The Signpost

From the archives

5, 10, and 15 years ago

Contribute  —  
Share this
By Adam Cuerden

It's impossible to copyright simple ideas, like looking back into your archives some round number of years. Which is good, because I'm totally stealing this idea from Scientific American. There's a lot of Wikipedia history that's forgotten nowadays, and, if we keep this up, in five years, we'll have covered everything of note. And then we can start republishing these!

The articles have been cut down a bit for length and the original articles may have a lot more content.

Five years ago

Five years ago, Wikimedia Sweden lost a lawsuit in a bizarre ruling which said that, while Sweden had Freedom of Panorama, it didn't apply to online databases that made those images easy to find for... reasons that presumably made sense to the judges in question but no-one else:

From News and notes by bluerasberry and Eddie891 for 5 August 2017

On 6 July the Swedish Patent and Market Court ordered Wikimedia Sverige, the Wikimedia chapter in Sweden, to pay a fine and lawyers' fees following a previous ruling by the Supreme Court of Sweden that their database of links to Wikimedia Commons photographs violated copyright law. The details of the case will sound strange to Wikimedia contributors as the court identified separate copyright laws for paper versus digital media publishing.
The Signpost and the Wikimedia Foundation's blog reported the original April 2016 loss at the Supreme Court. The Visual Copyright Society in Sweden, known natively as the Bildkonst Upphovsrätt i Sverige or BUS, initiated a lawsuit against Wikimedia Sverige in 2014 over the publication of, a website which displayed Wikimedia Commons images through a map. Wikimedia Sverige argued that Sweden's freedom of panorama laws allowed the publication of photos of permanently installed public artworks, such as monuments in public parks. Interpreting the result is challenging, but the court seems to have said that the freedom of panorama rules permit photographers to create images of art, publish them online, publish them in books, and sell copies of their photos commercially, all without permission from the artist who created the work featured in the photo. The part that is not allowed is compiling a database which makes it very easy for anyone to find and republish the images for any purpose, including commercial purposes. Whatever the legal interpretation, Wikimedia Sverige lost, and the Wikimedia Foundation disagreed with the court's ruling.
Following that ruling, the Swedish Patent and Market Court awarded money to BUS in July 2017 as reported by Wikimedia Sverige in the mailing list and on the Wikimedia Foundation's blog. While the Supreme Court mentioned the database explicitly in the final ruling, the Patent and Market Court ruling did not. Instead, that court says that media shared online cannot be considered "avbildning", a Swedish term which means "a reproduction". Since avbildning is allowed under the freedom of panorama exception it means that online publishing is likely no longer covered by freedom of panorama. Wikimedia Sverige must and will pay 750,000 SEK (US$90,000) to BUS for legal expenses and a fine. Wikimedia Sverige is asking for donations from the Wikimedia community and supporters, even if the donation is only a small symbolic amount to demonstrate support. They take money in Swedish Krona and 10 krona, a fine donation which creates a record of civic interest in Wikimedia Sverige's position, is US$1. Anyone outside the European Union may have difficulty making a donation, although some payment types in the US and elsewhere may work.

We were also (yet again!) talking about Wikipedia in courts of law, starting with the darkly humorous tale of the worst lawyer ever and the tragic consequences thereof:

From In the Media for 5 August 2017 by Eddie891 and Bluerasberry

On July 18 the New York Post reported on an "utterly incompetent" lawyer who was accused of using Wikipedia to defend her client, TaiChin Preyor. Preyor was arrested for the fatal stabbing of Jami Tackett during a drug-related robbery in 2004. Preyor's new lawyers claimed that "It appears she relied on Wikipedia, of all things, to learn the complex in and outs of Texas capital punishment." The lawyer had, among other things, the Wikipedia article titled "Capital punishment in Texas" printed out and labeled "research". Preyor was executed on July 27.
On July 26, Estonian Public Broadcasting reported that the Supreme Court of Estonia decided that checking the Wikipedia article Mil Mi-28 is an inadequate method for determining whether to levy a tariff for civilian versus combat helicopter parts. The story began in 2015, when parts for Russian helicopters arrived at Muuga Harbor in Estonia from Dubai. The company shipping them claimed that they were parts for civilian helicopters; however, it was eventually discovered that they were intended for combat helicopters. In response to the sale, Europe's Tax and Customs board fined the company 1,600 euros, citing a Wikipedia page. The company promptly sued, and the Supreme Court eventually found that Wikipedia was not a sufficiently credible source to justify an order of punishment.

After several more examples, the article concludes:

The proliferation of Wikipedia as a source has drawn criticism from some, such as Cass Sunstein and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. However, others such as Judge Richard Posner maintain that "Wikipedia is a terrific resource … because it [is] so convenient, it often has been updated recently and is very accurate." However, Judge Posner also noted that it "wouldn’t be right to use it in a critical issue". Other scholars agree that Wikipedia is most appropriate for "soft facts", when courts want to provide context to help make their opinions more readable. Many agree that "Selectively using Wikipedia for … minor points in an opinion is an economical use of judges' and law clerks' time."
While it remains difficult to identify lawyers who admit to using Wikipedia, paradoxically, it has become common for lawyers to claim that their lesser esteemed colleagues and rivals get all their information from Wikipedia.

Ten years ago

The Wikidata logo selected in July 2012. We announced it as the logo in our report ten years ago, but, in the end, it would be modified a bit to form the final logo.

Highlights from August 2012 include another article on Law Courts citing Wikipedia; and an article on the "Athena Project" to improve Wikipedia's workflows which provides an early mention of Flow, the failed attempt to replace Wikipedia talk pages that came before the more recent, successful tweaks to talk pages; but also an early mention of Echo, the really successful notifications project. That last also detailed several other planned improvements, which I believe were reasonably successful overall. However, the biggest change announced in August 2012 was Wikidata:

From the Technology report of 6 August 2012 by Jarry1250

Developers are closing in on a first deployment of Wikidata, it became clear this week. Phase one of the project, aiming to provide a central repository of interwiki links, is expected to launch on the Hungarian Wikipedia within weeks (wikitech-l mailing list).
Confirming that all major work on the project, which is split across four extensions, is complete, the past week and the next couple will be dominated by work getting code reviewed, Project Director Denny Vrandečić suggested in his post on the developers' mailing list, picking out seven actionable items that will need to be negotiated ahead of a first deployment.
After the Hungarian Wikipedia, where community members have already agreed to trial the extension, the extension is likely to be deployed to either the Italian Wikipedia or the Hebrew Wikipedia, where its right-to-left support can be scrutinised; next up will be the English Wikipedia and finally all other Wikipedias. Deployment of phase 2 with centralised infobox-style data is not expected until the end of the year, if not earlier next.

Fifteen years ago

The Signpost also had its own comic fifteen years ago, drawn by Greg Williams.

Fifteen years ago, Creative Commons 3.0 licences were first accepted on Wikimedia Commons, a thing that seems so normal today that it's more surprising that there was a debate about it. Creative Commons' attempts to deal with national laws regarding moral rights for international content led to some discussion as to whether it was really free. Yes, really. Meanwhile, a series of interconnected plays based on a "Wikipedia walk", jumping from one article to another through hyperlinks, premièred in New York.

However, as Wikipedia prepares to hide IP addresses for anonymous users, it's probably most worth looking at the series of controversial revelations that dominated the entire period of the open publication of IP addresses. I've had to cut a lot out of this one for length and rearranged the order of things a little bit; the whole article is well worth reading.

From WikiScanner tool creates "minor public relations disasters" for scores of organizations by Sage Ross, 20 August 2007

Early on August 14, Wired News broke the story of WikiScanner, an online tool created by hacker Virgil Griffith that facilitates connecting the IP addresses of anonymous Wikipedia edits to the associated organizations. Griffith's tool combines the English Wikipedia database (current through August 4) with information from ip2location, which associates IP addresses with the specific organizations that control them. The initial Wired story described a few instances of dubious editing: edits from Diebold include the removal of criticism from the Diebold article, and edits from Wal-Mart include attempts to "burnish the company's image".
[...] TechNewsWorld carried a tech-savvy piece that included analysis from law professor Eben Moglen; Moglen described WikiScanner as "a sudden burst of bright light and a social navigation tool for understanding the Web," and warns that "There are orders of magnitude more clever things on the way" in terms of tracking and analyzing online activity. U.S. News & World Report [...] pointed out several early results from the Wired poll, including attempts by the Republican Party of Minnesota to turn the Harry Potter entry into a spoiler for the (recently released at the time) sixth book in the series, and edits from the New York Times vandalizing the George W. Bush article with the word "jerk". Not to be outdone by the upstart Yanks, The Times of London reported that an editor from the BBC had changed Bush's middle name from "Walker" to "Wanker".

The article continues with many more fascinating examples, but I'd like to finish with this:

A companion post to Wired's Threat Level blog by editor Kevin Poulsen, "Vote On the Most Shameful Wikipedia Spin Jobs", invited readers to use WikiScanner to find new examples, with a reddit-powered voting system for picking out the most egregious ones. Hundreds of examples have been submitted, many of which violate Wikipedia's conflict of interest guideline. Several of the top-rated examples, including edits attributed to Diebold, the Church of Scientology, and the National Rifle Association, have received over 1000 votes, and new submissions continue to accumulate. [...] [On Countdown with Keith Olbermann] Poulsen put the magnitude of WikiScanner's impact in perspective, noting that Wired readers had submitted over 100 examples, "any one of which would have been worth a news item in itself a week ago."

In this issue
+ Add a comment

Discuss this story

Just a month ago, the Swedish government initiated a report on reviewing current copyright. The assignment even has a specific section "The possibilities of reproducing works of art in a public place should be made clearer" with the remark "It is important that the possibilities to freely reproduce such works are not restricted more than absolutely necessary." The report should be concluded in November 2023. Ainali (talk) 21:32, 1 September 2022 (UTC)Reply[reply]


The Signpost · written by many · served by Sinepost V0.9 · 🄯 CC-BY-SA 4.0