Joining the Commons: Appropedia switches licenses

The open license we use is central to what we do. Open knowledge can empower development, sustainability, appropriate technology, emergency management and all manner of progress. This means understanding what an open license is – giving freedom for all kinds of reuse and remixing, not restricting commercial use. This is the kind of license we have always used, as have Wikipedia, other Wikimedia projects and many other wikis – and the particular license that we have used is the GFDL, or GNU Free Document License, managed by the pioneering organization (some might say radical) the Free Software Foundation.

However, the GFDL was intended for software manuals, not for wikis – it’s good, but not quite the right tool for the job. The good news is that it’s now possible for a wiki site to convert its license from GFDL to a more suitable license – the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0. This has essentially the same freedoms is the GFDL, but also:

  • Is more practical for making printed works (you can reference the license rather than printing the whole thing);
  • Has a useful “human readable” summary (at the page linked above);
  • Has a “mark”, a linked image such as the one you see at the bottom of this page, which helps readers know what permissions they’ve been given, and helps search engines to index pages by permissions;
  • Is used by many bloggers and other creators of online works, meaning we can share with these more easily.

We in the Appropedia Foundation have been reading, weighing our options, asking questions and listening. It seems clear that the best course is licence migration to CC-BY-SA-3.0, so we are not delaying any longer. We’ve set the 21st of April as the day to convert to the Creative Commons License. This final week is your opportunity to give feedback and insights. We strongly believe this is the right course of action, but you can consider this as a case of “Speak now or forever hold your peace.”

(Okay – we wouldn’t tell someone to keep their mouth shut forever, but this really is a major decision, and it’s hard to imagine turning back once we’ve switched.)

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Btw, if you have a WordPress blog, like we do, there’s an easy way to add a Creative Commons mark in the footer: the creative commons license widget – that page says it’s only tested up to WordPress 2.5, but it seems to be working on version 2.71 without problems.

Obama, transition and public domain

Change.gov, Obama’s transition team, adopts Creative Commons “By Attribution” License. Of course it’s good news when people free their content in this way. But it’s also worth pointing out that open content is not a brand new thing in US government.  US federal government information is public domain by default, so anything produced by someone in their work as a federal government official, on Change.gov or elsewhere, is completely unrestricted in how it’s used.

This law is a fantastic thing – in terms of open knowledge, the US federal government has been by far the most progressive government worldwide, and have produced what must be the largest body of open knowledge by far. (As an Australian, praising the US government is not something I do as a habit, and I don’t want to get into a general discussion on its general merits or otherwise.)

I don’t know that this applies to Change.gov, but it will certainly apply to their work once they’re sworn into office. This choice is a great one in two ways, though:

Firstly, it raises the profile of open licenses (as opposed to imprecise statements limiting reuse to educational and non-commercial purposes) and especially the use of open licenses by governments. Almost all governments around the world, other than the US federal government, claim a copyright on their work (at least as far as I’ve seen). This is not appropriate for work created with public funds. It is a government’s role to serve the people, and anything created with the people’s money should be free to use by the people. (I’m not going to get into politics, but I think this should be uncontroversial.)

Secondly, it’s the right thing to do, to ensure that all comments and contributions are open and require attribution. It’s one thing for government work to be public domain, but I see no downside in requiring a work by non-government individuals to be attributed

So, which other governments are moving in this direction? Local, state, or national, from any and all countries – let’s see a movement towards openness. Please, if you know a government that uses an open license or releases their work as public domain, tell us in the comments and provide a link – or even better, add it straight to our wiki page on Governments and knowledge sharing.

Relevant Appropedia wiki pages:Relevant Appropedia wiki pages:

  • Public Domain Search – an Appropedia project to make public domain content more accessible. (Currently on hold, but if you have skills with the details of custom search engines, please get involved!)