Thursday, March 14, 2013

Wikipedia, scholarship and CC-BY

The Wellcome Trust's Robert Kiley, a long-time open access advocate, raised a common rationale for a default CC-BY license in a comment on Richard Poynder's interview of Mike Rossner.  Following are my comments. Summary: a scholarly CC-BY is not compatible with the Wikipedia conception of attribution, which involves anonymity. Permitting open re-use in Wikipedia with attribution (assuming the problem of Wikipedia anonymity is overcome) means that any Wikipedia editor can change the words of scholar, a situation that seems highly likely to result in scholars being incorrectly cited due to the edits of others. I am a fan of Wikipedia, have contributed as an editor in the past and may do so in the future, and am in favour of increasing the scholarly content in Wikipedia. However, I argue that what needs to happen is that Wikipedia policy and practices need to be more flexible to accommodate the needs of scholars and their works, rather than all scholars being required to give away all of their work for blanket commercial rights to any third party to suit the preferences of the current Wikipedia team. 

Following is my comment on this topic on Poynder's blog.

Robert Kiley says: Equally, the NC clause prohibits a user from sharing content at resources like Wikipedia. See table at:

Comment: first, I would like to say that I am a fan of Wikipedia. I use Wikipedia, have contributed to Wikipedia in the past, and would like to see more scholarly content in Wikipedia. However, there are some problems with including scholarly content in Wikipedia, and I argue that these are not resolved by CC-BY.

The first problem is the difference in the expectations of attribution. For scholars, the key elements in attribution are things like the scholar, journal, and publisher. In Wikipedia, the norm is anonymity Attribution. This means that Wikipedia and scholarly works are not compatible from the perspective of Attribution.

Another reason for caution in including scholarly works in Wikipedia is the norm that anyone can edit. If the work of a serious scholar is deposited in Wikipedia, it could be "corrected" by someone with far less knowledge. If this is combined with Attribution (assuming the Wikipedia anonymity problem is overcome), then it seems highly likely that the result will be incorrect citations of scholar's works. This would harm rather than benefit scholarship.

Finally, if we want to see more scholarly works in Wikipedia, it is Wikipedia policies and practices that need to change to accomodate this rather than a wholesale transformation of scholarship to accomodate the preferences of the current Wikipedia team.

To return to Robert Kiley's comment: it is not the NC clause that prohibits a user from sharing content at Wikipedia, but rather Wikipedia's policies that do not permit works with NC clauses. Wikipedia is free to develop a more flexible policy at any time.

This post is part of my Creative Commons and Open Access critique series. 

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