Publishing Wikipedia

Publishing Wikipedia


I doubt there is anyone reading this blog who hasn’t heard of wikipedia. I imagine that most of you are like me—it’s often the first place I turn when I want a quick “lowdown” on subjects as disparate as a Civil War general, postmodern theorists, Apple IIs, or He-Man toys. My students also use wikipedia incessantly, though other professors tend to chide them for using an “unreliable” resource. I’ve contributed to wikipedia and wikibooks, but one thing that always concerned me was how the technology required to access these wikis limits the extent to which they are able to fulfill their mission—to provide free, quality information to as many folks as possible.

To address this problem, Jimbo (Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia) is talking to publishers about the possibility of publishing some parts of the ’pedia in printed form. He seems to think it’d make the most sense to group pages together under subjects, like rock’n roll or World War II. These volumes could be sold on a competitive basis by different publishers. I’m wondering to what extent they could copyright their editions. Would doing their own editing and illustrations constitute a new edition subject to copyright?

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Comment from: Terry Hancock [Member] · http://www.anansispaceworks.com

2005-11-04 @ 16:09
The Gnu Free Documentation License, is a copyleft license, so any additional content added to a printed version must also fall under the same license.

Wales can't change this license, because he didn't write Wikipedia. He just founded it.

So I think that there's no possibility of claiming a copyright on the printed work. Which is no reason not to publish it. Dover Books has been in business for decades, producing editions of books from the public domain.

Comment from: Matt Barton [Member] · http://mattbarton.net

2005-11-04 @ 16:30
Yes, Dover is an excellent example. I'm just surprised--shocked, frankly--that a big print publisher hasn't already stepped up to cash in on all the GNU FDL and the CC-licensed materials that allow it. Is it that they just don't trust these licenses?

Or does it just not make sense to render Wikipedia in print form, since part of its value comes from its constant editing?

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Biography

Matt Barton is an English professor at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. He is an advocate of free software, wikis, and the Creative Commons. He also studies and writes about videogames and computing history. Matt also has blogs at Armchair Arcade, Gameology, and Kairosnews.