In the Wikipedia research community — that is, the group of academics and Wikipedians who are interested in studying Wikipedia — there has been a pretty substantial and longstanding problem with how research is published. Academics, from graduate students to tenured faculty, are deeply invested and entrenched in an system that rewards the publication of research. Publish or perish, as we’ve all heard. The problem is that the overwhelming majority of publications which are recognized as ‘academic’ require us to assign copyright to the publication, so that the publisher can then charge for access to the article. This is in direct contradiction with the goals of Wikipedia, as well as many other open source and open content creation communities — communities which are the subject of a substantial amount of academic research.
Content on my website and my Flickr account has been licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license for a while. I was pretty proud of myself. But then I got to thinking: why don’t I choose Attribution-ShareAlike? Obviously, it was product of two kneejerk reactions: I don’t want someone else to make money off my stuff, and I don’t want someone messing with my stuff.
I’ve been doing a lot of work with copyright and software licenses for my new job at the Federation of American Scientists, and I’ve come upon a strange situation that someone else has bound to have thought about before. The GNU Free Documentation License, the copyleft license that Wikipedia, the Free Software Foundation, and many others use to ensure open access as well as the right to modify and re-release their text-based works, is itself not licensed under the GNU FDL or any similar scheme. Instead, the freedom to modify the license is explicitly denied.