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A sigh of relief for open access as Italy makes a slight U-turn on their cultural heritage reproduction law

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By Andreas Kolbe, Bri, GZWDer, and Oltrepier
An exclusive photo of Italian academics celebrating the return of cultural heritage to the public domain paradise.

Partial victory for public domain as Italy eases restrictions on digital reproductions of cultural heritage

In the end, it seems like the Italian Ministry of Culture did get the memo (kind of). As reported by Piergiovanna Grossi for Wikimedia Italy (in Italian), on 21 March 2024 the MoC published a revised version of the controversial decree that had aimed to introduce minimum fees for the commercial use of digital reproductions of state-owned cultural heritage, including works in the public domain. This decision had received widespread backlash from the academic community and had been criticized even by the national Court of Audit – see previous Signpost coverage.

The new bill brings some encouraging updates for researchers who work with and produce open access material: academic publications of every kind, newspaper and magazine articles and art catalogues, together with brochures and other publications (printed in up to 4,000 copies) involving exhibitions and cultural events, have all been exempted from payment for using reproductions, in line with the so-called Cultural Heritage and Landscape Code (CCHL), an Italian law originally approved in 2004 to "support the role of cultural heritage institutions in sustainable economic and social development".

However, both Grossi and University of Florence professor Paolo Liverani remarked that the bill and the CCHL still present some legislative flaws and confusing passages that could be detrimental for freedom of access to and sharing of reproductions of cultural heritage in the public domain. In an analysis for (in Italian), Liverani noted how the MoC "didn't have the courage to [fully] abandon the previous formula [of the bill]" and host public conversations with academic and cultural experts. As a result, the original fee system has been kept in place, despite being "neither acceptable, nor practically feasible", especially outside of Italy: in fact, the trial court of Stuttgart recently rejected (source in German) the MoC's request for compensation to allow toy company Ravensburger to use a reproduction of Leonardo Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man for a new model of their 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle series. Among other aspects, Liverani also points out at the vague definition of "open access" provided by the bill, which is generically indicated as "publications freely accessible by everyone in virtue of not having a cover price", without any clear reference to the various types of Creative Commons licenses.

Plus, the decree still delegates reviews of requests submitted by non-exempted applicants to local cultural institutions: this bureaucratic process might not only take a toll upon the boards' economic and human resources, but also put researchers at risk of unequal treatment, since the bill could be interpreted differently depending on the area. On the other hand, as argued by Grossi, this same aspect could also lead to wider freedom of access to cultural heritage, if local institutions prove virtuous enough to extend exemption rights to other categories; she also noted that such organs have the right to cut fees entirely, which might be particularly beneficial to institutions in lesser-known areas and/or with lower budgets.

Overall, Grossi and Liverani agree that, despite some notable issues, the new version of the MoC's decree is a step back on the right track, although the former reminds that "it's now the turn of cultural institutions, the scientific community, researchers and volunteers to put these concessions to the test and see how far we can go". — O

WMF white paper on privacy and research ethics: community feedback request

The Wikimedia Foundation staff have presented a draft for the "Wikimedia Research Best Practices Around Privacy Whitepaper", which aims to outline privacy guidance for academic researchers to avoid doxing contributors, as requested last year by the English Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee in one of the remedies of the case "World War II and the history of Jews in Poland" — see previous Signpost coverage. The Arbitration Committee said:

Formal request to the Wikimedia Foundation for a white paper on research best practices

1) The Arbitration Committee formally requests that the Wikimedia Foundation develop and promulgate a white paper on the best practices for researchers and authors when writing about Wikipedians. The Committee requests that the white paper convey to researchers the principles of our movement and give specific recommendation for researchers on how to study and write about Wikipedians and their personal information in a way that respects our principles. Upon completion, we request that the white paper be distributed through the Foundation's research networks including email newsletters, social media accounts, and web publications such as the Diff blog.

This request will be sent by the Arbitration Committee to Maggie Dennis, Vice President of Community Resilience & Sustainability with the understanding that the task may be delegated as appropriate.

Passed 11 to 0 with 1 abstention at 16:30, 20 May 2023 (UTC)
Updated to include Phabricator tracking at 09:20, 1 June 2023 (UTC)

Community feedback on the newly-presented draft is invited by 30 April. The WMF has also scheduled a Conversation Hour:

* Join us for a Conversation Hour on 23 April 2024 at 15:00 UTC. This conversation will be guided by some questions to encourage actionable feedback. Join via Google Meet.

  • We encourage you to use the talk page/discussion feature to provide your input. If you need a private space to communicate your feedback, you can do so by sending an email to with "privacy white paper" in the subject line.


WMF proposes solution to year-long graphs outage as communities start to resort to workarounds

Following extensive discussions (see last issue's Technology report) about how to handle the outage of the Graph extension (which had been deactivated in April 2023 due to security issues, leaving tens of thousands of Wikipedia articles with broken content) and multiple abandoned attempts at a more limited technical fix, the Wikimedia Foundation has announced a plan for

[...] building a new service to replace the Graph extension. This approach will enable editors to create basic visualizations, will require coordination with communities around migrating existing graphs, and will be extensible by developers who want to build and maintain additional functionality.

The Foundation asks for input on several questions (e.g. "What are the basic visualization types that are most important to support? Which ones can we do without?" and "Which use cases are you concerned about being missed?"). The announcement indicates that implementation work on this project won't ramp up fully before July, and won't include interactive features yet:

In the many conversations around graphs, volunteers have also raised longer term questions about “interactive content”, such as timelines and 3D objects. Rebuilding the capability to serve simple graphs securely will be a large amount of work for staff and volunteers. As part of this, the new extension will be readily extensible by volunteers who have the technical skill to add more sophisticated visualizations and more data sources. This may be an open door to some kinds of interactive content, but the larger topic of interactive content is worthy of separate, continued conversations moving forward.

In meantime, Basque Wikipedia, in collaboration with the Wiki Project Med Foundation, has implemented a feature for displaying interactive graphs from Our World in Data inline in Wikipedia articles (example, documentation). For privacy reasons, it initially shows a static image from Commons and requires the reader to click a button and provide consent (to have their IP address shared with a non-WMF site) before the interactive version of the graph is loaded from OWID's servers. Another community-driven implementation of interactive content using the same "Template gadgets" system (enabled by a March 22 software change that allows the loading of gadgets for pages in a specific category) can be seen in the Spanish Wikipedia's article on the Game of Life. Both workarounds have obvious downsides in terms of the editability of the displayed interactive content. – H

Iranian ex-Steward globally banned by WMF

Mohsen Salek at Wikidata 2022 in Istanbul

Former Steward Mohsen Salek (User:Mardetanha) was globally banned by the Wikimedia Foundation on 8 April 2024.

Mohsen has been a prominent movement figure for many years, as a past co-author of Wikimedia "Diff" blog posts, as well as the recipient of an honorable mention in the Wikimedian of the Year 2016 event for creating the Persian-language version of the "Wikipedia Library".

He also served as an administrator and bureaucrat for the Persian Wikipedia, which in recent years, according to several independent reports, has been subject to interference from Iranian authorities, most notably from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. – AK, G, O

Brief notes

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@Jayen466: Thank you, I'll add it to the list! --Oltrepier (talk) 17:06, 25 April 2024 (UTC)[reply]
There was some speculation in the Signpost newsroom, but it didn't progress to where we thought it made responsible elaboration on what was published. ☆ Bri (talk) 18:37, 25 April 2024 (UTC)[reply]
I met Mohsen at a conference — such a gregarious conversationalist and delightful person to have around! I'm very curious about what happened. I'll miss seeing him around. Crunchydillpickle🥒 (talk) 19:04, 25 April 2024 (UTC)[reply]
I agree with Liz, this is very worrying. It reeks of political censorship. --NSH001 (talk) 20:50, 25 April 2024 (UTC)[reply]
It's so weird there's no note on why, or the lack or a reason, especially given the last Signpost issue's discussion of Wikipedia's transparency mentioning blocks as an example. //Replayful (talk | contribs) 21:17, 28 April 2024 (UTC)[reply]
I asked on the Wikimedia-l mailing list on April 25 and have received no reply. Andreas JN466 17:41, 14 May 2024 (UTC)[reply]
@Jayen466: I actually emailed them about the Mardetanha ban a while back, and got a response on April 11th. The WMF said that they could not share any details for privacy reasons. Not sure about the other ban, but they probably have the same reason for why you haven't received a response. QuicoleJR (talk) 15:20, 22 May 2024 (UTC)[reply]
@QuicoleJR Thanks for the info. (My question was about Mardetanha as well.) Privacy cuts both ways here. On the one hand, it does protect the contributor, but it also shields the WMF from accountability. Andreas JN466 05:21, 24 May 2024 (UTC)[reply]
We at Wiki Project Med have been working on integrating OWID for nearly a decade now. This initially began as a collaboration with WMF staff using the graph extension. When that failed we duplicated OWID on the wmcloud.[1] And than imported that into a mediawiki.[2] To get it on WP we were told it needs to move to production servers and have a WMF team to manage it. We next looked at just bringing OWID in directly via a gadget after getting reader consent which is now live in EU WP.[3] There is currently discussion regarding if this will be permitted.[4] I guess we will see. But the community is working on various potential solutions. Doc James (talk · contribs · email) 22:29, 26 April 2024 (UTC)[reply]
While i agree that learned helplessness is part of the problem here, i think it goes further than that. It looks like the articles were intentionally kept in a broken state in order to try to put presure on WMF to implement a preferred solution. There are failures here on all sides. That said, i think the biggest problem is that once you dig, there is wide disagreement among the community about what "graphs" should be. Its hard to fix a problem when you can't even figure out what you are supposed to be fixing. Bawolff (talk) 02:11, 28 April 2024 (UTC)[reply]


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