Media licensing

Board recapitulates licensing policy principles

In a message restating the Foundation's attitude toward media licenses, Kat Walsh of the Wikimedia Board of Trustees called for material relying on restrictive licenses to be "phased out and replaced". She indicated that the Board plans to publish a formal resolution on the issue.

The message, posted to the Foundation mailing list on Thursday, 8 February, was designed to clarify existing policies and explain the rationale behind the forthcoming resolution. To deal with confusion and questionable practices on some projects, Walsh indicated that the guidelines should apply to all Wikimedia sites. Although it covered established ground on such issues as noncommercial-use licenses and Wikipedia-specific permission grants (see archived story), the statement prompted renewed debate about the prohibition of these licenses.

Walsh's statement made some allowance for fair use of works "that are hard to discuss in an educational context without including the media itself." Media under restrictive licenses could be allowed if additionally supported by a fair use justification. However, non-free media generally should not be used if "it is reasonably possible to replace with free media that would serve the same educational purpose."

Many of the critics focused on this exception to lobby for allowing more restrictive licenses. Drawing a comparison between fair use and a limited permission to use, they maintained that they saw no distinction to justify allowing one and prohibiting the other. As Delphine Ménard contended, however, despite the fact that she opposes allowing fair use, it is arguably more free because the doctrine is available to those reusing Wikipedia content, while reuse would not be an option for with-permission content without going through the permission process all over again.

As a term of art, fair use is a US legal doctrine allowing certain reuses of otherwise copyrighted material. Related doctrines are called fair dealing or fair practice in other countries, although the application is often kept to more limited circumstances, such as a right of citation. Fair use is subject to local community policy, and many Wikimedia projects prohibit images that rely on it, in favor of exclusively free content. On the English Wikipedia, efforts have been underway for an extended period to ensure that fair use images comport with the guidance restated by Walsh (see archived stories).

The issue of fair use has been a matter of debate for some time. One focal point has been the featured article criteria, which include the need for an accompanying image, prompting complaints that some articles would be incapable of qualifying because no freely licensed image is available and none would satisfy Wikipedia's fair use criteria. Walsh's message prompted additional discussion about how to address the issue in the standards for featured articles. Further discussion of the general issues raised in the message can be found on the administrators' noticeboard.

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