Wikimedia blog

News from the Wikimedia Foundation and about the Wikimedia movement


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.


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

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.


Wikimedia Ukraine opposes new copyright and telecommunication law’s amendments in Ukraine

This post is available in 2 languages: English 7% • Ukrainian 100%

This is a guest blog post by Wikimedia Ukraine, which is an independent organization from the WIkimedia Foundation. The views expressed are those of Wikimedia Ukraine. We are presenting this commentary in the interest of informing the Wikimedia community.

A new bill is a dangerous for Internet in Ukraine


We at Wikimedia Ukraine are deeply worried by the amendments of a number of laws recently proposed by the State Office of Intellectual Property of Ukraine. We think that the proposed bill contains a number of dangerous flaws that may significantly hinder natural functioning of Internet communities that are based on the principle of open participation and free editing of content by visitors.

Indeed, copyright is a very important aspect for users and editors of such Internet projects as Wikipedia, a free encyclopedia, Wikisource, a free collaborative library or Wikimedia Commons, a freely-licensed media files collection. Participants of these projects volunteer their time to create or seek materials that are legally free to use and distribute by anyone thanks to free licenses such as the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. However, the proposed bill may hinder such projects, including Wikipedia which pages are viewed 80 million times each month.

We find it dangerous that the proposed bill makes it obligatory for hosting providers and/or domain name registrators (entitled “service operators” in the bill) to block access to web-sites without a court order under certain conditions. If the service operator receives a complaint which states that a website infringes the complainer’s copyright it should forward the complaint to the website owner. If the website owner doesn’t respond in two days (48 hours), then the service operator is obliged to block the website that is reported in the complaint.

Further, the accuracy of information in the complaint is not verified in the procedure and the service operators are forced to block websites even if the complaint may be a false report.

Additionally, not only direct copyright infringement are supposed to be blocked by the service operators, but also any information about circumventing copyright protection measures or even links to copyright infringement.

Such rules create a possibility of abuse of the procedure when it may be used by certain interested parties or just by error by parties who don’t have a complete understanding of copyright, especially in the domain of free and copyleft licenses.

The bill also doesn’t define the term “website owner” nor does it define procedure for cases when the “website owner” is responsible for hosting a site without an external “service provider”. This is especially concerning in the context of open and volunteer-based Internet communities like Wikipedia which allows any visitor to edit their content. Even administrators of Wikipedia are volunteers elected by the community.


Wikimedia and Open Access — a rich history of interactions

This post is part of a week of action by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other organizations in January 2014, to which the Wikimedia Foundation is invited to contribute, particularly on Wednesday January 15, when the topic of action is Open Access.

Open access is about freedom to read and to reuse research communications, including to remix, revise and redistribute them.

You can download the clip or download a player to play the clip in your browser.

Courtship song of a male Cotesia congregata wasp.

Fluorescent fish and sponges

Paedophryne amauensis, the smallest known vertebrate.

You can download the clip or download a player to play the clip in your browser.

Humpback whale song

CC BY logo

Wikipedia aims to collect the sum of human knowledge and is operating under five fundamental principles, also known as the “five pillars” – it is (1) an encyclopedia that can (2) be read, modified and shared by anyone, while it strives for (3) a neutral point of view and (4) civil discourse on the basis of respect within its community of contributors, which (5) can amend policies and guidelines.

Writing with the aim of representing a topic neutrally requires access to quality sources of information. Citing these sources allows readers of the encyclopedia to verify statements made in its articles, and to explore the topic further, be it for themselves or to enrich future versions of the same or some related Wikipedia article.

Existing copyright legislation makes it difficult to use sources in these ways. In the current default mode with “all rights reserved” articles hidden behind paywalls, Wikipedia authors are barred from reading the sources they might need to improve Wikipedia content, readers might be prevented from verifying the information they find in Wikipedia articles, or even whether it represents a copyright violation or plagiarism. In the event that they can eventually get read access to specific sources, they still do not have the right to use any materials from there (e.g. images, audio or video) to illustrate Wikipedia articles or blog posts about relevant topics.

Over the years of exposure to this set of problems, the Wikimedia communities have come up with a number of approaches to handle the situation. Two of them shall be presented today in a pair of blog posts. The first one is about the Wikipedia Library, an effort to provide read access to the scholarly literature for active Wikipedia contributors. This second one is about interactions of the Wikimedia and Open Access communities, most notably via WikiProject Open Access, which places particular emphasis on reusing materials from suitably licensed scholarly publications in the context of Wikimedia projects.

The Open Access movement and the Wikimedia community have interacted for more than ten years, particularly via the English Wikipedia. For instance, the article about arXiv was started on February 11, 2002, the entry on preprint followed ten months later. In November 2003, the entry open access publishing was started, which was renamed into open access two months later.

Still in 2004, the first Wikimedia chapter — Wikimedia Germany was founded, which went on to become the first Wikimedia entity to sign the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities in 2006, followed by Wikimedia Poland and the Wikimedia Foundation a year later. Since that time, suggestions for large-scale import of materials from Open Access sources into Wikimedia platforms have kept coming up.

In early 2007, the first images from Open Access sources were promoted to featured status on Wikimedia Commons, with one of them reaching the final of that year’s Picture of the Year contest (the 2013 contest is scheduled to start on Friday, again with an Open Access image).

With the beginning of 2009, the journal RNA Biology (which was and still is not Open Access) started to require manuscripts about new RNA families to be accompanied by drafts for corresponding Wikipedia articles, and a few months later, WikiSpecies started a collaboration with the Open-Access journal ZooKeys that was expanded to its sister journal PhytoKeys in the following year.

While more and more images from Open Access sources were uploaded and the number of references from Wikipedia to Open Access articles continued to grow, research about Wikipedia was still mainly published in closed-access journals. This prompted the newly established Research Committee to draft, in 2010, an Open Access policy for research projects receiving significant support from the Wikimedia Foundation.

Since July 2011, the Research:Newsletter has marked references as to whether they were free to read or not. Later that year, Wikimedia Germany had approved funding for the Open Access Media Importer, an automated tool to harvest audio and video materials from suitably licensed scholarly articles and to upload them to Wikimedia Commons. Still in late 2011, the Open Access File of the Day initiative was started, and the Research Committee submitted a response to a EU consultation about Open Access, followed by a response to a similar consultation by the White House in January 2012, at a day when a tiny frog’s image from PLOS ONE was on the front page of more than a dozen Wikipedias. Two days before that, WikiProject Open Access had been launched.

Since January 2012, an Open Access report has been published as part of the monthly GLAM newsletter. In March, PLOS Computational Biology started its Topic Pages — a manuscript track for review articles destined to become updatable as Wikipedia entries — with the article about Circular permutation in proteins. In May, Jimmy Wales became an advisor to the UK government on matters of Open Access, and the Wikimedia Foundation endorsed the Access2Research petition to the White House.


The Wikipedia Library Strives for Open Access

Our editors are desperate for knowledge. They crave sources to use to build Wikipedia, to share with millions of readers around the globe. Many of the most authoritative sources, however, are locked behind paywalls.

Birth of a partial solution

We started The Wikipedia Library to address this. In 2010 research database Credo Reference donated 500 free accounts to our top editors; the lines of editors requesting these accounts piled over. Through 2011 and 2012 we added partnerships from HighBeam Research, Questia Online Library, The Cochrane Library, and JSTOR. Over 3700 accounts have been donated so far.


One Wikipedia Library subscriber reflected on the situation: “Having done the grad school thing (twice!), I’m used to having the resources of a research university library. I still have this, but now need to drive 90 minutes to do my research on campus. Given the comparatively modest resources available at Wikipedia versus a 90 minute drive for comprehensive resources, I find that I’d rather make the drive. There will come a point where The Wikipedia Library’s coverage will be sufficient that the drive is no longer worthwhile and instead I spend those 180 minutes editing. We’ll get there; but that point is a ways away.”

Another wrote, “I’m fortunate to work at an institution that pays for access to a great deal of engineering literature as well as giving me access to the UC library system. If I were to go into private industry, I would lose all of that, even if I was willing to pay a subscription fee (per-article pricing is a non-starter). I’d like Wikipedia to be in a position to make access to this material independent of my current employment.”

We’ve been honored to make a small step towards that goal. In many ways it’s been a great success.

A mirror for deeper problems

However, in other ways, the very need for The Wikipedia Library’s donation program only underscores the deep structural problems in our society’s knowledge infrastructure. Who benefits from our practice of accepting these generous donations?. Our editors are spared the frustration of being locked out of a critical source they need to write an article. Our readers can then consume the summarized, encyclopedic content on Wikipedia. But what if they want to check it for themselves, to follow the spirit of our core verifiability policy, and verify it? That’s what we teach people to do–to use Wikipedia as a starting point–which students and even some teachers seem to increasingly accept and practice. Some may luck out with a college library nearby, but the general public is left to rely on Wikipedia as the final word.

“Getting donated accounts is nice, but ultimately, the long term goal needs to be moving toward open publishing models,” said a recently surveyed Wikipedia Library donation recipient. “There is no excuse in this day and age to lock up academic knowledge behind paywalls. A chosen few with access to the resources is far from ideal. Without the widespread ability to verify the claim to a source, paywalled sourcing is almost the same as no citation at all.”

Another lamented, “I am a Wikipedian with 100+ million pageviews. On articles I write, I want my references to be verifiable by others, so it does not help me much whether I can find a source that others can’t check. I got a free subscription to Highbeam a while ago, but my Highbeam references are uncheckable by others, so I tend not to use it much.”


Wikipedia Shows the Value of a Vibrant Public Domain

Beacon Towers from the beach 1920

This post is part of Copyright Week held by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other organizations in January 2014.

While more commonly known as New Year’s Day, January 1 is also international Public Domain Day. It celebrates the day when creative works (such as books, images and songs) enter the public domain, which is the collective wealth of works that are not covered by copyright. Public domain works can be freely published, performed, remixed, translated and otherwise shared with the world. They can also be used to write and illustrate the largest online encyclopedia — Wikipedia. In relying on the public domain to provide free knowledge to millions of people around the world, Wikipedia illustrates the need for a growing body of freely-reusable works. Today, there is concern that ever fewer works will enter the public domain because of laws and international agreements extending copyright terms. While 2014 saw many new works enter the public domain in countries with shorter copyright terms, those works are still under copyright in the United States as a result of the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, which increased the term from life of the author plus 50 years to life plus 70 years.

Shakespeare portrait from 1610

Whether they realize it or not, people rely on the public domain everyday. Millions of people use Wikipedia every day to research, check facts, browse aimlessly and even play games. Wikipedia is a collaborative project with hundreds of thousands of authors, and it relies upon a rich public domain to draw from. Some Wikipedia articles are built on text from older public domain encyclopedias. Other articles may be illustrated by public domain media. For example, when “The Great Gatsby” hit theatres last year, many people turned to Wikipedia to read about the original novel. There, through public domain photographs, they could discover the New York mansions that inspired the story, such as Beacon Towers — a house that has since been demolished. Similarly, when Wikipedia readers are researching Shakespeare, they are able to view a public domain image of his portrait from 1610 (pictured). Because both of these images are in the public domain, readers can download and reuse them in other works, like Wikipedia articles.


November notes from Brussels

Assen Gert Sennema – Sisyphus 2 Fundamentally shifting the copyright narrative is not a weekend job.

Since July 2013 Dimitar Dimitrov is Wikimedian in Brussels. In assorted blogposts he talks about his experiences vis-à-vis the EU.

Fundamentally shifting the copyright narrative is not a weekend job. Still, the effort that needs to be undertaken here is beyond that of a traditional lobbying campaign. Very few people (regardless of whether they’re civil servants, politicians or industry actors) can actually answer questions concerning intellectual property. Even fewer are able to grasp the complex and complicated interplay between cultural, social and economic changes that what we call “digitisation”. There is virtually no one who dares to express a coherent, future-oriented vision for copyright.

Well, not really no one. Us Wikimedians got the big vision. The idea of rich and sustainable knowledge commons. Making this idea part of the EU’s paradigm is what the Free Knowledge Advocacy Group EU has dedicated itself to. To give you a better picture of what our efforts look like, here’s a rundown of our activities in the past month.

Basic Groundwork: Shifting Focus

We started participating in the EU Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights. It is run by the European Commission. Your very first questions should be: What now? Where? Us? At least these were my initial thoughts. The Observatory was conceived as a place for EU civil servants and industry lobbyists to join forces and find a way to stop freeloaders and pirates. After massive criticism in the past year, they have now decided to open up and include civil society organisations. Apart from us, EDRi and the European Consumers’ Organisation were invited to the last plenary.

The Observatory commissioned a study that allegedly proves how indispensable and advantageous intellectual property is for the European economy. Our reaction was to remind the Commission that intellectual property does not come into being in an empty space, but always builds on top of our common cultural heritage, i.e. the public domain. After a chain of emails and conversations, the Observatory accepted our arguments and agreed to include a study on the “Contribution of Public Domain and Open Licensing to the European Economy” in its 2014 programme. We will keep up the pressure and also keep an eye on the study process.