[Humanist] 26.604 open-access

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Dec 19 07:56:09 CET 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 604.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 18 Dec 2012 11:25:18 +0100
        From: Miran arnes <miran.hladnik at guest.arnes.si>
        Subject: Copyright and Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a good example of OA contents, offering information under
the Creative Commons Attribution&Share-Alike License, so allowing also
commercial use and making derivative works, as long as the original
authorship (if documented) is credited. This license serves maximum
dissemination and use of licensed materials, which is fine and should
be accepted with enthusiasm. On the other hand, people who contribute
to Wikipedia and sister sites Wikimedia Commons, Wikisource, Wikibooks
etc. know how rigorous publishing policy rules there concerning
uploading photos of encyclopaedic items, which correspond to textual
citations. I am afraid this newborn awe of potential-breaking
someone's copyright goes too far and is dangerous for the existence of
this marvelous project. Here I quote from what I have written about
this problem on Meta-Wiki under Requests for comment

Lately, the photos of wayside shrines, public buildings, sculptures on
public places, information boards, commercial posters along the
streets ... get marked suspicious from the legal point of view and
then deleted. It is acceptable when warnings and deletion happen in
case when files are not equipped with sufficient explanation of
authorship or licence; however, my recent experience with deleting
exceeds by far my reasonable understanding, as not only individual
photos have been deleted but also whole categories of photos. Massive
deleting has affected, for instance, a collection of bridges on a
certain river, a series of observation towers, hayracks, crafted by an
annonimous carpenter, even street lamps. All this stuff is declared
art or intellectual product by a zealous Wiki-expert and, as a result,
a request for an architect's/artist's/creator's permission is

In most cases, no creator's name could be found. When found, creators
are astonished when being asked for a permission. Then they say yes,
of course, you may publish your photo. As admin is not satisfied with
the copy of a letter and he further demands that the creator fills in
a complicated form which would exclude all doubts about the
seriousness of his permission, the author stops answering the annoying
Wikipedian and hence the photo is deleted. To generalize the new
behaviour concerning the authorship:

- till recently, intellectual property hasn't been understood so broadly
- till recently, no newspaper and no TV have been practising legal
protection of items in case
- since recently, only on Wikimedia photos of so broadly defined
intellectual property present a problem

Though I am not enthusiastic about the copyright which is getting more
and more aggressive trying to maintain privileges of a few legally
well supported, and I prefer the CC-licences much more, I do respect
the limitations that copyright exercises upon intellectual products.
On the other hand, I put a lot of hope in an alternative view of
artistic and other intellectual products, the hope which came true
with the Internet and especially with Wikipedia. I used to understand
Wikipedia as a metaphor for a civilisation change. Wikipedia embodies
the new attitude towards human knowledge which is not about hiding it
from users but offering it openly to them. This is what Wikipedia is
all about and this is why I find the current awe of copyright on
Wikimedia Commons (which behaves »more papal than the Pope«) so
strange, sad and dangerous to the information society. The place where
an alternative to the copyright should be promoted is becoming the
place where the copyright is respected more than anywhere else. In
this new Orwellian atmosphere Wikipedians are permanently scared they
may brake one or another weird law.

The advocating of the most radical interpretation of copyright keeps
poisoning the pleasure other users have with Wikipedia, some veterans
have even stopped uploading their photos and literally "do not want to
have anything with this" any more. Enforcing literal interpretation of
law, though it blatantly opposes common sense, reminds us of biblical
scribes; in the past, they presented great danger to God's project and
nowadays they endanger our endeavour for well informed and responsible
society. As Mt 23:13: »But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees,
hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For
you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go
in.« -- miran

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