I am happy to announce that we have completed the most collaborative, interactive drafting of a proposed terms of use for any major website.   For more than 120 days, the Wikimedia community reviewed, drafted, and redrafted with more than 200 edits modifying the original proposal.  While accumulating 19,000 page views, community members offered comments, edits, and rewrites.  Complete or partial translations appeared in 20+ languages.   With over 4500 lines of text and as many words as Steinbeck’s classic “The Grapes of Wrath,” discussion helped ensure a thoughtful process.

These proposed terms of use are intended to replace our present version. It is not commonly known that our present terms are nothing more than a licensing agreement, not traditional terms of use. The new proposed terms of use represent a step forward and a more comprehensive view of the Wikimedia projects.  Among other things, they provide for:

  • Better understanding:  The proposed agreement includes an easy-to-read template summary to help facilitate understanding of the terms.
  • Stronger security: The proposed agreement prohibits a number of actions – like installing malware – that could compromise our systems. We thought we should be clear as to what is unacceptable in this area, though most of these restrictions will not be surprising or represent any real change in practice.
  • Clearer roles: We have heard a number of community members asking for guidance, so we set out clearly the roles and responsibilities of the community, including editors and contributors.  The proposed agreement also seeks to provide guidelines to help users avoid trouble.
  • More community feedback: With this version, and with each major revision afterwards, we want the community to be involved. So the proposed agreement gives users at least a 30-day comment period before a major revision goes into effect (with Board approval). There is a 3-day exception for urgent legal and administrative changes.
  • Clearer free licensing: We feel our present agreement is somewhat confusing on the free licensing requirements. The proposed agreement attempts to explain more clearly those requirements for editors (without changing existing practices).
  • More tools against harassment, threats, stalking, vandalism, and other long-term issues: The proposed agreement would make clear that such acts are prohibited. Novel for us, the agreement raises the possibility of a global ban for extreme cross-wiki violations, a need that we have heard expressed from a number of community members.  While the global ban is authorized by the terms of use, it will be implemented by community policy.
  • Better legal protection: The proposed agreement incorporates legal sections that are commonly used to help safeguard a site like ours, such as better explanation of our hosting status as well as disclaimers and limitations on liability for the Foundation.

If you’re interested in more detailed reasons why we are proposing updated terms of use, you can find a thorough discussion here.  Suffice it to say, we are consistent with other like-minded organizations, which have incorporated similar agreements, including Internet Archives, Creative Commons, Mozilla Firefox, Open Source Initiative, Project Gutenberg, Linux Foundation, StackExchange, WikiSpaces, and WordPress.com.

Specifically, in its more than 320 printed pages of discussions, the community raised, discussed, and resolved more than 120 issues.  There were many substantive and editorial changes that greatly improved the document.  Much language was deleted or tightened at community request.  As part of this process, the community addressed a number of interesting topics, such as:

  • Whether we should emphasize that the community (not WMF) is primarily responsible for enforcing policy:  We agreed to underscore this primary responsibility of the community to avoid any confusion.
  • Whether we should include an indemnification clause to the benefit of WMF:   We chose to delete it in light of community concerns.
  • Whether we should adopt a “human-readable” version to facilitate understanding:  We agreed to incorporate such a summary.
  • Whether we should expressly prohibit linking to certain sites:  We chose not to, deleting earlier language unacceptable to the community.
  • Whether we should require civility and politeness:  With varying views, we decided to “encourage” it.
  • Whether the WMF should provide resources to support forks:  We chose not to address this now, though we agreed to highlight the discussion to the Board for its consideration.
  • Whether we should emphasize the independent roles of chapters:  We chose to do so.
  • Whether we should increase the liability limitation for WMF from $100 to $1000:  We answered affirmatively.
  • Whether we should provide for additional comment time after the posting of translations in three key languages:  We said “yes” to address international community concerns.

From a process standpoint, the legal department will circulate the proposed terms of use within the Wikimedia Foundation internally, and then the department anticipates recommending their adoption to the Board.  We expect the Board will take some time to review before reaching a final decision.

Needless to say, this project would have been impossible without the hard work and expertise of our community. Through their tireless effort, the community mentored important and deep discussions on critical subjects for Wikimedia.  The process forced us to think about issues that we had never addressed directly. In short, the value of collaboration quickly became obvious. Its magic created a document many times better than the original.


Geoff Brigham, Wikimedia Foundation


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