Wikilegal/Attribution requirements and role accounts

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Content and edits to content on Wikipedia are most often licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (“CC BY-SA”) and/or the GNU Free Documentation License 1.3 (“GFDL”). The CC BY-SA license has a flexible attribution requirement which generally requires individuals who use or adapt a work to keep all copyright notices for the work intact. The CC BY-SA license also requires individuals who use or adapt a work to provide the name of the “original author,” and/or “another party or parties” that the original author and/or licensor designates for attribution. For literary or artistic works, Section 1(f) defines “Original Author” as “the individual, individuals, entity or entities who created the Work or if no individual or entity can be identified, the publisher.” Section 4(e) of the CC-BY-SA license explicitly identifies a sponsor institute, a publishing entity, or a journal as proper designees for attribution.

Likewise, the GFDL requires attribution to “preserve[] for an original author and publisher a way to get credit for their work.” There is no definition for “Original Author” in the GFDL, but Section 4 states that, for modifications to existing works, the authors are the “persons or entities responsible for authorship of the modifications.” This language implies that authorship under the GFDL is not restricted to individuals, and further, that institutional accounts can receive and give proper attribution under the GFDL.

Role accounts (accounts meant to represent multiple people), including institutional accounts, are prohibited on English Wikipedia, subject to certain exceptions. The policy prohibiting such accounts reflects the community's widely-accepted standards for transparent editing. However, as we see it, the policy was not adopted to meet any attribution requirement under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License or the GNU Free Documentation License 1.3.