GNU Free Documentation License/Talk

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Dig the table idea, don't particularly care for this rendition of it. I went ahead and made an alternate, it lives here:

Basically, I didn't care for the not-XHTMLness of the table. Would it be possible to have alternate versions, for people who are pedantic about this sort of thing?

-- EdwardOConnor

I really don't like this idea of a table-requirement. Sure, I believe in acknowledgement, but I really think the means of acknowledgement should be up to the person using the information, so long as they are reasonable.

If I want to create a mirror of Wikipedia, this would require that table to be at the bottom of every page, which isn't required for the copy on I think that's being discriminatory and distracts from the free nature of Wikipedia. It reminds me of a lot of supposedly "Open Source" licenses put out by companies such as Sun or Netscape, which give everyone the right to use the product, but give some users more rights than others. I don't want Wikipedia to be like that.

Finally, who imposed this requirement? The content of Wikipedia is the property of those who submitted it. The submission notice says the authors agree for it to be released under the GNU FDL, it says nothing about this table requirement. I don't think anyone has the right to impose such a requirement without consulting those everyone who authored it. -- SJK

SJK, I'm pretty sure the GNU FDL allows for this. This is one of the interesting differences between it and the GPL. A motivating factor in the creation of the FDL in fact. -- EdwardOConnor

Hey Ted, your table is very cool...let's say people can use either one!

Simon, Jimbo imposed this requirement, and I implemented it. Your concerns are understandable. We should have made this requirement explicit from the start, but frankly, at the start of Wikipedia's life, we didn't know that it would end up being this popular or this good, so we just didn't care. Let me say, however, that it was certainly our (Jimbo's and my) understanding from the very beginning that, if Wikipedia did get popular or good, we would have some such a requirement. Cf. Nupedia's requirement [1] which is linked to from Nupedia article pages, e.g., here. It certainly would have been much better if we had said this sooner.

Also, to discuss the property issues you are raising, please do me a favor and join Wikipedia-L, and please see the recent discussion (just this month [2]). Others have already started discussing what you are taking a strong stand on here. --LMS

Edward: I just read the license, and it says no such thing. It says you can require the document to be distributed with unmodifiable appendices or front-matter sections. I don't think placing a logo on EVERY page can be considered an appendix or a front-matter section. It also seems to imply that the originally released copy of the document would include these sections, but I don't seek none of these tables on It also requires a specific notice naming those invariant sections, which is nowhere found on Wikipedia. Finally, the point remains is that when I at least submitted content to Wikipedia, there was no mention of these optional provisions of the license being used, even though they might be allowed to be by the terms of the license. So I can't see how they can legally be imposed in relation to content authored by me without my consent. The same goes for anyone else who disagrees with the table requirement. -- SJK

My version of the requirements:

  • On printed versions, either "" or "Based on Wikipedia (".
  • On web pages, tables (if compatible/in tune with the surrounding HTML document), link to the original article or Wikipedia homepage otherwise.
  • If many articles (e.g., 5 or more) are used, table on the main page, links to the individual articles on the individual pages.
  • Additionally, mention on cover for books and mass-produced CDs ;)

This has to be rephrased! --Magnus Manske

I have a question about the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). If a document (quotation) is incorporated into the Wikipedia with the informed permission of the original author, it then becomes subject to the GFDL, right? Wikipedians are entitled to re-edit it?

On the other hand, we can mark some sections (such as quotes from other authors) as "secondary sections"/"invariant sections", right? - Thereby specifying "This material may not be re-edited"?

I strongly suggest that Wikipedia produce and make known to Wikipedians a text for "author's permission agreement" making these rules plain to any authors that Wikipedians may want to ask for permission. I think there's a serious danger of later misunderstandings here.

If they explicitly give permission, depends on what conditions they give permission under. I think an author's permission agreement would be a good idea, not just for outside authors but also for Wikipedians, just so there can be no misunderstanding. I've suggested such a thing at the end of Wikipedia commentary/SJKs Wikipedia-Specific License proposal, although I call it "terms and conditions".

I am very wary of puting anything in Wikipedia that is an "invariant section". The whole idea behind Wikipedia is anyone can edit anything. -- SJK

So in other words, as things now stand the situation is a huge mess?

Yes, personally that is how I would describe the current state of copyright and licensing issues on Wikipedia. We really haven't thought the whole thing through, IMHO. -- SJK

Well, about time to get on the stick. "Wikipedia .... started in January 2001 and already [has] over 15,000 articles. We want to make over 100,000". A lot of room for "misunderstandings" there.

Goddammit. I'm sorry; I started trying to make sense of the License by wikifying it, but I just remembered it's copyrighted. Please delete all the subpages I created. --TheCunctator

I do not like that the current change of the license. It somehow breaks the contract with the contributors so far and it makes feel uneasy about what will come next in this direction. Will it be the inclusion of an topic specific advertisment link? It seems that the copyright owner is willing to change the license. As the owner he is entitled to do so from the strictly legal view. But as this project only grows because of volunteers it breaks the moral agreement with them. At least some of them will perceive it like that. The best thing would be to transfer the license to an agency which would make sure that the license is not changed. (e.g. the Free Software Foundation and not a privately owned company) -- HannesHirzel

Hannes, there has been no change in the license. The content is now as always under the GNU FDL. I don't know why you might think otherwise. And, by the way, the inclusion of a topic specific advertising link is certainly well within the realm of possibility in the future.

Please write to me at if you have concerns about my morality!

--Jimbo Wales

Thank you for your clarifying answer.

Generally I like the wikipedia idea very much. I understand that the content is free but so to say the "wrapping paper" of each individual entry (with the color and imprints) may be choosen and changed by you Jimbo at any time. And you acutally force somebody who wants to mirror / copy / distribute the content to use it. So he is forced to include content he actually may not want. This considerably weakens the idea of "free content" - one could even say it violates its general spirit. So much about morality.

This mean you disallow people for example to copy and distribute whole articles without this notice. Contributors should then be clearly informed on the front page about this. This is a new thing which appears ten months after the start of this project. It is actually a test case how reliable the people behind wikipedia are. I think it's up to the public to decide how well they are performing.

What would be OK in my point of view is just a reference to and the GNU public documentation license *and* a confirmation that there will be no amendments in the future. It may well be that this is already a violation of the license. Somebody with more legal background than I should comment on this.


Hannes: It's in some sense a non-issue whether the table is a violation of the license, because Wikipedia is still not properly released under the GFDL. Until there's the copyright/license notice (see /Workshop), Wikipedia is only informally under the GFDL. Without that notice (and some other necessary clarifications), compliance with the GFDL for people using material from Wikipedia is, by the very terms of the GFDL, impossible.


Hannes, we will be resolving all these issues next week, together, and amicably. Please join Wikipedia-L if you're interested. Wikipedia has indeed been publicly released under the GFDL for a long time, legal quibbling notwithstanding. Frankly, when we started the Wikipedia project, we had no particular reason to think it was going to be this successful, and therefore didn't take particular care with license matters. We thought that we had more than enough public understanding and goodwill not to have to bother about it until it mattered. Now that it does matter very much, we ask you please to indulge us with that understanding and goodwill. Again, please see Wikipedia-L, where we have been going over various points of view on the issue and where it should soon, I hope, be resolved. --LMS

LMS, thank you for confirming that Wikipedia content has been publicly released under the GFDL. But you might agree that there is a considerable misunderstanding what this really implies. I will join the mailing list.


I just want to say, that even though it may not be obvious because of what I've said or not said elsewhere, that I have full faith in LMS and Jimbo that they will fully resolve all of these issues to everyone's satisfaction.

I'm only disappointed that they're leaving up the link to the table while these issues are being resolved. I'd be much happier if they simply stated in

"Note about Wikipedia's use of the GNU Free Documentation License":

All Wikipedia content is covered by the GNU Free Documentation License. The details necessary for proper licensing under the GFDL are being discussed right now on Wikipedia-L (see also /Workshop).


First: LMS, thanks for updating the page. It makes me feel much better, and I think it will really help people understand what's happening and perhaps increase participation on the mailing list.

Second: I feel that singling me out on the /Workshop page is a little unnecessary; after all, that note isn't included on all the articles that have been largely the work of one person. Instead of singling me out, you could have de-biased any content you consider partisan. But I don't feel personally attacked by you doing so.

I'm glad you don't feel personally attacked, and I totally understand that you feel the edit was a little unnecessary. To clarify, I thought that note was necessary because the page is written in an authoritative tone, as if you're simply stating the facts, in the context of a project in which very many pages are collaborative entries. This could easily lead to people concluding that the entry was some sort of community consensus, when it isn't. In fact, however, as you'll surely admit, you are almost the exclusive author of the material and you are a strong partisan who might or might not be stating the facts fairly. That's very important for new people to realize, I think. It's also extremely important for them to realize that most of the debate is going on elsewhere. --LMS
At the moment I'm the almost the exclusive author, but that's totally arbitrary. It's part of Wikipedia--it's meant to be edited by everyone. I'm hoping that it would be. Of course, if you actively discourage people from doing so, then they won't. And you state that I "might or might not be stating the facts fairly". Why not just encourage people to edit it? I'm not trying to compete with the mailing list, to which I've contributed ([3] [4]; but the discussion on the mailing list seems to have stopped); the page is for the type of thing that Wikipedia is better at than a mailing list, for trying to establish a neutral brief of the issues; in this case, of what is necessary for Wikipedia to comply with the language of the GFDL; it's really not about which invariant sections we should have, etc. The page should allow people to be informed debaters on the mailing list. And "The fact that it is written mainly by a partisan does not, of course, mean that it is necessarily a biased presentation of the issues." is a pretty subtle jab, since "partisan" is a synonym for "biased person". You might understand how that feels if someone said (and this is only for example) "The fact that Larry Sanger is in charge of Wikipedia does not, of course, mean that he will necessarily mess it up." There's a pretty strong implication in that sentence structure.
And you repeatedly call me a partisan; by the same token, you're a partisan, but noone's calling you that.
In short, I really wish that instead of singling me out, you'd consider rewriting what you wrote to some less personal disclaimer like your summary on the main page: "It is not an official workshop, and discussion of the issues raised on the page have been and will be conducted on Wikipedia-L." I could be incorrect, but that seems (IMHO) to cover anything very important for new people to realize.


Third: On the main page you wrote: "Jimbo Wales confirms that Stallman agreed that the license permits this". Was this a formal agreement, or just a conversation? Did Stallman say that the license permitted the exact license instructions page or did he just say that the license permits something of the sort?

I am reporting only what Jimbo has said on Wikipedia-L (and separately to me quite a while ago). You'll have to ask him for the details. --LMS

As it now stands it's not clear. --TheCunctator

It was a casual conversation. I asked if we could use the Invariant Section to implement a linkback requirement, and he indicated that we could. Basically the rule for invariant sections is that they are secondary sections, i.e. not ABOUT the content of the article, for example the invariant section of a math article can't talk about math. It can be almost anything else, especially dealing with the relationship between the content, ownership, commercial aspects, etc.

I second the request that we try to hold meta-discussions on the mailing list.

Cunctator, I have a public request of you. Would you please stop writing about the license issue on the wiki, so that we can focus the debate in one place, namely the mailing list? Your views will receive more than a fair hearing there. --LMS

Some of us aren't on the mailing list and don't intend to be. Is it archived somewhere so that we can stay abreast of developments? Thanks.
You can find a link to the mailing list archives on Wikipedia-L. --STG
Thanks again. Appreciated.

I'd like to emphasize that I'm not at all against the inclusion of a reference when the wikipedia content is used on another website. However I think that the inclusion of the 'RecentChanges' and the 'FAQ' link is not necessary and instead a link to the GNU FDL is necessary. As it is the case with nupedia.

And besides that the colors and the form of the table should not be fixed. HannesHirzel

A simple question: Larry and Jimbo, would you two be open to using another open documentation license other than GNU for Wikipedia?

I am collection editor at the Linux Documentation Project. I have a question about a licensing issue and comment about the linkback proposal.

First, we don't have any plans to mirror or republish Wikipedia content directly, but I am thinking about how the two projects might complement each other. We are the canonical source for Linux documentation, but it is hard work keeping such a huge amount (400+ documents, a dozen book-length) of documentation maintained by an all volunteer staff with almost no hierarchical organization.

We have a good many documents under the GFDL, and we serve six million pages a month, not counting the local document installs on every major distribution. We certainly both have the same goals, except that we're specialized.

I posted two HOWTOs under Linux Documentation Project. They are both on relatively specialized fields (Beowulf and SMP). They're both GFDL. Does this present any legal problems for you?

I'm also working on ScrollServer, which is basically a small web service that runs on your local machine, serving html over http. It serves documents from the ScrollKeeper database, which the new Gnome and KDE help browsers serve from also. I want flexibility in how the linkback is presented. For instance, I don't want a table requirement. I will make a good effort to drive traffic to Wikipedia, because that is where the documentation will be improved. I just want control over the presentation -- including the ability to view it in a console browser, which was the motivation for doing ScrollServer in the first place.

Please just require the statement and linkback. --Dmerrill

Just remember - not all formats (eg: plain text, dead tree) allow linkback. It shouldn't be a legal requirement to have the exact format: just a proper citation including URL. Dave McKee