Answers tool relationship scrutinized again upon release of tool

A new tool was released last week intended to bring revenue to Wikipedia from advertising on a partner site, However, the occasion prompted renewed scrutiny of the relationship and the business practices of Wikipedia's partner.

On Tuesday, Jimbo Wales added a link to the new Wikipedia edition of the 1-Click Answers tool on the Wikipedia:Tools page, which covers various external tools related to Wikipedia. The tool in question allows users to click on words in any program on their screen and bring up content from related to the term, in this case specifically from Wikipedia. It also comes with a toolbar where you can type in terms and do the same thing.

On the website, the tool is available for download from a dedicated page. However, it is not mentioned on the primary page that lists the free downloads available from the site. In addition, the Wikipedia edition is offered only for Windows, unlike the regular tool which also provides a version for Mac OS X.

The arrangement was first revealed last October and became the focus of some controversy in the Wikipedia community (see archived story). The partnership was the subject of a press release and the value of Answers Corporation stock briefly spiked upward after the announcement. According to the agreement, some of the revenue from the tool would be passed on to the Wikimedia Foundation. A 60-day trial period is contemplated, although it was originally anticipated to start at the beginning of the year.

Answers licensing and patent strategy

One concern raised at the time of the original announcement involved the terms of use, which attempt to restrict use of the content in a way that goes beyond the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License. Whether this would have any legal effect is doubtful, and the terms of use are part of a generic page covering all content, much of which is only available under more restrictive terms. Greg Maxwell called the terms "unacceptable" and argued the link should be rejected unless the terms of service are amended. However, jacoplane pointed out that the terms do acknowledge that content provided by others is "governed by the specific terms of service governing such third party content" and their copyrights page does mention the GFDL. Jimbo Wales also said would look at rewriting the terms of service to make this more clear.

Since the original announcement,'s parent company, Answers Corporation, has also been involved in patent litigation related to the tool. In March, Answers filed a claim in a Tel Aviv court against Babylon Ltd., another Israeli company, seeking 1 million sheqels in damages (about US$210,000).

In response, Erik Möller objected to listing the tool because of Answers' business practice of using controversial software patents. He pointed out Wikipedia's own restrictions on using patent-encumbered media formats. While acknowledging that many companies collect software patents, he criticized the aggressive use of them in litigation, raising the possibility that it could be used against open source developers as well (creation of an equivalent free software tool has been discussed, but apparently not pursued). Möller called for the partnership to be cancelled, and suggested that if the listing on the Tools page mentioned revenue for Wikimedia, it also needed to point out the patent controversy.

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