Wikimedia blog

News from the Wikimedia Foundation and about the Wikimedia movement


Luis Villa: “I wanted to be an Internet lawyer”

Around legal circles, the Wikimedia Foundation is often seen as a curiosity. With a fraction of the staff of other top ten websites, the Foundation arguably does more with less. The core of this complex apparatus consists of two indispensable parts − a strong volunteer community and an equally dedicated legal staff.

Luis Villa

As deputy general counsel, Luis Villa is at the forefront of this eclectic mix that combines traditional legal counsel with community advocacy that stretches across 700+ communities. With a year under his belt at the Wikimedia Foundation, he feels that he’s doing what he always wanted to do. “Out of law school I told someone at my summer job that I wanted to be an Internet lawyer,” says Villa. “He basically said there’s no such thing, but now I have that job!”

Luis’ interest in law and technology go as far back as high school, recalling the United States vs. Microsoft court proceedings as a moment that ignited a curiosity in him for politics and technology. Embracing his passions, he pursued a degree in Political Science and Computer Science at Duke University. “When I started studying computer science and political science in 1996, those were two separate things,” Villa explains. “I was interested in political philosophy and I was interested in computers and I didn’t really think the two had much overlap.” It wasn’t until he read Lawrence Lessig’sCode and other Laws of Cyberspace” that he realized how much overlap there was between the two.

His first job was in quality assurance for Ximian, scoping out bugs and figuring out why things were crashing. While at Ximain he worked extensively on the GNOME open source project doing quality assurance − eventually becoming a board member. He went on to work at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society as a “geek in residence” at Harvard. After a comprehensive search into a variety of institutions with a strong intellectual law faculty, he enrolled at Columbia Law School, graduating in 2009. Before working at a law firm, he spent a year at Mozilla, leading the project to revise the Mozilla Public License. Luis later joined Greenberg Traurig, participating heavily in the Google Oracle lawsuit. While at Greenberg he became an outside counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation. With a background well tailored to the Foundation’s goals and needs, Luis eventually made the decision to join the Foundation full-time as deputy general counsel.


Supporting innovation beyond the traditional IP regime: Using Wikipedia as a model

Michigan State College of Law Professor Sean Paper responds to comments on his presentation during the “Cultural Production Without IP” panel.

Intellectual property (IP) rights like copyrights, patents and trademarks are given to scientists and authors to reward them for their contributions to the arts and sciences. These exclusive rights allow them to monetize their work. But piracy and the sale of goods that infringe IP rights are steadily increasing. From 2000 to 2007, trade in counterfeit and pirated products increased 7.6% among all globally-traded commodities – and this number excludes all electronic piracy.[1] In the European Union alone, customs agents intercepted almost 40 million infringing articles trying to be imported into the member states in 2012.[2] Yet, despite the profit loss that undoubtedly comes with infringement, scientists and artists continue to create signalling that (1) economic incentives are not the only driving force behind innovation, and (2) laws outside IP are supporting this innovation.

On Sunday, March 30th, the Information Society Project (ISP) [4] at Yale Law School hosted the Innovation Law Beyond IP conference to explore these issues. The event brought together some of the most reputable scholars in IP to discuss how the law can be used to promote innovation outside the context of private IP rights. The discussion centered around the trends of innovation already occurring without IP protection and looked to develop areas of law that can play a positive role in supporting innovation beyond the domain of IP law. Wikimedia Legal Fellow Manprit Brar followed this discussion to think about what lessons can be learned for Wikimedia’s legal work.

Yale Law School Professor Amy Kapczynski opened the conference by framing the discussion of innovation law as having no one focus. She discussed the many alternative areas of law to IP that are used to help sustain and encourage innovation, including:


Celebrating women and change in IP

Picture of presenters and the audience at WIPLA’s IP Year in Review: Trends and Developments of 2013 conference.

An official holiday in over 25 countries, International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8th with Wikipedia edit-a-thons focused on expanding articles on women, statements from United Nations organizations, conferences and even a Google Doodle.

In conjunction with the holiday, The Women’s Intellectual Property Lawyers Association (“WIPLA”) hosted a timely panel of impressive female attorneys from some of the most influential organizations in Silicon Valley to discuss the latest developments in intellectual property law. WIPLA’s mission is aligned with the goals of International Women’s Day as the organization focuses on supporting and empowering female lawyers within the often male-dominated intellectual property field, [1]

Intellectual property law is a dynamic field that is constantly changing as courts and lawmakers work their way around new technologies and scientific breakthroughs. The panel discussed an array of the most significant topics in the areas of trademark law, patent law and trade secrets law. One of the women on the panel was Wikimedia’s Legal Counsel, Yana Welinder, who presented on trademark developments. Below are some highlights from the panel’s presentations.

Recent Developments in Trademark Law: ICANN releases new top level domains

Trademark holders are facing new challenges with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ (ICANN) approval of new top level domains. [2] So now, instead of being restricted to only 22 generic top-level domains (gTLDs) like .org or .com, you will be able to register your site with up to an additional 1400 gTLDs like .book, or .ninja, once they are issued. ICANN hopes to enhance competition and communication on the Internet with the introduction of these new gTLDs. But the introduction of 1400 new gTLDs brings with it a greater potential of cybersquatting, forcing trademark holders to buy the gTLDs related to their trademarks, regardless of whether they ever plan to use them.


Taking the stage: How we entered the Brussels Bubble

Big Fat Brussels Meeting April 2013. 1st meeting of EU-Policy Working group

Spring’s here again and we’re calling everyone to a strategy meet-up in Brussels! Join us in constructing our strategies and charming our way into EU policy-makers hearts and minds! Wikimedians along with all Free Knowledge enthusiasts are invited to help figure out our next steps in Europe. Prior knowledge about the Wikiverse or the intricate advocacy system is not necessary – diverse points of view produce better results!

Grouping the activists

At the first first Big Fat Brussels Meeting we discussed the inadequateness of the current copyright framework and focused on making some defining organizational decisions. As a result, a contact person in Brussels was implemented to monitor the EU, provide political intelligence, serve as a go-to point on EU issues within the Wikiverse and build up a network with other locally active organizations.

To establish our thematic focus, we mapped relevant issues (kudos to Anna Lena Schiller) and ran them in a community survey. The final step was to write out – as a group of European Wikimedia Chapters – a Statement of Intent, which was afterwards approved by the respective boards. This was done in London at the Wikimedia UK offices and will perhaps one day be considered the founding document of the Free Knowledge Advocacy Group EU. The whole process can be regarded as an effort to define our goals, as well as define those who will help achieve it.

Activating the group

The Free Knowledge Advocacy Group EU monitored and analyzed exciting topics like net neutrality and data protection for their possible effects on Wikimedia projects. We were also challenged to appear on stage on a few occasions: We drafted model answers for the European Commission copyright consultation, requested a study on the “economic benefits of the public domain and open licensing to the European economy” and tried to save (+here) the Collective Rights Management Directive in a last minute attempt.

Wikimedia Participates In EU Copyright Consultation

European Commission flags

In May of 2013, the European Commission asked the public to answer eighty questions about the future of copyright in the EU. Topics addressed ranged from copyright term length to limitations and exceptions for user-generated content. In each area, a variety of different questions were asked, but many boiled down to “does the current system work?” and “if it doesn’t work, how would you improve it?”

The Wikimedia movement took a two-part approach to answering the questionnaire. In one part, a group of European chapters met to draft a set of responses. This response was submitted to the EC by the chapters, and also made available for community members to edit and submit on their own through

In the second part, the WMF legal team posted the questionnaire on Meta to gather input from community members. We combined those answers with the work of the European chapters, as well as other related advocacy groups to create a unified response. This was submitted to the EC by the WMF on behalf of the broader WMF community.

The responses were diverse, depending on the subject of the question, but several key themes came up repeatedly:

  • the costs created by copyright laws that are not consistent across the EU, such as those on Freedom of Panorama;
  • the benefits to creativity and creators that would come from stronger copyright exceptions and limitations;
  • opposition to extending the term copyright protection, or extending it to new rights like data mining; and
  • explaining how the publishing of creative works is no longer limited to a handful of people, and how that impacts copyright policy.

We hope the European Commission will take these points to heart as they consider what changes to make in any upcoming copyright law reforms. And we are grateful to everyone who participated in drafting these answers – we look forward to continuing to work together to develop and preserve laws that enable the free knowledge movement.

Luis Villa, Deputy General Counsel, Wikimedia Foundation

A Proposal for Wikimedia’s New Privacy Policy and Data Retention Guidelines

Shields, circa 1870

Privacy policies play a vital role in protecting the privacy of users. At the Wikimedia Foundation, our Privacy Policy is particularly important to us, because it is a key way we protect our users and reflect their values. It also has a broad impact, because it protects and governs the information of over twenty million registered users and 490 million monthly unique visitors.

Our current Privacy Policy was approved by the Wikimedia Board of Trustees in October 2008 and has not been updated since. Given the growing concern over privacy, especially on the internet, it is important to have an updated policy which reflects both technological advances and the evolving legal issues surrounding new technology.

So, almost eight months ago, we started a conversation with the Wikimedia community about key privacy issues. Based on that conversation, we crafted a new draft Privacy Policy and introduced it to the community for feedback about five months ago. And, thanks to that feedback, we created and discussed Wikimedia’s first Data Retention Guidelines. Today, we are closing the community consultations on the new draft Privacy Policy and Data Retention Guidelines. [1]

The new proposed Privacy Policy will now be presented to the Wikimedia Board of Trustees for review before its next meeting in April 2014. If approved, it will replace the 2008 Privacy Policy.

We would like to thank the many community members who participated in the discussions. The new proposed Privacy Policy and Data Retention Guidelines would not be what they are today without your help. (You can actually see the changes to the drafts in the Policy’s and Guidelines’ wiki revision histories that happened as a result of your feedback!) We received hundreds of questions, comments, and suggestions. In fact, the discussion on the Privacy Policy, along with the related Data Retention Guidelines and Access to Nonpublic Information Policy (whose consultation is also closing today) totaled approximately 195,000 words, making it longer than the Fellowship of the Ring! Together, we have created a transparent Privacy Policy draft that reflects our community’s values.


Developing through Collaboration: A New Access to Nonpublic Information Policy

The Wikimedia projects depend on countless dedicated community members who generously donate their time, knowledge, and skills to the free knowledge movement. In addition to creating, editing, and maintaining articles, some community members have taken on important roles in safeguarding and supporting the projects. They protect the sites against vandalism, respond to helpdesk emails, and ensure that users are not violating Wikimedia policies, among other things. To that end, certain community members are entrusted with limited amounts of nonpublic information regarding other users.

In 2007, the Board adopted the current Access to nonpublic data policy (“current policy”) to set out procedures for entrusting community members with nonpublic user information. For two reasons, it is time to update that six-year-old policy:

  • Current identification practices are not consistent with the current policy; and
  • The new policy should provide guidance about:
    • how and when to use those access rights;
    • when and to whom nonpublic information may be shared; and
    • what specific confidentiality obligations should accompany those access rights.

Under the current policy, community members with access to the nonpublic user information are required to be “known” to the Wikimedia Foundation. However, current identification practices in fact do not result in the Foundation knowing the identities of the community members with access rights: (1) community members now provide an identification document or copy to a member of the Wikimedia Foundation’s staff; (2) the staff member informally “checks” it; and (3) the staff member returns or destroys the identification or its copy. As a result, the identities of many community members with access rights have progressively become unknown to the Foundation over the years.

In this spirit, we drafted a new Access to Nonpublic Information Policy draft (“new draft”) and announced the start of a community consultation on September 3, 2013, to get community feedback on the new draft.


Wikimedia Foundation supports Wikipedia user subject to defamation lawsuit in Greece

Wikipedia does not exist in a vacuum. It was built by and continues to grow thanks to real people, who give their time, knowledge, and enthusiasm to a movement that touches the lives of millions around the world. Unfortunately, giving this gift of knowledge is not without risk and often reveals the courage of our community.

Because of his involvement with Wikipedia, Greek Wikipedia user and administrator Diu is a target of legal action by politician and academic Theodore Katsanevas. Mr. Katsanevas complains that the Greek-language Wikipedia article about him contains some unflattering statements. Instead of addressing his concerns with the Greek-language Wikipedia community through the appropriate processes, Mr. Katsanevas chose to file a lawsuit against Diu.

The controversial statements in question reference the will of Andreas Papandreou, former Prime Minister of Greece and father-in-law of Mr. Katsanevas. The will allegedly characterized Mr. Katsanevas as a “disgrace” to the family and reportedly accused Mr. Katsanevas of “attempting to politically exploit George Papandreou”, also a former Prime Minister of Greece. The statements were properly sourced and in accordance with Wikipedia policies. In fact, the controversy received a great deal of media coverage in Greece.

Diu has apparently been targeted because Mr. Katsanevas seems to believe that the statements were added to the article by Diu and because Diu did not remove the statements after Mr. Katsanevas demanded that he do so. In June 2013, Mr. Katsanevas filed a defamation lawsuit against Diu and The Greek Free / Open Source Software Society (“GFOSS”, also referred to as “ELLAK”), a nonprofit organization in Greece that Mr. Katsanevas mistakenly believed to be the organization running Wikipedia. The case is set to be heard in January 2016.

However, Mr. Katsanevas has now attempted to obtain a preliminary injunction ordering Diu to remove the statements from the Wikipedia article. The hearing is set for March 11, 2014. In the meantime, yesterday the Court issued a pre-preliminary injunction, ordering Diu to provisionally remove the reference to the handwritten will of Andreas Papandreou in the Theodore Katsanevas Greek Wikipedia article, until the March 11th hearing. However, even if the content is removed by Diu, there is no guarantee that the statements will not be republished by other users. The attempt to obtain such an injunction further illustrates Mr. Katsanevas’s apparent fundamental lack of understanding of how Wikipedia works.

The Wikimedia Foundation is deeply disappointed by the unwarranted actions taken by Mr. Katsanevas in this matter. Wikipedia is an open and collaborative project that is committed to uncensored information presented in a neutral point of view and supported by reliable, secondary sources. Diu acted within the scope of these principles and policies — the statements were and still are supported by reputable secondary sources [1] — and the Greek Wikipedia community decided, through discussion, that they were appropriate for the article.

Mr. Katsanevas has ignored these facts and is now using the legal system against those who do not share his financial means and influence. Diu faces serious monetary and criminal penalties as a result of Mr. Katsanevas’s lawsuit. We have offered — and Diu has accepted — assistance through our Legal Fees Assistance Program. Through this program, Diu has obtained independent legal representation with the well-known Lambadarios law firm, who we thank for helping Diu during this difficult time.

We hope that Mr. Katsanevas will reconsider his pursuit of this unconscionable lawsuit, which we see an assault on our users, our projects, and freedom of speech.

Until then, we stand with Diu.

Michelle PaulsonLegal Counsel


[1] See sources used in the Theodore Katsanevas Greek Wikipedia article:,,, and

Launching an Unconventional Trademark Policy for Open Collaboration

The Wikipedia puzzle globe and wordmark.

On February 1, 2014, the Wikimedia Foundation’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved an unconventional new trademark policy. The new policy is uniquely permissive, was developed in a massive online collaboration among the Wikimedia community, and contains cutting-edge information design principles to make it user-friendly.  Just like the content on the Wikimedia sites, the new trademark policy is licensed under a free license, so everyone is free to build upon it when crafting their own trademark policies. In short, it is the perfect fit for Wikimedia’s collaborative projects.

Unlike the legal policies of other companies that are drafted by lawyers in a vacuum (if not simply copied from other websites), this trademark policy was developed through a seven-month long consultation with the Wikimedia community to address its particular needs. This unique process distinguishes Wikimedia from virtually every other top website.

We began by asking the community how they would like to change our 2009 trademark policy. Using their suggestions and other concerns, we prepared a draft policy that we posted on a wiki for online discussion and editing. According to the page’s revision history, the draft policy was edited 138 times in the course of the remaining consultation. While the policy itself has only about 4,000 words, the consultations around the policy resulted in a discussion of 52,000 words. That’s more words than in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!

Here are some of the major changes.


Announcing Wikimedia’s New Community-Centered Trademark Policy

The Wikimedia sites are built by a community of volunteers. Today, we finalized a new trademark policy that is specifically tailored to the innovative events and outreach that Wikimedia volunteers conduct to build sites like Wikipedia and its sister projects. The policy was developed through a seven month long consultation with our community of users. It received almost 550 comments and over 130 changes to the policy (you can actually see all changes to the draft in the wiki revision history).

Together, we created a policy that will empower the collaborative community that makes the Wikimedia sites thrive. Focusing on the community, the new policy is unconventional in how it provides expansive use of the Wikimedia marks while maintaining legal protection. It was designed to be clear and easy to understand, with the help of an information design workshop at Stanford Institute of Design. The result of our work is released under a Creative Commons license, so feel free to build on it when designing a policy for your own trademarks. (Just make sure to change the trademarks in the policy!)

The new policy makes it easier for community members to use the marks in the following ways:

  • New uses of marks without requesting a license: The new policy contains an intuitive summary listing the many ways community members may use Wikimedia marks without a separate license. It allows community members to use the marks on all Wikimedia sites and even outside the sites to facilitate common activities that advance our mission.
  • Clearer explanation of fair use: Our consultations revealed confusion over how to use Wikimedia marks under fair use and whether US fair use laws would apply in countries that do not recognize the same fair use rights. The policy now clearly describes many examples of how Wikimedia marks may be used in, for example, news reporting without additional permission, regardless of where the user resides.
  • Streamlined licensing procedures: We are introducing a “Quick license,” which grants community members the ability to quickly start using Wikimedia marks for a photo contest or GLAM event after emailing it to us. No need to wait for approval! Quick licenses are easy to read. They include only the most essential provisions, with a brief explanatory key of each provision.