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News from the Wikimedia Foundation and about the Wikimedia movement

Posts by Rubina Kwon

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.