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Wikimedia Foundation/Legal/Community Resilience and Sustainability/Human Rights/Human Rights Policy discussion 2021-12-10

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Human Rights Policy Conversation Hour[edit]

Date: December 10, 2021

Introduction of Wikimedia Foundation Participants[edit]

  • Ricky Gaines, Sr. Manager for Advocacy Audiences, working under the Global Advocacy Team which is a new team in the Foundation. New to the Foundation. Will be working to develop an advocacy strategy to advance WMF’s values to keep the internet a free and open space in which open knowledge projects like Wikipedia can thrive while upholding the human rights of those who participate in open knowledge.
  • Ziski Putz, Movement Advocacy Community Manager on the Global Advocacy Team. Also new to Foundation. Will strengthen connections with the community and more consistently communicate what’s happening on the public policy team.
  • Rebecca MacKinnon, VP of Global Advocacy
  • Maggie Dennis, VP of Community Resilience and Sustainability
  • Cameran Ashraf, Lead for Human Rights
  • Sanda Sandu, Fellow on Human Rights team
  • Jan Gerlach, Director for Public Policy
  • Jan Eissfeldt, Global Head Trust and Safety


  • Today (10 December) is Human Rights Day, celebrated every year to commemorate adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly. We chose to have the first conversation hour regarding this policy on this day to underscore our commitment to upholding human rights throughout our work
  • This is just the first opportunity the community will have to engage with the community on this policy. We will be planning more events in 2022 to get the community involved in the process regarding this policy.
  • Housekeeping notes: Call will be recorded, governed by Universal Code of Conduct and Friendly Spaces policies.

Opening Comments by Wikimedia Foundation Staff[edit]

  • Rebecca MacKinnon on why this policy has been passed and why it is urgent:
    • Growing need: As governments get more aggressive about what happens online, the pressure on the Wikimedia movement has grown to protect everyone’s rights. There has been a growing need as to what the foundation's policies and commitment are to human rights standards. These standards will guide future foundation and community-wide decisions.
    • Globalising movement: As the Foundation and movement globalise, a major priority is to bring more diverse communities into the movement and increase participation by people of all backgrounds and geographic locations. This means we may bring more people into the fold who join us from countries or communities in which they could face severe consequences to their privacy or human rights for participating in open knowledge projects. Their ability to participate is hindered unless we clearly step up and make commitments to protect and respect their rights and operate our projects in a manner that keeps people safe.

Rebecca MacKinnon providing more information on Human Rights Policy content:

  • It follows all 30 articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The policy itself is in-line with the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights. While we are not a for-profit business, we are a tech-platform (because we operate platforms) and therefore these guiding principles do apply to Wikimedia projects and the operations of the foundation. The Human Rights policy focuses on pillars of the UN guiding principles:
    • Conducting due diligence to understand how policies and processes on platform impact people’s human rights
    • Transparency: tracking and publicly reporting efforts to meet human rights commitments
    • Advocacy: using influence to advance and uphold respect for human rights
    • Remedy : providing access to reporting mechanisms and processes that investigate and offer remedy when violations occur

Rebecca MacKinnon on next steps:

  • This is just the beginning. The current policy is broad, we need to consult the community on many elements within this policy such as how we implement it across the movement. This policy is NOT a statement of something that will be fully implemented within a year. Instead, it's a list of broad goals by which we want to live and be held accountable to. This is the beginning of a conversation, not the end of it.

Cameran Ashraf on the Human Rights Team that is being established within the Foundation and how it relates to this policy:

  • About the team: a global team that works to support volunteers who are persecuted for their participation in the movement. And to help further the foundation’s work on human rights.
  • Just launched a Meta page which includes contact info if you want to learn more
  • Actions include: digital security training, digital security office hours, building a human rights interest group within the movement to bring a bigger human rights lense across the platform (working with Wiki 4 Human Rights, getting more content about human rights on there, better educating community members about their rights)

Questions & Answers[edit]

Question1: Three people on the wikimedia-l mailing list asked about fair remuneration practices, and one person asked about labor unions. I want to ask two questions related to those topics in turn. (1) First, I understand we can't pay volunteers or offer them health insurance (right?) but can our advocacy include practices that might lead to some kind of royalties or licence fees from commercial re-users over a certain volume, for the volunteers? (2) On labor unions, does (anyone in) the Foundation have a ...written policy in support or opposition to unions? Answer from Maggie Dennis: coming from my position as a volunteer, where I did a lot of work on copyright - I have a bit of a question in response. I don’t understand how royalties or license fees are possible under our CC BY SA licensing scheme, because no licensing piece can be charged. I’d welcome thoughts from anyone as to whether or not I’m understanding that correctly.

  • Answer from Rebecca MacKinnon: sounds like IP and Royalties, I think there could be a discussion within the community of whether that is in the scope of this human rights policy. Labor rights are certainly in scope of the policy, and certainly the international human rights standards include the right to organize - which includes the right to form unions. We should leave it there. I’ve never seen anything from the Foundation that would contradict that.

Question 2: Can legislation override such restrictions on royalties for CC content?

  • Answer from Maggie Dennis: Since we don’t have a copyright attorney in the room and since I have volunteer experience in this, I can just say that I was part of the conversations where we changed the license to update it. I don’t believe so….i’m pretty sure if you read the Terms of Release that every contributor agrees to when they put content on the site, then you will see they agreed to release it under our existing license in perpetuity. I am almost certain we cannot retroactively restrict the terms. In order to truly understand that question we would need to put it in front of one of our copyright attorneys.

Question 3: What languages will the foundation translate the policy into initially?

  • Answer from Ricky Gaines: Initially into Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Russian, and French. This is something that we will be working on in the coming weeks. Unfortunately it will be slowed down by the holiday season. Nonetheless, we are committed to translating the policy into those languages.

Question 4: Clarification - I guess I would imagine that Congress could implement something similar to how they handle payments from top 40 x payments to top 40 x payments made in commercial spaces…

  • Answer from Rebecca MacKinnon: The Human Rights Policy is not intended to address questions of copyright law. That is why we didn’t bring copyright attorneys into this conversation hour, apologies for not having answers to copyright law questions at this time.

Question 5: How to fix local policies that exist before the foundation places the Human Rights related policy which seem to contradict the policy?...Or communities that resist the implementation of UCoC, etc. global policies

  • Answer from Rebecca MacKinnon: That is precisely one of those areas that the community needs to have discussion on. The Human Rights policy certainly supports the right of communities to set their own rules around speech. But it would set a direction whereby the rules should be consistent with Human Rights standards, so if you have a rule that compels violation of human rights, then that would be difficult. This tension is a challenge not just on Wikimedia projects but in any place - how do you protect the rights of vulnerable people who might not be in the majority, and how do you create mechanisms to hold others to account for violating those standards?
  • Answer from Cameran Ashraf: This is exactly the kind of thing that we want to discuss in our Human Rights Interest Group. We need the community to be present with us to discuss these things - it is a great example.
  • Answer from Maggie Dennis: Global problems sometimes need global solutions. This is not new to the community, we do have standards across the entire movement that communities are not free to deviate from. When there are disagreements about what those standards should be, then they are usually resolved through conversation, through understanding, through stakeholders coming together and exploring. In terms of the UCoC, when local communities resist, my answer always starts with ‘why are they resisting? Is there an issue, a problem with the policy that we all need to understand? Or is there some other reason that needs to be addressed?’ At the end of the day, being a global community means having hard conversations about working globally towards those standards.