Strategy/Wikimedia movement/2018-20/Working Groups/Diversity/Recommendations/9

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Recommendation # 9: Terms of Use/Licensing Policy[edit]

Q 1 What is your Recommendation?[edit]

That the Terms of Use (ToU) and licensing requirements stipulated therein be modified to better address community health, foster the diversity aims encapsulated in becoming “the essential infrastructure of the ecosystem of free knowledge”, and address systemic biases in the policies of the foundation and related projects.

Q 2 What assumptions are you making about the future context that led you to make this Recommendation?[edit]

In spite of research from numerous internal and external studies and community feedback reports over decades (Gender equity report 2018, Schellekensa, Holstegeb and Yasseri 2019, Ford and Wajcman 2017, Adams, Brückner and Naslund 2019), general policy change is rarely implemented in Wikimedia. Multiple studies have determined that extant movement policies don’t just reflect the systemic biases, they make biases against marginalized communities worse, in effect, re-colonizing and oppressing diverse knowledge(ibid)

First, because the nature of a volunteering project, which allows both trained and untrained (or unskilled) volunteers to “undertake the critical function of creating and enforcing policies for the specific Project editions”[1] and, second because of  the limited role of the Foundation has specified in hosting content and monitoring policy, Wikimedia projects have  an environment in which the majority of editors who flock to a page, (not necessarily the majority of editors) control policy definition and implementation, even if that implementation is detrimental to minority groups and broader inclusion of knowledge.

Existent ToU states that generally, the Foundation does not contribute, monitor or delete content. The exception would be when violations of the policies in the Terms of Use occur, for legal compliance for DMCA notices.) At present, the Terms of Use do not address when the policies fail to promote “the Wikimedia vision of a world in which every single human can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.”[2] This means that editorial control is in the hands of editors who create and manage the content. The Foundation’s primary role has been to host this content. However, a secondary role, which is unaddressed in the present version of the ToU is to work closely with stakeholders to identify shortcomings in current processes and enforcement mechanisms to aid in the development of appropriate solutions. We need to create such policy considering that the “the Foundation views its responsibility as being to the long-term health of all Wikimedia projects” as it has been discussed previously by the Trust & Safety Team[3].

The current policies limit the aims of the movement to diversify or to represent broader kinds of knowledge.  Extrapolating planning models from other endeavors, rather than a grassroots model, successful policy largely relies on a combination of top-down and community involvement to attain integration of management objectives and community-based knowledge systems.[1], [2], [3] For this reason we assume that it would be necessary to modify the “Terms of Use” especially to address community health, foster diversity and address systemic biases.

The ToU should be modified to reflect the different reality from when it was launched. The foundation does create and implement policy. It has a strategic direction that stakeholders are encouraged to implement. It needs to incorporate references to a Code of Conduct and needs to re-evaluate whether the aim of education and knowledge supersedes the ability to use work commercially in the licensing policy. This recommendation would change various parts of the ToU to better reflect the collaboration of stakeholders and the idea of revising and launching new policies under the “Terms of Use”, which are developed in conjunction with stakeholders.

Q 3 What will change because of the Recommendation?[edit]

On a technical and experience level:

  1. The ToU policy should be easily accessible. Placement of a link to the policy on the task bar at the top left of any project space (i.e. may be implemented as an automatic pop up). This allows everyone immediate access and reconfirms that these are the foundational rules for engagement regardless of other project specific guides.
  2. The ToU  should be agreed on each time an editor acts anonymously as an IP. Rather than simply a checkbox, the policy should open, so that (in theory) the policy is read before the box is checked. (For those with registered User name, as long as they remain signed in they would not get a pop-up after sign-on. This would correlate to other public access facilities and serve to reinforce “safe space policies” and expected on-line behavior norms.

The “Terms of Use” are a general policy at movement level with the scope of community health and diversity in both community and content. This means that they can be extended in each language edition but not overridden.

We propose modifying the ToU, both as a way of giving prominence to such a message to all stakeholders and as a general policy driven by movement strategy. The specific directions of the policies contained in it are mainly on aspects to be regulated such as conflicts between users, systemic biases and content.

One of the policies that should be encouraged and contained in the ToU is regarding the content licenses and diversity. Present licensing for both text and photographs should change to allow restrictions for non-commercial use and no derivative works, if those will improve the ability of the project to better reflect diverse knowledge on a global scale, such as by including videos, allowing culturally significant text or photos to remain intact without misappropriation, etc. Such misappropriation for a variety of reasons has created distrust from marginalized and underrepresented communities with open knowledge movements.

We currently use for text both Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License and/or GNU Free Documentation License. Specifically the ToU says “reusers may comply with either license or both”. The GNU says, “The "Invariant Sections" are certain Secondary Sections whose titles are designated, as being those of Invariant Sections, in the notice that says that the Document is released under this License… L. Preserve all the Invariant Sections of the Document, unaltered in their text and in their titles. …” If that indeed means that by reusing the document one must keep the authentic text, then it allows certain topics to be in essence "semi-protected". In Berlin, the legal department said this could be done, but perhaps it would be through a different license entirely. As an example, for an article in which an indigenous historian/scholar has provided “authoritative” input and marked with distribute only through GNU, it would be semi- or fully-protected from drive by editing for those sections marked. ToU language would change adding something along the lines of if text is marked as licensed under “license X” it must distributed verbatim, though translation is allowed (which the GNU policy allows).

Likewise, photographs, which are marked ND (No derivative works) or NC (No commercial works) could be made available for use with proper attributions/licensing notices. This would allow distribution of educational videos or materials often licensed only as NC, or culturally significant works marked ND which might suffer from misappropriation. (If this cannot be applied across the board, we need to evaluate project specific use for multimediamulti-media, such as the “fair use” policy on English Wikipedia.)

On a governance level, another statement that should be clarified in the ToU is that of the relationship between the Wikimedia Foundation and the community. The community undertakes the critical function of creating, enacting and enforcing guidelines and policies for the specific Project editions (such as the different language editions for the Wikipedia Project or the Wikimedia Commons multilingual edition). In addition, the community has the responsibility to carry out its work in a manner consistent with the mission of the Foundation and strategic plan of our movement. This secondary responsibility is currently missing from the ToU and should be added, as it’s omission has created conflict when the WMF has acted to enforce such things as office actions.  In the event conflict with the mission goals occurs or if the policies of any project fail to further the mission or thwart the goals/mission of the Foundation, the Board should have the right to either a) hire experts/specialists to evaluate policy and recommend change, b) collaborate with stakeholders to make changes, or c) implement change at the foundational level.

Q4. How does Recommendation relate to the current structural reality? Does it keep something, change something, stop something, or add something new?[edit]

The proposal would alter the one-directional method of creating project policy to one that is more balanced and involves multiple layers of policy creation (Wikimedia Foundation, Chapters and Online Community, i.e. all stakeholders). At present policy is developed project by project without input from the WMF. This proposal suggests that policies should be created as a collaboration between the stakeholders to advance the movement goals. Incorporating a Code of Conduct, would better ensure the health of the community. Addressing systemic biases would eliminate problems such as having to overcome ignorance and belittling comments which fail to consider the pluricentric nature of various languages; underrepresentation/misrepresentation of a broad spectrum of society, including but not limited to differently-abled communities, elders, indigenous groups, the LGBT community, racial and ethnic minorities, and women; and policy and technological barriers which currently exclude certain types of knowledge, mirror systemic biases of society (Bach and Wajcman 2017), or violate neutrality by supporting political aims (Talia 2019). Modifying the current licensing policy will better reflect our focus on education and knowledge sharing.

Having the freedom to create policy on a community-needs basis, but balancing it with policy to meet the objectives of the movement, will also make it easier to share content across platforms, as research has clearly shown that within each project the majority of material is based on culturally significant topics within that language group, rather than a diverse array of content which incorporates culturally significant topics within other languages.

Q4a. Could this Recommendation have a negative impact/change?[edit]

All change has negative connotations to some members of the community.

Q4b. What could be done to mitigate this risk?[edit]

Legal wording would need to ensure that restructuring into a multi-level arrangement for developing policy creates a balanced environment, fostering inclusion of content, but neither favoring bottom-up, nor top-down controls. It would also need to ensure the autonomy of projects in content control and policy implementation, to prevent censorship.

Q5. Why this Recommendation? What assumptions are you making?[edit]

The current version of the Terms of Use does not reflect the present reality. The roles of stakeholders have been modified over time and should be accurately reflected to state that the WMF creates policy to meet strategic targets, (such as community health, diversity, and addressing systemic biases) that the community has a responsibility to also create policies which are guided by the movement strategy and goals.

Community feedback on multiple levels from a variety of venues has indicated that policies are often used to silence diverse voices from participating in discussions and content creation. The focus on mainstream, Western-idea of academic-based knowledge limits the inclusion of other ways of knowing or presenting knowledge. Addressing community health, systemic biases and diversity impacts each stakeholder in the movement, thus policies should be developed collaboratively.

Q6. How is this Recommendation connected to other WGs?[edit]

Clearly it overlaps with Advocacy, Capacity Building, Community Health, Roles & Responsibilities,  and the Technology WGs. Changes would allow groups which have different means of passing on knowledge to participate in Wikimedia projects in a safe environment, where their voices are not silenced by unintentional or direct biases.

Q7. Does this Recommendation connect or depend on another of your Recommendations?[edit]

Connects with Recommendation for a Code of Conduct.

References[edit]