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Wikimedia Foundation logo
Wikimedia Foundation logo

Wikimedia Quarto

Blue Edition January 2005

ar | cs | da | de | en | es | fi | fr | he | hu | it | ja | kn | ko | nl | no | pl | pt | ru | sv | zh-cn | zh-tw
Simple || Updates || more... edit

Jimmy Wales, Founder
Angela Beesley
Michael Davis
Florence Nibart-Devouard
Tim Shell

watch this

  Samuel Klein
Executive Editor
  Florence Nibart-Devouard
Translator Coordination
   Cover : Zanimum
   Layout: Mats Halldin

Contributing Writers
+/- Angela, Anthere, Aphaia, Electric goat, Elian, James Day, Jimbo, M7, Daniel Mayer, MilchFlasche, David Monniaux, Nicholas Moreau, notafish, Oscar, Richy, Riorio, Ryo, Sj, Theodoranian, Tomos

Contributing Proofreaders
+/- Alno, Arnomane, KMT, Li-sung, Miya, NJT, Ruth Ifcher, Petr Kovar, Patrice Létourneau, Fruggo.

Contributing Translators
+/- ACrush, Ajvol, AlNo, Ananda, AndreasPraefcke, Aphaia, Ascánder, Bdk, Carbuncle, Céréales Killer, Der Mechatroniker, Didup, Electric goat, Fire, Foeke, Formulax, Fruggo, Guenny, Gunnar Eberlein, Henrique Scherer, Jackjeff, JB82, kocio, Kzhr, Louisana, Meanos, M-Falcon, MichaelDiederich, Mikez, Morita42, Mountain, notafish, Paddy, P-e.Nataf, ~Pyb, Vincent Ramos, rdb, Robert, RuM, Sabine Cretella, Shizhao, Sbisolo, Snowdog, Telcontar, Tietew, Tokyoahead, Tomos, TOR, Sebastian Witt, zenzizi.



   Welcome to the second Wikimedia Foundation newsletter. This letter has news about recent and future events, articles about new Wikimedia initiatives, and comments from our Board of Trustees and our founder, Jimmy the Whale. The letter also contains reports from community projects, photography, and an interview with Larry Lessig.

    This fall saw a big increase in the visibility of Wikimedia. The number of computers we use to host the site doubled. So did the total amount of data we distribute, and the number of visitors to the site. This was partly because of a good response to the "one million article" press release in September. Wikipedia has also received growing attention from conferences and philanthropies, who all want to help change the world.

    The number of active projects has expanded: see information inside on Wikicommons, Wikispecies and Wikinews. In the coming months, we are preparing for a major Wikimedia conference in August in Frankfurt, Germany (see the Wikimania section on Page 6).

    Finally, thanks to the many great writers, designers, artists, and translators who make this letter possible.

--the WQ editorial team


Table of Contents

Cover : London City Hall at night +/-

Welcome, Table of Contents . . . . . . 1
Letters from the Founder and the Board . . . . . . 2
Quarterly Reports . . . . . . 3
Out of the Projects . . . . . . 4
Chapter Notes
Interview: Larry Lessig
    on collective rights and Wikipedia
. . . . . . 5
In the Media . . . . . . 6
International Notes, Gallery . . . . . . 7
Endnotes, Mailbox, Editorials . . . . . . 8


Letter from the Founder



This has been a very exciting year for Wikimedia, and much more is coming next year!

It seems now to be years ago when we were almost completely offline for three days because we had only three servers and two of them crashed with motherboard and hard drive problems. But, this was just last year at this time. Today, we have 40 servers and more on the way.

In this year, we have gone from a site half-afraid of being featured on the computer news site Slashdot because we weren't able to cope well with the traffic... to being a site, which hardly notices when we are 'Slashdotted'.

But, our growth has not slowed and may even be accelerating. We have done something that has never been done before, and is widely inspiring people about the first dreams of what the Internet could be: people sharing knowledge, giving it away for free, working together to create the tools that people need to make this a better world.

No one can say exactly what the new year will hold for us, but some of the developers are suggesting that if we continue on our current growth course, we will be a "top 100" or "top 50" site by the end of this year, and we will need hundreds of servers. This growth would be exciting for anyone, but for us it is particularly exciting because of how we have done it: in a way that no one would have ever imagined possible... hundreds of volunteers working together in a loose and vaguely anarchistic fashion to do something we really believe in.

How will we handle this growth? In the same way that we have handled things in the past: through careful, thoughtful deliberation in which we look to find the best ideas from whatever source. We need to identify areas in which we need the most help, and actively seek that help.

For example, demands on developer time is getting to be substantial, and so we need to recruit and retain new developers. This can be harder than recruiting new authors, because new developers have to learn a lot more before they reach maximum productivity. For another example, we know that there are systemic biases in Wikipedia, and so we need to think about how to reach out to authors who are interested in different topics than our existing community members.

I ask everyone to make a resolution for the New Year to think about how to handle this growth and, especially, how we can reach out to find the help that we need. If every active volunteer can go out and find one person who could bring something new to our community, we would have a great increase in our ability to grow, while maintaining and improving existing content.

Letter from the Board


The year 2004 was unusual for Wikimedia in many ways. It was a year of growth in internationality.

2004 enjoyed much growth of projects in languages other than English. The number of encyclopedia articles in other languages exceeded the number of articles in the English Wikipedia. A multilingual portal was put up at http://www.wikipedia.org, after two years of discussion.

Many local communities now operate on their own, rather than copying the English community. Some have become a source of inspiration for other projects. Many new projects have been started in local communities: publications on CD, the Merry Christmas project, the Translation of the Week, and, most recently, the International Writing Contest. These projects are described later in this letter.

The past year also had large meetings of Wikipedians in person, in many cities: Paris, Berlin, Munich, Rotterdam, London, Taipei - to name a few. The existence of such active communities is proof of the global development of our projects.

However, communication between various communities is still difficult at times. This is not surprising, considering how many languages are spoken by Wikipedians. Efforts were made this year toward greater interaction among communities, and toward improving a meta-site, http://meta.wikimedia.org, open to all communities. Effort was also made to translate the key pages on meta and other sites, and to take into account opinions from all projects.

A publication such as the Wikimedia Quarto would have been in at most one or two languages, a year ago. It is now translated in many languages.

The international aspect of our project is also visible in other ways: through the creation of the Wikimedia Foundation to support the growth and development of all our projects, and through the election of two members of the Board to represent Wikipedians. Both of those representatives are female, as I never tire of saying; this is rare in administrative circles. 2004 also saw the creation of two local associations, one German and one French, and the preparation of other legal structures.

In short - three years ago, I joined a small English-language project, http://www.wikipedia.com, owned by an unknown American entrepreneur. It was a fabulous project, but it was centered around English. This was sometimes frustrating. Today, it has become a complex worldwide project, sustained by a non-profit organization.

In 2005, I wish for us to increase the number of participants in languages with smaller Wikipedias (such as Arabic), through external collaborations, if necessary. I also hope we will become a resource for readers in countries with little technological infrastructure, where there is no access to the Internet. Working with editors from all cultures is important, so that our perspective can be neutral and balanced.

None of us reading this lack access to information. We suffer from too much information! Television, radio, newspapers, the Internet... Our problem is filtering information, and getting reliable information. However, most people do not have all of these information sources, and need help. We must not widen the gap between those who have access to information, and those who do not have it!


Lastly, this is an opportunity for us to discover men and women from all countries. We can balance our similarities and our differences, and try to live with, tolerate, and appreciate these differences. In many countries, such differences are regulated with bombs, to keep some groups silent. In our projects, we have no choice but to find a consensus. Here we have only words, and must use them.

--Anthere / Florence Devouard

If you have questions or comments, we would love to hear from you. You can reach us on our talk pages (see [1]), or by email to: board (at) wikimedia.org.



Quarterly Reports

Persian astrolabe


+/- Where can I find information about the Foundation?

Current information about the Foundation can be found in this quartely newsletter, on the dedicated mailing list ([2]), on the Wikimedia Meta-wiki ([3]), and at the Foundation's website ([4]). The Foundation website was in very active development in the early fall : most major pages were basically set up and most of these pages were translated into 10 languages. There are currently 38 editors, who are native speakers of a variety of languages, registered on the Foundation's website. The website is currently in a rather dormant phase, though.

How does the Board communicate ?

Board activities are recorded on the Wikimedia Meta-wiki ([5]), and on the Wikimedia Foundation's site ([6]). Communication takes place via email, as well as, through the foundation-l mailing list, which is open to the public and publicly archived. Members of the board also frequent the #Wikimedia IRC channel on freenode ([7]).

The general address, board(at)wikimedia.org, can also be used for any request. However, please be aware that this mail address is no longer a private one. All mails are redirected to a ticket system, OTRS ([8]), and may be answered either by a board member or by a few trusted editors. The OTRS also hosts the address for information about the German local chapter, as well, as the address for requests for information lists in English and German.

Finally, Jimbo, Angela, and Anthere, being fearless explorers, all have started blogs. Angela’s blog is the richest one ([9]) in terms of information on Wikipedia. Please read it, if you want information on the latest wikipedia features or anything related to wikisearch; Jimbo ([10]) took the opportunity to talk about free software (also in english), while Anthere ([11] in french) decided to use her blog to express free opinions and focused on increasing Wikimedia projects visibility in the french-speaking world (in hope in particular of reaching out to the African world where french is widely spoken).

Does the Board record or publish their activities anywhere?

There have been several meetings of board members over the fall.

The board also had the opportunity to meet in real life on a few occasions: in Rotterdam in November, the day following the Wikipedian meeting; and in New York City, before the OSI meeting. Several topics were discussed, including plans for upcoming meetings, whether the Wikimedia Foundation should get involved in political advocacy, how local chapters could be more involved in WMF activity, and free discussion of what the board could become in the future. All these topics were easier to discuss in real life in a youth hostel lounge than on irc or by mail.

Life with the board

Michael and Tim were not very active this trimester, although Michael helped with the financial considerations after the last fundraiser.
The past months have been very busy for Angela, Jimbo and Anthere, with many neat wikipedian meetings (see the Meetings report), and interviews with newspapers, websites and radio stations for all board members. Wikipedia is becoming famous now, and our project raises a lot of interest.

Jimbo and Angela spent 2 weeks at the BBC (see the special report on this) while Anthere was moving into a new house, with plenty of room and a garden but no phone line and no internet for several weeks. Anthere was able to keep in touch and active thanks to her workplace internet connection, and random visits to the local university computer lab, but had no opportunity to satisfy her true wikipediholism or to access IRC.
Anthere appreciated support during her forced vacation, and suggests to all wikiholics use of the [12] sent by snail mail by Ryo and notafish.

How can I become a member of the Foundation?

Several decisions were taken with regards to membership ([13]). The board's vision of membership changed, after thoughts and discussions with editors.
Initially, it was imagined that much of the income supporting the project would come from subscribing membership fees, hence initial thoughts set membership fees rather high (about 100 dollars). However, some board members and many editors were not favorable to such a high amount, and soon it became clear that most Foundation income could come from other sources. Additional discussions led to subscribing membership fees being set at 36 dollars (non-editors) and 12 dollars (reduced).

Additionaly, further discussions with Jamesday and Kate changed the volunteer membership status from being automatic for editors, to being an opt-in procedure.

The technical development of a membership system will be overseen by Tim Starling in the coming weeks.

Are developers currently being paid?

In July 2004, the Wikimedia developers were polled about the feasibility of a bounty system for development tasks, leading the board to try out a system of payment and other rewards for developers who choose to work on particular tasks. We suggested a four month trial run before stepping back and evaluating.

In the past 3 months the board has proposed one task, related to the membership system development (a task which is of primary interest to the Foundation itself, so unlikely to be controversial). More than 2 months after the proposal, Tim Starling made an offer, which was accepted in late November. The feature will be developed against a certain amount of money at the end of 2004 or in early 2005.

No other proposition has been made by the board; one suggestion was offered by a developer, but has been discarded.

This suggests that the prospective of being paid per task is not strongly motivating our developer team. Details of the trial run are available at [14]. All Wikimedia contributors will be encouraged to evaluate it when it is over.

For more on the topic, see also the Founder's letter.

What is going on with domain names?

Jason at Bomis has the full list of domain names ([15]) that are currently registered to the Foundation. Some domains in other countries are owned by other people; for instance GerardM looks after a few .nl domain names. The french domain name www.wikipedia.fr was taken over by a cybersquatter in fall 2004. The french wikipedians have decided not to do anything on the matter for now and the cybersquatter gently redirected the domain to wikipedia itself. However, the russian domain name www.wikipedia.ru is unfortunately being used to make cash by its cybersquatter.

Over the next trimester, decisions regarding which domains to take will be made. Many editors would wish that the domain of all projects be bought in their country; however, the cost of buying so many names is too high for that solution to be really sustainable. We hope that registration of the trademarks will help alleviate this issue.

Privacy on Wikimedia projects

As requested by several editors, a long due privacy statement is currently under development and should be finalized and translated during the first trimester of 2005. Please do not hesitate to comment ([16]).

Local chapters

Anthere was involved in the creation of the French chapter, Wikimédia France (see the special report on this) and is now part of its board. There are now two local chapters, each based on a very different legal construction, which emphasize the diversity of options for chapters. The French chapter is a legal representation of Wikimedia Foundation Inc in France. The French and the German chapters have in common that they are chapters legally based on a country, rather than based on a language (however, both wish to expand their activity beyond the borders of their respective countries).

Several other projects have discussed creation of local chapters in the past few months, most notably the Dutch and Italian wikipedias. Some editors are interested in the creation of chapters based on languages rather than nations, or even a European chapter.

Wikimedia Foundation Inc, and political involvement

Over the fall, there have been discussions over the political involvement of the Foundation and of its local branch Wikimedia France. The board would like to indicate that it does not wish Wikimedia Foundation Inc to support activism generally, and in particular activism not directly related to our activity. Any involvement, such as signature of a petition, should be carefully assessed and be done only with very large support of the community.

The future of the board

During the fall, the board has been discussion both the involvment of local chapter boards and the future of the wikimedia board itself. With regards to local chapters, the board is open to any discussion or proposals with the chapters members themselves. Please be reactive on this matter.

With regards to the board itself, Anthere, Angela and Jimbo agree the current situation is hardly sustainable. The board activity is essentially taken care of by three people, and requires strong implication of other wikipedians to be managed. It was suggested that the board size, or at least the number of active members be increased.  

Berlin meeting
Berlin meeting



Angela and Jimbo at the BBC

During November 2004, Angela and Jimmy worked for the BBC in London for two weeks. Everyone had a fine time, and it seemed to go over well, as they have been invited to come back at some unspecified date in the future. Some of the BBC employees came to the London assignation held during those weeks. Angela describes their experience elsewhere in the newsletter (see Endnotes, pg. 8).

Lost Oasis and hosting

Wikimedia has standing offers of free hosting from a webhost in France, Lost Oasis where three new squids have recently been set up.
There were other offers of free hosting, as well, particularly while making contingency plans for the first Florida hurricane, in late August.

Mandrakesoft DVD

Much to our disappointment, the release by Mandrakesoft of a bilingual snapshot of the French and English Wikipedia, with an upcoming version of Mandrake Linux, has been delayed.

The intensive work to tag images and lists in preparation for these publications, long overdue, has provided quality improvement to the Wikipedia projects involved. Please help this effort at [17].  



Community and Wikipedia in Berlin
Community and Wikipedia in Berlin

Fall meetings of Wikipedians

  • Berlin, November (details)
  • Rotterdam, November (details)
  • London, November
  • Tokyo, November 8 and Nagoya, November 10
  • Bolzano1, 27 November (it: and de:).
  • Taipei1, 4 December
  • New York meeting, December 12 (details)
  • Berlin1, 27-29 December (details)
  • Beijing (details)

Wikimania 2005: The First International Wikimedia Conference1 ([18]) is being planned for all users of Wikimedia projects, from 4-8 August 2005.

1 For more information about these events, see International notes.





Daniel Mayer is the Chief Financial Officer. He is responsible for finances, with the oversight of Michael Davis. In particular, he is in charge of establishing our budget and balancing our books.

Donations and fundraising

A two-week fundraiser in September 2004 raised 60,000 USD, slightly more than the $50k goal. Around 10% of these contributions were made directly to the German chapter. These funds have sustained the project through the fall.

Contributions from January through August averaged 200 USD per day.

At the current rate of expenditure on bandwidth and machinery, that is only enough to keep the site up and growing for four months. The next fundraising drive is planned to start early February 2005. An open meeting to discuss how else we could support the project's long-term growth is planned to take place before then (end of january 2005).

The approved budget for Q4 (which was generous; total expenses for the quarter have only come to a little over $50k, thanks in part to a few in-kind donations) can be seen here: [19].

The next formal budget review, including a detailed breakdown of donations since the last fundraiser, will be available in January.






One grant was obtained rather unexpectedly this fall, when the Beck Foundation suggested they would be interested in supporting a Wikijunior project. They would like to give Wikimedia a 10,000 USD grant to produce content for short encyclopedia-style children's books on specific subjects. The current plan is to create content for 48-page print books on Geography, Animals, and Astronomy. See Wikijunior and the associated Wikibooks projects for more detail as well as the special report in the project section of this letter.

In January 2005, we were granted $40,000 by the Lounsbery Foundation. Our grant application specified we would spend this in the following way 1) to cover our daily operations, 2)to enable us to launch our new Wikispecies project, and 3)to continue to improve our existing projects.

Thank you very much for the trust offered by both Foundations.

There was also an important meeting with the Open Society Institute Information Project in New York during December. They invited the Wikimedia board to come join them for part of their yearly board meeting, and are interested in helping Wikipedia expand into key languages and into the developing world. No specifics were decided on, but ideas for specific projects to develop better Arabic-language content or to increase the audience of contributors from African countries would be particularly welcome.  

Technical Development


Technical Development
Technical Development

Most of the below report has been written by James Day; the part on the Paris machines is largely from David Monniaux.
Information about our servers may be found any time at Wikimedia servers. Developer activity falls into two main areas: server maintenance and development of the MediaWiki software, which is also used for many non-Wikimedia applications. Most developers (though not all, by their choice) are listed here. One may show appreciation of their dedication by thank you notes or financial support. Thank you !
Until now, all developers have been working for free, but that may change in the future to support our amazing growth.

Installation of Squid caches in France

The cluster near Paris.
Our servers are the three in the middle:
(from top to bottom: bleuenn, chloe, ennael.)

On December 18, 2004, 3 donated servers were installed at a colocation facility in Aubervilliers, a suburb of Paris, France They are named bleuenn, chloe, ennael by donor request. For the technically-minded, the machines are HP sa1100 1U servers with 640 MiB of RAM, 20 GB ATA hard disks, and 600 MHz Celeron processors.

The machines are to be equipped with Squid caching software. They will be a testbed for the technique of adding Web caches nearer to users in order to reduce latency. Typically, users in France on DSL Internet connections can connect to these machines with a 30 ms latency, while they connect to the main cluster of Wikimedia servers in Florida in about 140 ms. The idea is that users from parts of Europe will use the Squid caches in France, to reduce by 1/10 second, access delays both for multimedia content for all users and for page content for anonymous users. Logged-in users will not profit as much, since pages are generated specifically for them and, thus, are not cached across users. If a page is not in a Squid cache, or a page is for a logged in user, the Apache web servers must take 1/5 to 3 or more seconds plus database time to make the page. Database time is about 1/20 second for simple things but can be many seconds for categories or even 100 seconds for a very big watchlist.

The Telecity data center
The Telecity data center

The Squid caches were activated in early January 2005, and some experiment period ensued. As of January 31, the machines cache English, French and multimedia content for Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The system is still somewhat experimental, and it is expected that caching performance could be increased with some tuning. The installation of similar caching clusters in other countries is being considered.

Installation of more servers in Florida


In mid-October, two more dual Opteron database slave servers, with 6 drives in RAID 0 and 4GB of RAM, plus five 3GHz/1GB RAM Apache servers were ordered. Delays, due to compatibility problems, which the vendor had to resolve before shipping the database servers, left the site short of database power; until early December, the search function had to be turned off, at times.

In November 2004, five Web servers, four with high RAM (working memory) capacity used for Memcached or Squid caching, experienced failures. This resulted in very slow Wikis, at times.

Five 3GHz/3GB RAM servers were ordered in early December. Four of the December machines will provide Squid and Memcached service as improved replacements for the failing machines, until they are repaired. One machine with SATA drives in RAID 0 will be used as a testbed to see how much load such less costly database servers might be able to handle, as well as providing another option for a backup-only database slave also running Apache. These machines are equipped with a new option for a remote power and server health monitoring board at $60 extra cost. This option was taken for this order, to allow a comparison of the effectiveness of this monitoring board with a remote power strip and more limited monitoring tools. Remote power and health reporting helps to reduce the need for colocation facility labor, which can sometimes involve costs and/or delays.

A further order of one master database server, to permit a split of the database servers into two sets of a master and pair of slaves, with each set holding about half of the project activity, as well as, five more Apaches is planned for the end of the quarter or the first days of the next quarter. This order will use the remainder of the US$50,000 from the last fundraising drive. The database server split will allow the halving of the amount of disk writing each set must do, leaving more capacity for the disk reads needed to serve user requests. This split is intended to happen in about three months, after the new master has proved its reliability during several months of service as a database slave.

Increased traffic and connectivity


Traffic grew during the third quarter from about 400-500 requests per second at the start to about 800 per second at the end. In the early fourth quarter that rose further to often exceeding 900 requests per second with daily peak traffic hours in the 1,000 to 1,100 requests per second range, then steadied at about 900 and slowly rose, due to the end of the back to school surge, slower than desired response times or both ([20]. Bandwidth use grew from averaging about 32 megabits per second at the start of the quarter to about 43 megabits per second at the end. Typical daily highs are about 65-75 megabits per second and sometimes briefly hit the 100 megabits per second limit of a single outgoing ethernet connection. Dual 100 megabit connections were temporarily used and a gigabit fiber connection has been arranged at the Florida colocation and the required parts ordered.  



There are nine active Wikimedia projects:

Memorial Wiki is currently only a 9/11 memorial of 200 pages and not a project proper.

New projects policy

Due to the multiplication of new projects and controversy over the creation of wikispecies, a procedure for starting new projects has been set at New project policy. Wikinews was the first new project to follow that procedure, which requires an extensive description of the project (and its translation in several languages), an approving poll by the community and a final approval by the board of Wikimedia Foundation.  

Public Relations


Jimmy Wales being interviewed in Rotterdam
Jimmy Wales being interviewed in Rotterdam

There were a few major news events this fall: the 1 million-article press release, which was picked up around the world in over ten languages; the press release about the German Directmedia CD, which was picked up widely in Germany; and the launching of Wikinews, which was heavily reported by reporters and bloggers in many languages (see In the Media, pg. 7).

During this trimester, it was noticed several of the larger wikipedias aside the english one were beginning to have important media coverage. For example, the French wikipedia was the subject of several very good articles, among which one in Liberation ([21]), and a very critical one in Charlie Hebdo ([22]). On november 27th, Anthere participated in a radio interview at radio BFM (see [23]). Another radio interview by Yann : [24] in january.

For quotes from articles about us, see "In the Media", pg. 6.

Angela Beesley
Angela Beesley

Angela also participated in a radio interview at BBC Radio4 interview. Her report :

On November 17, I did my first ever radio interview for Wikipedia. It was for BBC Radio 4's You and Yours programme. I didn't realise it was going to be live when I first agreed to do it, but it turned out less terrifying than I imagined it might be. It was recorded at the BBC Suffolk studio in Ipswich since the BBC Essex ones, which are closer to me, were fully booked out at that time. I was invited to wait in the "Green Room" when I arrived, which wasn't as impressive as it sounds; it was a room with some sofas, drinking water, and a collection of press clippings about BBC Radio Suffolk. Shortly before the recording was due to begin, I was taken into a small studio and given some headphones where I could hear both the programme and the editor in Manchester talking to me. I was left alone in the studio during the recording.

Bamber Gascoigne started by giving a potted history of the encyclopedia, and then a recording was played of a family searching for facts in traditional encyclopedia compared to using the web. Michael Schmidt, an English professor at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, then talked about how his students were nowadays more likely to use computers rather than books for their research. The presenter, Liz Barclay, asked me to distil how Wikipedia works and I explained how the site is editable by any visitor, and how vandalism is quickly discovered and reverted. Bamber was at a studio in London and talked about his HistoryWorld site. Bamber and Michael both felt that Wikipedia articles should be "arrested" at some point to prevent editing, but I suggested that instead of locking them permanently, a version marked as stable could be given to users who wanted that, whilst still allowing editing to happen on the live article. This section of the programme lasted just under 20 minutes and concluded with Bamber saying "the idea that encyclopedias printed are reliable is nonsense".

Listen to the programme.


Out of the projects




Translation of the week






Local projects


Chapter notes
Wikimedia Deutschland


Wikimedia France





Lawrence Lessig
Lawrence Lessig
Interview: Lawrence Lessig

The Quarto talked to Lawrence Lessig, Stanford law professor, the founder and chairman of Creative Commons. It was early in December, at the end of a long day. In a fast session, Lessig talked about copyright, copyleft, barriers to free culture, legal pitfalls for Wikipedia, and fighting "the good fight."


Many questions Wikipedia users have are about copyright. How will their writing be reused? What are the greatest risks to preserving collective content? And what can we do, now, to reduce those risks?

LL: The greatest long-term risk would be a series of legal decisions that throw into doubt, the ability of the project to rely on the collective assignment [of] rights. And, I think the way you deal with that is to figure out the FDL structure that best facilitates that collective assignment of rights. I know there are projects and study groups that think about that.

How did you conceive of the idea for the Creative Commons?

LL: We recognized how the internet and the way the law's structure was going to interact... in a way that would presumptively make a whole pile of material unavailable, when the intent of the copyright owner or the intent of society should be to make it available. So, we were trying to be creative about how to solve this legal problem produced by the unintended consequences of the way the law was architected.

When Wikipedia was starting, Creative Commons licenses didn't exist yet. Was it already obvious, then, that new types of licenses would be needed?

LL: The objective of copyright law is primarily to help creators do what they want to do. I think it was obvious that the default way copyright law functioned would not encourage enterprises like Wikipedia, but that you could supplement copyright law with licenses the [same] way Richard Stallman tried to supplement software copyright law. I don't think it was an indictment of copyright law that its default mechanism didn't facilitate this amazing new capacity.

But, enterprises like Wikipedia strain copyright law, certainly. It is hard to express the understandings of the people participating in the construction of this creative work, and nobody understands how the work will develop and change.

For example, in Germany, a copyright owner can't sign away rights to technologies that don't exist. In the US, we have clauses like, "I'm signing away my rights to all technologies now known or ever to be discovered..."; this is not possible in Germany. On the one hand, that's a good thing; because you have to go back to the author to get permission for some new use, something of great value to the author.

But, in the context of Wikipedia, if you have to go back to clear rights for every new technology that comes along, part of the objective of the authors is defeated. So, there's a need for copyright law to reflect this. There's no reason, in principle, that it can't, so long as we move to reasonable or balanced discussion about copyright law, as opposed to the extremist views that dominate the debate right now.

Copyleft, Trademarks and Free Culture


Is the growth of the copyleft movement another force advocating for permanent extensions to copyright law?

LL: That is an interesting consequence of copyleft. In a theoretical sense it is quite important... because the side of freedom seems to benefit from the side promoting control.

There's another sense in which that paradox is always going to be part of the copyleft movement. I described [elsewhere] how there is this radical change in the scope of copyright law effected by moving to a digital network. It's only because of this radical change in the scope of copyright law that projects like Creative Commons can get going. You wouldn't be able to attach a Creative Commons statement to a book in realspace, and say, "if you read this book, you have to do it Share-and-Share-Alike," and expect it to have legal force -- the only way that *could* have force is if there was a contract entered into every time you opened a book, and there's no grounds to believe that.

But because on a digital network every use of a creative work produces a copy, there is a foundation upon which to insist on a license every time you use the work; that's where the Creative Commons license gets its power.

So on the one hand, many of us are very skeptical about this explosion of copyright regulation. But on the other hand, we take advantage of it in Creative Commons. [laughs]

With licenses like Creative Commons/GFDL, we get away from some copyright barriers. Do you see other barriers to the growth of free culture, in law or in culture?

LL: All of the problems that exist for free software will increasingly be problems for free culture. The most prominent is software patents, which will increase the coordination costs of software development projects in a way that favors proprietary projects.

Another huge problem will be trademark, an area of law in radical need of updating in light of new technologies. You see this in eBay auctions: people auction their Rolex watch, Rolex says, "you can't do that, you're infringing our trademark...". The law compels Rolex to defend their trademark or lose it, so in some sense they're forced to take that ridiculous position. But in some cases they like taking that position, because that protects them from competition.

This could affect projects like Wikipedia, especially as Wikipedia becomes more ambitious in the types of media it provides and the access it affords. I think that [legal] irrationality, or trademark law that is out of tune with the technical framework, will provide danger to Wikipedia much as it provides it to the libraries of free culture.

Is there anything we can do to forestall that?

LL: Not really. The problems with trademark beg for legislative and judicial correction. There are certainly steps (which it's not appropriate [for me] to advise about) -- there are steps you could take to minimize exposure, but on the other hand there are steps we ought to take to change the legal rules, to make them make more sense.

Languages, Translation


Unlike CC licenses, the GFDL is only officially in English; do you see this as being harder to scale to hundreds of different municipalities?

LL: Obviously I agree with the substantive objectives of GFDL. My personal view (there's disagreement about this) is that GFDL is optimistic that it can apply internationally without trouble by insisting on an English [license] requirement.

How do big organizations like the UN deal with this?

LL: A better analogy : how does Microsoft deal with this? Microsoft has licenses which it attaches to its software... designed to be universally applicable, but also localized, depending on where you're from. It's dealing with it in a similar way that [Creative Commons is] dealing with it. The objectives of the licenses are very different, but our reaction to the legal reality is fundamentally the same.


Wikipedia, Cultural Content Reuse


How did you first discover Wikipedia as a site? What was your initial reaction?

LL: I remember spending an extraordinary amount of time for me (an hour, two hours) just wandering through Wikipedia when I should have been doing other sorts of work, trying to figure out how it was working, who was doing it, and what made it function. It was one of those "Aha!" moments in experiencing the Net - people always said this sort of thing would be possible, and here it was, happening. And happening with much greater success than people would have predicted ex-ante. It was an extremely exciting moment.

Is it fair to say some big content holders -- MIT, the BBC, the Supreme Court -- have released restrictions on much of their content, but we have yet to see it extensively reused?

LL: It depends on how you mean 'reuse'... In the sense of taking media content and remixing it, we're just beginning to see a lot of that. But that's because the technology is just beginning to penetrate. It's going to take time before people feel comfortable with that.

That's beginning to change as archive.org and similar sites make content available and people begin to use it in really powerful ways. The more that happens, the easier it will be for people like me to argue [in advocating changes to copyright law], "this is an important part of culture."

CC vs GFDL, CC and WP


Creative Commons and GFDL are similar in spirit, but not technically compatible. Do you see merit in making them compatible? Or do they serve different purposes?

LL: At the level of abstraction we typically think about to the extent that we are talking about free licenses, there is perfect compatibility between the objectives of GFDL and of Creative Commons licenses. Right now they technically don't interoperate... It would be great if we could make them all interoperable.

How long will it be before we can have this kind of interoperability?

LL: The hard thing for a project like Wikipedia is the retroactive part -- to what extent can we conform the old with the new? From the standpoint of "when will we have the tools to [create new content] in a cross-platform-compatible way?" (where 'platforms' mean different free license platforms), I expect within 6-8 months we'll have that technology built in.

Wikimedia develops lots of content, but few people gain any reputation; the Creative Commoners you talk about are creative artists striving for reputation. Do you think these are paths to different creative cultures? Will there be a merging of the notion of the individual creator, with that of people contributing to a whole?

LL: I don't see them to be as distinct as that question presumes. You can look at somebody like Louis Armstrong and say "Wow, wasn't he amazing?" Or you can look at jazz, and say, "Isn't jazz amazing?" And its amazingness is constituted in part by particular people like Louis Armstrong. I think that's similar to what you see if you look at Wikipedia vs. what Creative Commons is typically describing.

Because Wikipedia is jazz, it is amazing -- the product of innovation, and "building on top of", in exactly that way. It is harder to be a particularly great jazz musician within that tradition, harder to be noticed, but I'm sure you could point to particular people (I don't know who they are) who have done the most amazing work within that particular genre.

We're both building great genres one creator at a time. Depending on the project, you might be more astonished by the collective product, or by the individual contributions to it.

CC version 2 has attribution as a fixture, not an option. Is part of our culture changing its notion of authorship?

Creative Commons has not been building licenses so far to deal with this idea of collective authorship. But we are spending a lot of time thinking through what the appropriate CC-like license is for projects like this.

You could think of a CC-wiki license which would be a form of work-for-hire but not in the traditional sense. That's something we're thinking about and obviously eager to provide if the market of free culture has a strong demand for it.

You try passionately to change the law in a number of ways, in court and with the Creative Commons. Do you see the efforts to change free culture through Creative Commons as more promising than going through the courts?

LL: Multiple strategies are essential. Nothing in Creative Commons insists that people agree with me about copyright terms, or about problems of over-extensive rights being granted by Congress. So we can get allies in the context of the free culture who think of me as the devil in the context of copyright regulation. That's important, because it reflects a basic humility about the law which I think we all should admit: none of us really knows what is the best thing here.

But it also permits different movements to be understood differently. The free culture movement, driven by a bunch of students and projects around the country, is different from Creative Commons, and that's different from what I do at the Center for Internet and Society. We don't demand a loyalty test across all of those things.

There has been some discussion recently among Wikimedia volunteers about the Foundation getting involved with political advocacy...

I don't know enough about the dynamics of the Wikimedia Foundation. It's not obvious that an organization as successful and as powerful as the Wikimedia Foundation in the context of building free culture, should (or shouldn't) take on the very difficult and alienating and divisive battles around the copyright wars. I think it's a question that needs to be addressed after a lot of consideration, and not just on the basis of what particular people think is right.

Case of Evil


Thank you. Finally, on a lighter note: if you woke up tomorrow with a bad case of EVIL, what legal mechanism would you use to try to bring Wikipedia down?

LL: <ponders> One of the hardest features of copyright law, for projects like Wikipedia, is the international variability of copyright terms. You could exploit that to create great liability for Wikipedia by finding content which is only free in some jurisdictions... and then use other jurisdictions to shut it down.

You'd have to really want to do it, and that is the great structural protection that Wikipedia has. There might be particular people who don't want their work used, and they'll complain and you'll have to take out their content. But there is no strong enough enemy who would craft a strategy to do it. I think Wikipedia can survive local problems, and won't have a generic evil opponent.

Thank goodness. And thank you for your time!


In the Media

Very Large Array at Socorro, New Mexico. Author : Hajor
Very Large Array at Socorro, New Mexico. Author : Hajor

Here is a look at what the media (in all its forms) has to say about Wikipedia, be it good, bad or indifferent. Up until now, Wikipedia has hogged the media spotlight; here there are also comments about its sister projects as well.

Wikimedia Quarto/Media quotes/simple




London City Hall. Author : ChrisO
London City Hall. Author : ChrisO
Wikimania 2005


Meeting in Bolzano

WQ/2/Bolzano meetup/simple  

Meeting in Taipei

WQ/2/Taipei meetup/simple  

Meeting in Japan

WQ/2/Japan meetups/simple  

Berlin Conference


Thesis on Wikipedia



A collection of some of our most beautiful content







The Road Ahead