WMF trademark practices for QR codes and wikitowns

In this posting, we would like to share with you WMF’s practice going forward on the use of the Wikimedia trademarks for QR code-based or “Wikitown” projects. In the past, these projects have required negotiated trademark licenses with third parties like museums and towns. As some of you may be aware, we had been awaiting the results of the UK Wikimedia governance review, which was expected to address, in part, requests to WMF from two QR code projects using Wikimedia trademarks, Monmouthpedia and Gilbraltarpedia. That report has now been issued, and we have examined more closely our past practices and have assessed our resource capabilities. In light of this evaluation, we will continue to allow nominative, non-stylized use of the “Wikipedia” word mark, though we will not license other Wikimedia trademarks, like the stylized “Wikipedia” wordmark or the Wikipedia puzzle globe logo, to third-party organizations and governments in these cases. We set out some of our reasons below.

First, some quick background on QR codes (familiar to many of you, no doubt). A QR code is a type of barcode that can be scanned by a mobile device to quickly pull up encoded data, text and URLs. A display with a QR code may provide a short explanation to users of what the code will do and access, explaining essentially why the user should use the scan. For some, such a descriptive explanation, known as a “call-to-action,” may fall under certain QR code best practices.

QR code-based Wikipedia-inspired projects in museums, towns, and landmark sites often depend on a service to create QR codes (such as QRpedia) to redirect users to Wikipedia articles about objects or places of interest on their smartphones.[1] “Wikitowns” are towns or cities that place QR code plaques near that town’s notable locations to allow users to scan QR codes linking to relevant Wikipedia articles.

With this understanding, WMF will allow for “nominative” use of the non-stylized wordmark “Wikipedia” for QR code-based Wikipedia-inspired projects. That is, WMF will permit a plaque or label to make truthful nominative use of the word “Wikipedia” and display the text of the non-stylized word “Wikipedia” in a call-to-action. By “non-stylized,” we refer to the plain text version of the word “Wikipedia,” not the stylized version shown here.  That call-to-action may explain that the QR code will retrieve a Wikipedia article. Nominative use may include depiction of the non-stylized word “Wikipedia” within the context of a URL (such as shown here).[2] This limited use will not require a trademark license from WMF.

This practice is not uncommon within our community. For example, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis – which was a GLAM project – displays QR code plaques with the non-stylized but descriptive phrase “Wikipedia article”:

The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis QR Code Plaque

The Derby Museum and Art Gallery – another GLAM project – does not display any text on the QR plaques themselves, but rather posts QR code instructions in various locations throughout the museum utilizing the non-stylized word “Wikipedia,” as seen in the image below:

Derby QR Code

Derby Museum QR Code Instruction

In short, these “nominative” uses are allowed, but displaying Wikimedia trademarks, such as the stylized version of the “Wikipedia” wordmark or the Wikipedia puzzle globe logo, will not be permitted. We are also unable to permit incorporating elements of our brand’s visual identity (such as the stylized font and the capitalized “A”) to third-party project logos. We believe that displaying the non-stylized, nominative use version of the word mark “Wikipedia” is enough to enable QR code projects to accurately describe their links and to ensure the success of the projects.

Our primary reason for this decision is limited team resources. Simply put, the growth of QR code projects and Wikitowns – which are principally off-site projects – has begun to stretch our capacity to offer trademark licenses to these projects. Our movement’s logos have earned a favorable place in the public consciousness over the years through the hard work of the Wikimedia community, and trademark license agreements are necessary to enable us to protect the Wikimedia projects’ reputation and goodwill. But the process can be time-consuming and resource-intensive. After negotiating a trademark agreement with a third party organization or municipality, WMF must also ensure a mechanism to oversee ongoing compliance with our movement’s high standards and values, and ensure that the third-party use continues to reflect positively on the hard work of Wikimedia contributors. As we continue to see new QR code projects in an ever-expanding pool of museums, historical sites, cities, and towns, we are not able to continue to individually evaluate, draft and negotiate licenses for these projects, as well as to monitor the conditions over the lifetime of the project.[3]

In summary, the truthful limited “nominative” use of the Wikipedia word mark strikes a balance between: (1) the need to describe and identify the Wikipedia content accessed by QR codes for projects such as Wikitowns; and (2) the need to use WMF resources most efficiently against a number of competing priority issues and initiatives within the movement and the Foundation. As always, we thank the volunteer community for its enthusiasm, its dedication and its continuing cooperation as it builds one of the most recognized global brands identified with free information and open licensing.

 

Geoff Brigham, General Counsel
Rubina Kwon, Counsel

 


Footnotes

[1] Please note that the Wikimedia Foundation does not own or endorse QRpedia or any other QR code system. We encourage QR code systems that incorporate Wikimedia content to comply with applicable privacy, intellectual property and other laws. Nominative use of the word “Wikipedia” should never imply endorsement, ownership or responsibility by the Wikimedia Foundation for the use of a particular QR code system or its software.

[2] Of course, any nominative use cannot violate provisions of the WMF trademark policy.

[3] We also have learned about the involvement of paid consultancies in the context of QR codes and Wikipedia. WMF is not resourced to distinguish between trademark demands from paid consultants as opposed to those from full volunteers on these projects. We do note however that anybody requesting movement resources (including trademark licenses) from WMF, Wikimedia chapters or other movement entities must immediately and actively disclose the nature and extent of his or her financial interest to the decision-maker at the time of any request for those resources. See, e.g., Guidelines on the Disclosure of Conflicts of Interest in Requesting Movement Resources; Recommendations 29, 30, and 47 of the Review of Governance of Wikimedia UK.

 

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10 Comments on WMF trademark practices for QR codes and wikitowns

Sam Klein 1 year

This suggests we need to make trademark licensing less time-consuming and resource-intensive. How can we do this?

@Oop: community groups working with amazing and interested towns and museums certainly count as “very important”. These partnerships propose to be some of the most useful and long-lived in our movement.

@Benoit: such projects can be hosted on Wikimedia Labs, but to my knowledge the maintainers prefer their current hosting.

Oop 1 year

In Wikimedia Eesti, we have discussed all these matters already in the context of our own QRpedia town project. I can but recommend our solution for everyone else in this line of work: develop your own project name, trademark, logo etc, that wouldn’t include any trademark or design element that belongs to WMF. You won’t bother them, they won’t bother you. As far as I have seen, WMF legal team consists of very nice and interesting people, but I doubt they’d want to have a never-ending legal discussion about the applicability of U.S. legal norms in Estonia or vice versa, and honestly, neither do I when I’m busy. (Some other day behind a pint of beer, maybe.)

That said, I’d also suggest no one should be really surprised if the position expressed in this blog post will be read by many people as a disencouragement for cooperation with Wikipedia movement as a whole and WMF in particular. Because if put bluntly, the point would be “We’re busy; please don’t knock unless you’re very important”. One doesn’t have to like it, but life is unfair anyway.

Benoit 1 year

I may be missing something, but why it is not the Foundation who hosts and manages the system? Every year, QRpedia is increasingly popular with GLAM institutions around the world; this project is good for the encyclopedia, good for the community, good for the Foundation, good for institutions… so why the Foundation does not manage QRpedia?

It must be much more complicated than it looks, but does anyone know why? I’m currently developping QRpedia with some institutions in Canada and I really hope that this will not be an issue.

Fae 1 year

I expressed a view with regard to other “nominative” uses that were in line with Geoff’s approach explained in this blog post. I did not reach a legally meaningful conclusion, only that we should not all now be in fear of being prosecuted for using the words “Wikimedia” and “Wikipedia” in situations where one would not expect any legal issue.

If a teacher has the creativity to set up a school “Wikipedia Soc” and prints a t-shirt that simply uses that word, or a blogger writes a post on “Wikipedia and social capital” I do not expect them to feel they must ask for permission from WMF legal. I’m sure that it would be a poor use of resources all round were the general public to have that impression, or be given that advice.

James Alexander 1 year

Fae: that seems like a very different question and context then what is being discussed in the policy or Geoff’s comment… nominative use doesn’t include something that could give the appearance that you are associated with an organization etc. I am not a lawyer but I would hesitate to think you can draw any real conclusion to your issue from what was said here, different topics all together.

Fae 1 year

Thanks for the clarification Geoff. It seems in line with the way the Chapters Association lost our fear of calling ourselves the Wikimedia Chapters Association, even before the WMF is prepared to recognize us. In practice, the broader reading seems to be that commonsense can apply rather than getting overly dramatic about avoid the word marks “Wikimedia” and “Wikipedia”, and I would personally see commonsense drawing a line between using “Wikipedia” in a published sentence, in an article title, on a t-shirt or even in the name of an unincorporated social group, and using it in a website domain name or the title of a legally incorporated organization.

Fortunately anyone can test their commonsense by publicly explaining what they are doing or have done on wikimedia-l and asking for feedback, and copying in WMF legal if they feel really unsure where the line in the sand has been drawn.

As Andy mentioned, it does seem odd to use Derby Museum as the illustrative example and avoid mentioning Wikimedia UK or the fact that Wikimedia UK is going to be maintaining and becoming the legal owners of QRpedia.org.

I am writing spontaneously with my personal view, rather than in my role as the Wikimedia Chapters Association Council Chair or a Wikimedia UK trustee.

Geoff 1 year

Hi Powers, Liam, and others who have raised the issue,

Frankly you make a good point that I should have been clearer in my choice of the word “allow.” We are trying to cover our bases just in case nominative use laws in other countries have a narrower scope than U.S. laws. (For example “fair use” in the U.S. is defined differently in other countries or simply does not exist in some places.) To the extent, the laws are more narrow or restrictive (which may or may not be the case), I wish to convey that we will “allow” use of nominative use in those countries consistent with any potentially broader reading in the U.S. Of course, I said none of this and frankly could have chosen my words more carefully. Many thanks for bringing this to my attention. Geoff.

Rubina Kwon 1 year

FYI for those who wish to engage in more in-depth on-wiki discussions of WMF’s trademark licensing decision, one potential relevant space is the talk page for Wikiproject QRpedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia_talk:WikiProject_QRpedia#WMF_trademark_practices_for_QR_codes_and_wikitowns

Andy Mabbett 1 year

For all the reasons I explained to you in our lengthy conversation on this matter, as to why the use of logos and wordmarks – which has until now also been common, although you do not show that – should be allowed wherever possible, this is a very disappointing and retrograde step.

If the foundation should be supporting the work of the volunteer community, this appears to be the tail wagging the dog.

Further, your first footnote fails to mention that, as I’m sure you are aware, ownership of QRpedia is in the process of being transferred to WikimediaUK.

Powers 1 year

How kind of you to “allow” nominative use of the word “Wikipedia”, which I believe is legal in just about every reasonable jurisdiction. An attempt to prohibit the purely nominative use of “Wikipedia” would not likely get far in most courts.

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