder Jimmy Wales when Creative Commons hadn't yet been created, Wikipedia's early commitment to free sharing and free re-use has actually worked against legal interoperability. Moreover, because the GNU FDL was designed for software documentation, some of its requirements (such as the requirement to include a copy of the license text with each copy) have encumbered re-use of Wikipedia content. The licensing update was possible because the Free Software Foundation agreed to modify the GNU Free Documentation License in November last year.

As the decision to re-license was approved by both the Wikimedia volunteer community and the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, the organization is now taking steps to update all its licensing terms through June. With the dual-license system in place, content can be further re-used under either the GFDL or the CC-BY-SA license, but the GFDL will be dropped from content objects where this is necessary to support remixing it with existing CC-BY-SA content.

Questions and answers regarding the license change.

For more information about the community vote on the licensing change:

About the Wikimedia Foundation

The Wikimedia Foundation is the non-profit organization which operates Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. According to comScore Media Metrix, Wikipedia and the other projects operated by the Wikimedia Foundation receive more than 300 million unique visitors per month, making them the 4th most popular web property world-wide. Available in more than 265 languages, Wikipedia contains more than 12 million articles contributed by a global volunteer community of more than 100,000 people. Based in San Francisco, California, the Wikimedia Foundation is an audited, 501(c)(3) charity that is funded primarily through donations and grants.

Questions and answers regarding the license change.

Press contact:

Jay Walsh, Head of Communications
Wikimedia Foundation
+1 415-839-6885, ext 609
jwalsh(at)wikimedia.org