h264 and Wikimedia – downstream users

This is the first of a few specific sub-topic posts on the h264 and Wikimedia RFC. Overall theme post.

The spirit of the license. The spirit of the community.

When individuals contribute to Wikipedia/media Commons, they are given a pretty explicit explanation that the content they are contributing will be available for use not only on Wikipedia/media, but also anywhere else assuming compliance with the terms of CC BY-SA (at most).

All of the licenses/copyright statuses of content on Commons allows AT LEAST the ability for down stream users (ie: users) to make derivatives and redistribute those derivatives to others even for commercial purposes without paying anyone royalties (with attribution and under the same license, if needed). That is the spirit of the license. That is the summary of the most restrictive license we allow (BY-SA) by the license steward itself (CC). Not until one reads the fine print do they realize that not all rights are included. Things like personality and moral rights and patent rights. Notably, even for those relatively well versed in the topic, one would not imagine that a photo of video would have patent rights associated with it that you would need to care about.

This RFC is proposing that we make our users now care about something they didn’t have to care about before. Something that is both insidious and opaque.

At a minimum, we (the Commons community) will need to implement yet-another-warning-box telling users that are viewing h264 files that “Oh whoa whoa, you might not have all the rights you need to make use of this video under the terms of the license we provided it under. You might have to go pay some unethical organization to redistribute it. Or not. Unclear. Consult a lawyer.”

Yes, every lawyer loves to tell you that everything is an “it depends” decision and that if you want to be safe, yes, you should consult a lawyer for every decision you make as each one is different and will be interpreted by a judge on a case by case basis.

But our community is different. We want to make things as clear as possible for our users (and downstream users, where there’s a meaningful distinction).

I feel making this change would be going back on our word. We have promised, in effect, that Wikipedia will always be free and Free. That users, whoever they are, will always be able to use and remix the content (and we never carved out file format exceptions) and distribute that content, even commercially.

See the discussion on the RFC about this topic.

(As always, this is my blog. I may work for WMF, but I don’t speak for them on this blog.)

This post was translated into Spanish by Jacobo Nájera.

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  1. I do agree with you – however, it is missing a crucial thing we are doing, which is transcoding them to free formats and preferring them if the platform we are serving is capable of using them. If you are using a platform that runs H264, and have tools capable of making derivatives from H264, you already either have the right to do things, or have already broken a patent law. You can also always just use the WebM version of it and not break patent laws and such. Is that not the case, or am I missing something completely? (Latter is super possible)

  2. […] Topic 1: downstream users. […]

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