Answers archive/November 2012

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Foundation: How does the Wikimedia Foundation support copyright laws?

The Wikimedia Foundation is dedicated to encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free, multilingual content, and to providing the full content of these wiki-based projects without charge. The operative word in that sentence is "free"; to quote the Wikipedia article on free content, this means that there can be "no significant legal restrictions on people's freedom: to use the content and benefit from using it, to study the content and apply what is learned, to make and distribute copies of the content, [or] to change and improve the content and distribute these derivative works." Accordingly, all user-generated content on the projects the WMF hosts is licensed for broad reuse, although a small amount of non-free content is permitted under fair use provisions in accordance with the Foundation's licensing policy. For more information, see the Wikimedia Foundation Terms of Use.

While the Wikimedia Foundation and its staff do not create or control content on the projects, as an online service provider based in the United States, it is subject to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). In compliance with the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Act, part of the DMCA, the Wikimedia Foundation has a designated agent that copyright holders or their agents can contact to have any content of theirs that is inappropriately used removed. The Wikimedia Foundation responds promptly to such concerns. But beyond that, the Wikimedia Foundation is proud of the diligence that the volunteers who run the projects bring to ensuring that their content meets the Terms of Use and licensing policy. They work hard to make sure that the content is free, and the Wikimedia Foundation is happy to facilitate that work where it can.

Each project has its own practices for evaluating content to make sure it complies. Taking the English language Wikipedia, for instance, new articles are reviewed through "new page patrol", with experienced volunteers looking for problems directly. They are also evaluated by an automated system created by and maintained by a volunteer that compares text strings against a search engine to look for copied language. If it finds anything, it flags the article as a potential copyright problem and leaves a message for the contributor explaining the project's copyright policies. (A brief overview of these, as regards text, can be seen at Wikipedia:Copy-paste.) The volunteers remove copied content unless it is public domain, compatibly licensed, or fits in. New additions to existing articles are reviewed by "recent change" patrol volunteers, who among other issues look for copyright concerns. Copied content they find is removed, and they educate the contributor who added it. Beyond their review, any reader or contributor can flag an article for having copyright problems, if a source is identified. (Wikipedia:CV101 is a brief overview of the processes.) There are a host of other processes they use for media, from removing blatant copyright problems to evaluating "fair use" claims. They also run an email system where they can receive and track licensing permissions that are sent by copyright holders who want to permit their content to be published on the site and where they can assist copyright holders who prefer to express concerns without going through the formal DMCA systems. Similar practices are conducted in other projects in other languages around the world. While the bulk of this work is undertaken by volunteers, the Wikimedia Foundation does what it can to support them, from assisting with funding when that automated system could no longer perform its website searches for free to providing legal background to volunteers seeking to refine their policies and practices. --Maggie Dennis (talk) 18:04, 19 November 2012 (UTC)