Terms of use/FAQ on paid contributions without disclosure

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FAQ on disclosure of paid contributions[edit]

Does this provision apply to me if I am simply editing or uploading as an unpaid volunteer?[edit]

Absolutely not! The Wikimedia projects are edited and supported by tens of thousands of unpaid volunteers. Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects are run by a nonprofit organization - the only nonprofit website among the top websites in the world. This volunteerism is what makes our projects so special and widely used. As an unpaid volunteer, you are encouraged to edit and upload content without any need of disclosure under this provision of the terms of use.

However, some contributors do receive payment for their edits. These contributors improve the overall quality of the projects when they edit with a neutral point of view. This includes many contributors associated with institutions such as universities, galleries, libraries, archives, and museums. On the other hand, paid advocacy editing - i.e. paid editing of articles to promote companies, products, and services - is strongly discouraged or banned on most, if not all, the projects.

If you are not paid for edits, you don't need to worry about disclosure under this provision: you’re absolutely fine. You are part of an amazing community of volunteers contributing to an unprecedented resource of free information available to the whole world.

If you are being paid, you must disclose it. Let the community know by adding that context to your edit summary, user page, or talk page, in order to fairly disclose your perspective. But do make sure you learn the rules: as we explain in more detail below, contributing to Wikimedia projects to serve the interests of a paying client while concealing the paid affiliation can be problematic.

One small caution: some projects have conflict of interest policies that are different from (and stronger than) this provision in the terms of use. These policies might prevent you from certain forms of volunteer editing, for example, contributing to articles about yourself. Make sure you check out those community policies before getting started! If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to the community of your local project. Each project will provide contact information (usually at the bottom of the page), and generally has different venues for questions and announcements.

How does this provision affect teachers, professors, and employees of galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (“GLAM”)?[edit]

These requirements shouldn’t keep teachers, professors, or people working at galleries, libraries, archives, and museums ("GLAM") institutions from making contributions in good faith! If you fall into one of those categories, you are only required to comply with the disclosure provision when you are compensated by your employer or by a client specifically for edits and uploads to a Wikimedia project.

For example, if a professor at University X is paid directly by University X to write about that university on Wikipedia, the professor needs to disclose that the contribution is compensated. There is a direct quid pro quo exchange: money for edits. However, if that professor is simply paid a salary for teaching and conducting research, and is only encouraged by their university to contribute generally without more specific instruction, that professor does not need to disclose their affiliation with the university.

The same is true with GLAM employees. Disclosure is only necessary where compensation has been promised or received in exchange for a particular contribution. A museum employee who is contributing to projects generally without more specific instruction from the museum need not disclose her affiliation with the museum. On the other hand, a Wikipedian in Residence who is specifically compensated to edit the article about the archive at which they are employed should make a simple disclosure that he is a paid Wikipedian in Residence with the archive. This would be sufficient disclosure for purposes of requirement.

How does community enforcement of this provision work with existing rules about privacy and behavior?[edit]

It’s important to protect good-faith editors. Like the rules around sockpuppeting and sockpuppet investigations, the disclosure provision in the Terms of Use is intended to work with existing policies and practices, so that there is a fair balance between identifying paid contributions and protecting those who are helping advance Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects.

These policies include the cross-project value of civility, which is a pillar of Wikipedia; relevant project policies, like ENWP:OUTING; and the Terms of Use, which prohibit stalking and abuse. (In cases of more extreme behaviors, local law may also apply.)

This requirement, like others, should be applied constructively to enable collaboration and improve our projects. Users who violate them should first be warned and informed about these rules, and then only blocked if necessary. In other words: assume good faith and don’t bite the newcomers. Harassment should also be avoided. For example, under the English Wikipedia policy on harassment, users must not publicly share personal information about other users.

How can I avoid disclosure under this provision of the Terms of Use?[edit]

If you wish to avoid the disclosure requirement of this provision, you should abstain from receiving compensation for your edits.

What is the "applicable law" for paid contributions on Wikipedia and its sister sites? Are undisclosed paid contributions potentially illegal?[edit]

Depending on where you operate, a variety of laws could apply to you, your business, or your clients, such as unfair competition and simple fraud statutes. In addition to the requirements of the Terms of Use, you must comply with those laws in your disclosure and execution of paid contributions.

We cannot advise you about specific legal requirements, and you should employ your own lawyer if you have questions. That said, as general background, deceptive business practices, such as concealing a professional affiliation, are prohibited in many jurisdictions.

In United States, for example, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has the nationwide authority to regulate unfair or deceptive acts or practices in commerce.[1] For instance, if you failed to disclose in a relevant online forum that you are affiliated with a company under the FTC’s regulation, FTC regulations suggest that you might be subject to liability:

An online message board designated for discussions of new music download technology is frequented by MP3 player enthusiasts. They exchange information about new products, utilities, and the functionality of numerous playback devices. Unbeknownst to the message board community, an employee of a leading playback device manufacturer has been posting messages on the discussion board promoting the manufacturer’s product. Knowledge of this poster’s employment likely would affect the weight or credibility of her endorsement. Therefore, the poster should clearly and conspicuously disclose her relationship to the manufacturer to members and readers of the message board.[2]

The FTC’s guide Dot Com Disclosures specifies that disclosures like this one “must be communicated effectively so that consumers are likely to notice and understand them”. State law may also apply, as in the N.Y. Attorney General’s 2013 investigation regarding companies engaging in astroturfing.[3]

Outside the US, other laws may also require disclosure of paid contributions. The EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (and corresponding national versions) ban use of “editorial content ... to promote a product where a trader has paid for the promotion without making that clear”.[4] National legislation of EU member states may further restrict undisclosed paid contributions. For example, competition laws have been used by national courts in Germany to find violations when a contributor failed to properly disclose their affiliation.

Where legally-required disclosures cannot be made in a way that complies with community rules, the community rules take precedence. For example, if local laws require disclosure of sponsorship of an edit in the article text itself, and putting such a message in the article text violated community rules (as it likely does in most projects), then such edits would be prohibited.

What are the non-legal possible negative effects of paid contributions?[edit]

As repeated real life examples illustrate, paid editing without appropriate disclosure can result in negative publicity for companies, clients, and individuals. We’ve found that the press follows such stories closely. Failing to include a disclosure with a paid contribution may lead to a loss of trust with the broader public in addition to the Wikimedia community.

To maintain goodwill and to avoid misunderstandings, transparency and friendly cooperation is the best policy for those being compensated for Wikimedia contributions. To avoid embarrassment, you should disclose as required by the Terms of Use, as well as local policies regarding paid contributions, such as Wikipedia:Conflict of interest (for the English Wikipedia).

What does “compensation” mean?[edit]

As used in this provision, “compensation” means an exchange of money, goods, or services.

What does the phrase “employer, client, and affiliation” mean?[edit]

This means the person or organization that is paying you compensation – money, goods, or services – with respect to any contribution to a Wikimedia project. This could be a business, a charity, an educational institution, a government department or another individual, for example. The disclosure requirement is simple, and requires you to provide this information in one of the three ways described above. If you are editing an article on Wikipedia on behalf of your employer, for example, you must disclose your employer's details. If you have been hired by a public relations firm to edit Wikipedia, you must disclose both the firm and the firm’s client. If you are a compensated Wikimedian in residence, for example, you must note what GLAM organisation is paying you.

Are paid editing disclosures required only when editing Wikipedia articles?[edit]

No, you must disclose your employment, client, and affiliation when making any type of paid contribution to any Wikimedia project. This includes edits on talk pages and edits on projects other than Wikipedia.

Does this provision mean that paid contributions are always allowed as long as they are disclosed?[edit]

No. Users must also comply with each Wikimedia project’s additional policies and guidelines, as well as any applicable laws. For example, English Wikipedia’s policy on neutral point of view requires that editing be done fairly, proportionally and (as far as possible) without bias; these requirements must be followed even if the contributor discloses making paid edits.

How should I disclose paid contributions in my user page?[edit]

You may explain that you work for a particular client or employer on your user page. If you work for company Acme, and, as part of your job responsibilities, you edit Wikipedia articles about company Acme, you satisfy the minimum requirement of the Terms of Use if you simply say that you edit on behalf of company Acme on your user page. You however need to follow community or Foundation policies, in addition to applicable law.

How should I disclose paid contributions in my edit summary?[edit]

You may represent your employer, affiliation, and client in the edit summary box before you “save” your edit or contribution. For example, before saving your edits to a Wikipedia article about your client, X, you may write this note in the edit summary box: “X has hired me to update their Wikipedia article” or “I work for X.”

How should I disclose paid contributions on a talk page?[edit]

You may represent your employer, affiliation, and client in the relevant talk page either before, or immediately after, you “save” your edit or contribution.

Do I have to disclose the details of the compensation I am receiving?[edit]

You do not have to disclose the amount or type of compensation you are receiving for editing; the minimum required is that you disclose your employer, client, and affiliation.

Can a local project adopt an alternative disclosure policy for paid editing?[edit]

Disclosure of paid contributions to any of the Wikimedia projects is a requirement under the disclosure provision of the Terms of Use. Nonetheless, individual projects may create an alternative disclosure policy when their projects or communities have particular needs to either strengthen or reduce the requirements. The provision gives communities discretion to adjust the rules set out in the Terms of Use to their specific project after following the project's standard consensus-based process for establishing core policies. Adopting an alternative disclosure policy requires consensus, consistent with the project’s past practice and local understanding of what consensus is. To adopt a pre-existing policy as an alternative disclosure policy, a project community must gain consensus specifically to replace the paid editing disclosure requirements in the Terms of Use with the policy of the project. For an example of an alternative disclosure policy, see this proposal on MediaWiki.

After creating such a policy, projects must include their policy on the list of alternative disclosure policies. This list will help editors and sister projects to quickly discover what the local project policy for paid editing is, or if the default applies.

Does this provision mean that Wikimedia projects must change their policies?[edit]

Wikimedia projects may change their policies to reference this requirement, to require stricter requirements for paid contributions, or to provide alternative rules.

What projects have established alternative disclosure policies?[edit]

Projects that have alternative policies are listed here: list of alternative disclosure policies.

When did this clause go into effect?[edit]

The disclosure provision of the Terms of Use went into effect on June 16, 2014. The provision was the result of a discussion with the community, after an initial proposal to amend the Terms was made by the Wikimedia Foundation’s Legal and Community Advocacy Team. The discussion was closed on March 25, 2014, and the amendment was approved by the Board of Trustees on April 25, 2014.

References[edit]

  1. Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45(a)(2) (2006)
  2. 16 C.F.R. §255.5, Example 8, p.12.
  3. Parino v. Bidrack, Inc., 838 F. Supp. 2d 900, 905 (N.D. Cal. 2011) (plaintiff’s allegations, including defendant’s creation and use of fake reviews on website, were sufficient to bring a claim under California’s Unfair Competition Law and False Advertising Law)
  4. Directive 2005/29/EC of the European Parliament (Annex I, points 11 and 22).