The Wikimedia marks represent the goodwill created by the many volunteers that make up the Wikimedia community. That is why internet users can trust that sites bearing Wikimedia marks contain free and neutral educational content developed by committed Wikimedians through good faith collaboration. Ensuring that the Wikimedia marks are only used consistently with our mission helps protect the community’s hard work and the reputation of the Wikimedia sites.
The decentralized nature of the Wikimedia sites allows passionate contributors all over the globe to serve the mission of free knowledge. The first interest is therefore to ensure that contributors can easily use the Wikimedia marks in their work. The second interest is to protect the reputation of the Wikimedia marks. The marks signify educational content generated through an open and collaborative process. The reputation of the marks is particularly important given that the content that they represent is delivered digitally over the internet and could easily be misrepresented to the unwary user.
In order to serve the Wikimedia community interests, we need to apply trademark law creatively. The principles of trademark law were not developed with our unique organizational model in mind. But our goal is to make trademark protection work smoothly for our community. The trademark policy therefore respects the demands of trademark law while facilitating the use of the marks by the Wikimedia community.
2. Why use trademarks?
Trademarks allow a user to trust her or his intuition that a mark she or he recognizes will in fact lead her or him to the work that she or he is seeking. Trademark protection is not an intellectual property right that can be established or sold separately from the work that it represents. It is nowhere near as restrictive as copyright or patent protection. Those doctrines have demanded that we adopt open license approaches—such as Creative Commons and GNU GPL—to make the law better serve our mission. There is no equivalent open trademark license that we can adopt. Yet the unique contours of trademark law allow us to creatively make it work in our favor. It allows liberal re-use of Wikimedia content, while preserving the integrity of the Wikimedia sites. Because of our distinct trademarks, readers will instantly know which educational material has been created in the wiki way by our community.
- 2.1 How trademark rights protect against misuse.
- Trademark rights help safeguard the marks that represent the Wikimedia movement from misuse. People may use the marks misleadingly because of the popularity of the Wikimedia sites. Some try to make their own websites or services more appealing by using our marks. Others misappropriate the marks or the general appearance of the Wikimedia sites to attract attention. But that attention is misguided because the marks are used to pass off work that is not genuine Wikimedia content. If we were to permit this, users may mistakenly believe that this inferior content was produced by the Wikimedia community and their opinion of the Wikimedia sites would dwindle.
- For example, nobody likes to see sham Wikipedia articles created solely to promote companies in a way that is inconsistent with our mission. Similarly, cybersquatters often try to register common misspellings and variations of the Wikimedia marks in domain names. They do so to redirect users looking for the Wikimedia sites to advertising and other unrelated content. They can, for example, lead users to sites designed to spread malware by encouraging them to click on a pop-up ad stating, "Congratulations! You are the millionth visitor!" They can also expose users to phishing scams by asking them to enter their password on a page that looks like a Wikimedia site. These are all examples of misuses that we can fight using trademark rights. We need to retain the right to pursue these kind of misuses to protect the hard work of the Wikimedia community.
- 2.2 The importance of free speech in the trademark doctrine ensures that the Wikimedia trademarks do not interfere with free knowledge.
- Our mission of sharing knowledge relies on and encourages free speech. Trademark protection can exist in this ecosystem, as the doctrine leaves a lot of room for speech-related activities. For instance, the unique fair use doctrine under trademark law allows any use of a wordmark in a non-trademark sense (i.e. when the word could mean something other than the trademark). Trademark law also has a "nominative use" doctrine. This doctrine allows free uses of a mark to refer to the item branded with that name. Finally, trademark law also embraces use of marks in art and political speech. This spectrum of free uses of a trademark distinguishes this body of law from intellectual property rights like copyright and patent.
- By employing trademark protection over the Wikimedia marks, we do not impede these types of uses by anyone. Our liberal approval of trademark requests will further ensure that community members can easily use the Wikimedia marks to promote the mission, even for non-fair use purposes.
3. How we maintain our trademark rights.
To preserve the Wikimedia trademarks for the movement, we need to monitor for misuses and carefully license the marks. Misleading uses can weaken the connection between a mark and the goodwill that it represents, potentially resulting in loss of trademark rights. It could cause us to lose our ability to protect against other misleading or abusive uses. This is why it is important to keep track of the uses of the Wikimedia marks and to take action against misleading uses.
Similarly, trademark law requires trademark holders to monitor the quality of the work that is allowed to carry the trademarks under a license. Failure to control the quality through a license and monitoring can result in "naked licensing," causing a trademark holder to lose its rights. It is therefore important to require a level of quality that reflects a quality of the Wikimedia sites and reputation.
4. Facilitating trademark uses that promote the Wikimedia mission.
While we have certain legal obligations, we don’t want trademark requirements to be an obstacle for the work of the Wikimedia community. The trademark policy seeks to facilitate the ease of licensing Wikimedia marks. Many uses are also specifically permitted by the trademark policy and don’t require separate permission. Other uses fall under the many fair use categories, which we also outline for users in the policy.
We are also thinking creatively about how we can make it easier for community members to use the marks to further the Wikimedia mission.
To that end, we have introduced a liberal solution in the trademark policy for particular uses of Wikimedia marks called the "Quick License." It is a Quick License because instead of requesting a license and waiting for it to be prepared, community members just need to fill it out and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. While the Quick License makes trademark use easier for common community uses, it includes some measures to maintain trademark protection of the Wikimedia marks. The license includes a quality control requirement and a reservation of a right to terminate the license if a mark is used in a way that is inconsistent with the Wikimedia mission.
5. What else is new?
Other than introducing a number of liberal solutions to assist community members in their work, the new trademark policy has very few substantive changes. We have focused on clarifying our trademark policy and practice as much as possible to make the use of the marks easier. Community members provided a lot of comments about trademark provisions that were previously ambiguous. We have worked to clarify those and other provisions in the new trademark policy and FAQs. We want the policy to be easily navigated and understood. We have therefore introduced a user-friendly summary at the beginning of the trademark policy that links to relevant provisions of the policy. We have also significantly expanded the FAQs and interlinked them with relevant provisions in the policy. The language of the policy and the FAQs was further tested under various readability indices to make sure that we wrote them in a straightforward way. Finally, we have introduced forms for requesting trademark licenses and reporting misuses that we hope will make those two processes smoother.
Back to trademark policy.