Republishing Wikipedia content, revisited

In response to my earlier blog post, Word theft and feedback loops, I received an interesting phone call from Josh, the owner of the book publishing company Biographiq.

Josh was concerned about the views expressed here and elsewhere, that his company was violating either the law or ethical principles in the way it republishes Wikipedia content. I was impressed with his desire to meet the concerns head-on, and express the measures he’s taken to ensure he’s complying with the law and respecting the Wikipedia community.

However, my concerns about the company’s practices remain.

Josh made several points worth exploring:

  • His legal counsel advised him that he could not use the trademarked name “Wikipedia” in his republication, or in marketing his republication. I think this is incorrect, but I’m no attorney. But I’m confident that the Wikimedia Foundation and the Wikipedia community would strongly support making it very clear that such a disclosure is not only permissible, but strongly encouraged. (Note that this example notice explicitly mentions Wikipedia as the source.) There may be a legal distinction between using the name “Wikipedia” in the text and in marketing materials; it’s my view that it should be included in both (as a matter of ethics/etiquette, if not law).
  • Biographiq’s legal counsel also advised him that he did not have permission to use the names (either given names or login names) of Wikipedia editors. This also strikes me as a profoundly erroneous reading of the GFDL (the license that covers Wikipedia articles). The license’s preamble clearly states “…this License preserves for the author and publisher a way to get credit for their work…”, and specific provisions are outlined in great detail later in the document. (It appears that Biographiq does technically comply with this, by providing a link to the article history Wikipedia maintains in the book itself.)
  • Josh acknowledged that Biograqhiq’s web site does not directly list contact information, but felt that the diligent inclusion of contact information in the Whois database was sufficient. I won’t presume to offer business advice on this point to them, but I certainly wouldn’t expect my own customers to find me if I kept my contact info in such a technically inaccessible location.
  • Finally, Josh noted that Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, has plans to offer his own republishing service soon, at pediapress.com. He noted several differences in the approaches of the two companies, and felt his own approach was superior in several ways. I was previously unaware of pediapress, and will look into it further.

Do I have any readers more familiar with copyright and trademark law, who can comment on the technical issues above?

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3 Responses to “Republishing Wikipedia content, revisited”

  1. A friend noted an interesting New York Times article about automated book publishing.

  2. I’m sorry not to see any more response on this topic – the NYT article is interesting, but doesn’t seem to “go” anywhere. I’d still like to know Wikipedia’s (if that’s not a totally stupid identifier!) take on all of this. What bothers me perhaps most of all is that Bibliografiq’s “books” grab a Wikipedia article at some arbitrary point in time – Wikipedia being what it is, there is no version of an article that’s identified as “final – this is what we’re publishing and will stand behind”, but Josh’s company publishes articles – which are really “works in progress” – as if they WERE final versions, with (as far as I know) no comment to alert a reader about this.

    You didn’t by any remote chance ask him what “Bibliografiq” means, did you? I agree, it’s a very good thing that he was concerned enough to call you. But did it all end there?

  3. Well, I agree, it’s something worthy of more exploration, but I’m not sure where to go. I sure hope Harry writes a review on the Amazon page, I think that’s an important step. Since I haven’t seen the book myself, I guess there are limits on how critical I can be. Wikimedia Foundation is pretty clear that it’s up to authors to defend their own copyright claims — “they” may or may not disapprove, but I doubt they’ll take any action to challenge or publicize this sort of thing, unless it’s in support of a process initiated by individual contributors.

    No, I didn’t ask about the name — I suspect it’s just a simple variation on the word “biographic.”

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