The Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees has resolved to formally request the Free Software Software Foundation (FSF) modify the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) so that mass collaborative projects such as Wikipedia can use and license existing GFDL content under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC-BY-SA) license.
“We are grateful for the wonderful work the Free Software Foundation and Creative Commons have done thus far. Without their support and wisdom, Wikipedia would not be where it is today. As the world’s largest repository of free content, this step enables Wikipedia and its sister projects to become more compatible with other free culture projects,” said Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia Founder.
This resolution is a product of ongoing discussions among the Free Software Foundation, Creative Commons, and the Wikimedia Foundation about how best to harmonize the copyright licensing of collaborative projects so that the content remains both free to everyone and reuseable to the greatest possible extent by everyone.
“The FDL is a fantastic license, well designed for what it was designed for, and very poorly designed for an innovation that could not have been contemplated when the FDL was invented – mass public collaboration,” Wales said.
At present, the GFDL content of Wikipedia can only be reused under the GFDL, which was originally meant for free software manuals — not for short works of mass collaboration. When Wikipedia started, it was the only suitable license available; but in practice, its technical requirements hamper the reusability of Wikipedia content in some contexts. The CC-BY-SA, which also requires attribution to the authors and that any derivative works be made available under the same terms, is better suited to what Wikipedia does, but the GFDL and CC-BY-SA are currently incompatible.
The GFDL does allow content under a particular version of the GFDL to be “migrated” to newer licenses that are deemed by the FSF to be successor versions. The plan is for the new license to be similar or identical to a future version of the CC-BY-SA.
The formal letter from the Wikimedia Foundation to the Free Software Foundation follows a long-standing public debate about the extent to which the GFDL can allow for “migration” of GFDL-licensed content to a license like CC-BY-SA. Any migration strategy will be implemented after a period of public comment and a vote among Wikimedia contributors before final adoption by the WMF.