A copyright dispute last week led to a block that prompted the departure of one of Wikipedia's best-known administrators, RickK. In the aftermath of these events, a proposal for more flexible methods of blocking users appeared to be gaining momentum.
RickK was known as one of the Wikipedia users most active in fighting vandalism, but was also sometimes criticized for the way in which he went about it. In a dispute that escalated into a brief flurry of reverts and blocks last Monday, RickK himself was hit with a 24-hour block and decided to leave Wikipedia entirely as a result.
The disagreement arose over an alleged copyright violation on the GAP Project, at the time a stub article about a Turkish dam. This article previously had been much longer, but was deleted as a copyright infringement and the editor responsible, Coolcat, was seeking to have it undeleted. Coolcat claimed to have the right to license the content under the GFDL on the grounds that he was its author. This claim was doubted by some, however, since Coolcat had no evidence to support it and he had provided contradictory information when charged with violating copyrights on a separate article.
An edit war ensued on Monday in which SPUI restored the disputed content to GAP Project, and for doing this was blocked by RickK for 24 hours. Silsor then unblocked SPUI, after which RickK promptly restored the block. The edit war continued, however, and RickK was subsequently blocked by Silsor for violating the three-revert rule on the same article.
RickK then announced that he would be leaving Wikipedia for good, and once the block expired he left a departure message on his user page and deleted his talk page. He had previously left in February after learning of some public comments made about him by Jimmy Wales, but later returned after being persuaded that the comments were meant in a positive light.
The incident prompted renewed expression of concerns about the three-revert rule. Some questioned whether the rule covered this situation, since RickK was reverting a copyright infringement, but the dispute over the copyright itself made it uncertain whether such an exception should apply. Fuzheado made the argument that the rule was being applied too readily in general, and that page protection was a better solution. However, others argued that the rule needed to be enforced to have any value and that making an exception in this case would create a double standard for administrators. Silsor said that RickK "received the same consequence he would have given anybody else in the same situation."
In response to these points, Ed Poor suggested reviving the idea of blocks that would only prevent a user from editing a specific article. Poor said this would get the message across while avoiding the shock of being blocked from making any edits whatsoever. A similar concept had been suggested over a year ago by Wales, but not pursued at the time.
Developer Tim Starling indicated that the proposal might be sensible, saying, "I'm accustomed to all blocking-related features being controversial, but this one seems to be unusually well-supported." Per-article blocking was endorsed by a number of users, although Jayjg suggested that it might simply divert some people into continuing the same dispute while editing a different article.