The Non-Controversy: No, Wikipedia Authors Should Not Get Paid

from the manufacturing-controversy dept

Let’s say that I sold you a piece of land, and you then built a nice house on that land, and then you sold the property for a lot more money. Would anyone think that it was reasonable for me to then show up and demand a piece of the profits? Of course not. Yet when that scenario is tweaked just slightly into the digital realm and using $0 as the original price, suddenly people start getting things backwards. A few months back, for example, there was the situation with Billy Bragg complaining about the fact that musicians who chose to put their music on Bebo didn’t get any of the AOL buyout money. But that was perfectly reasonable, because the musicians made a fair trade initially: they gave their music, they got publicity. Asking for money after the fact is no different then me trying to renegotiate my land sale after you made the land more valuable and resold it.

Now we’re seeing yet another such case. Ethan Bauley writes in to point to an article suggesting that somehow Wikipedia authors are being ripped off because Bertelsmann is going to publish a paper version of Wikipedia for profit. But, again, it’s the same thing. People who contribute to Wikipedia clearly felt that giving their labor away for free was a fair transaction. Bertelsmann is now trying to make Wikipedia valuable to a different audience by putting it into book form. They’re taking on the risk of printing the book (building the house), and to have the various writers go back later and demand payment is equally as ridiculous. Luckily, it seems like most people recognize this — and many comments on the ReadWriteWeb article point this out. It’s just a few agitators, who apparently want to change the terms after the fact, who are having trouble getting this.

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Companies: bertelsmann, wikipedia

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Comments on “The Non-Controversy: No, Wikipedia Authors Should Not Get Paid”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Not the same

When I sold you the land, I did nothing to make it at all – it just was.
Now, you had the land, and then let me come in and build something on it (my time, my labor, etc), and then you turned around and SOLD that, then yes, I could have a right to bitch.

How about I go ahead and publish a book containing all the comments from everyone on here? I wonder if you will think that is fine and dandy?

SomeGuy says:

Re: Not the same

Mike would LOVE that, I’m sure. You’d be paying all the cost of putting out advertising for his website. People who get the book from you would see the kinds of articles they do here, and the kind of discussions that come up, and your book would drive traffic to the site because people would want to get in on all the new content.

ehrichweiss says:

Re: Not the same

Your chronology is flawed.
1. You owned land.
2. You sold land.
3. Buyer(NOT you) builds a house on land.
4. Land is sold and they owe you nothing.

Unless you helped AOL with ALL of their issues, you had no hand in building their “house”, your only part was selling the land.

Sad thing is, Billy Bragg is someone who should be beyond this at this point.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Not the same

Please re-read what I said. It is not what you infer. In your bullet-point layout:
1. You own the land.
2. You invited me onto land to build what I wanted.
3. I did so, my own time/money/etc
4. Someone else comes in and sells my work without asking me, and I get nothing.

This is exactly what is going on now. Since nobody doing step #2 expected their free work to be sold, how hard it is to understand why they are upset?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Not the same

1. I own the land
2. I invited you on the land to build what you want, with you knowing it really wasn’t yours and it would be free to anyone.
3. You did so using your own time/money/etc with no expectation of any return.
4. I come in and sell a copy of your house that someone can own. The free one is still there and available to anyone.

Why would you be upset again?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Not the same

You forgot number #5.

5. The someone who bought the house makes improvement to it, and you’re allowed to and copy those improvements back into the original house. Or you can just make a copy of the improved house for yourself.

This whole concern trolling over wikipedia is silly anyhow. Anyone who submits content to wikipedia explicitly licenses it to them under the GFDL. The GFDL explicitly allows commercial distribution of the content. That’s part of the whole purpose of tbe GFDL. The FSF wanted publishers to be able to publish and sell documentation for free software without that documentation being wrapped up by copyright.

mobiGeek says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Not the same

The FSF wanted publishers to be able to publish and sell documentation for free software without that documentation being wrapped up by copyright.

Correct except for the not-wrapped-up-by-copyright part. The GFDL is a copyright license. It just happens to be written contrary to the wildly assumed intent of copyright (give freedoms rather than restrict them).

One (lame and flawed) argument against the GPL and GFDL is that they themselves restrict rights by restricting recipients from restricting others.

Greg Scott says:

Re: Not the same

When i first read this article it made sense but after reading that comment it makes more sense. the original analogy to land being sold is wrong and does not apply to the wikipedia situation. If wikipedia were made to be profit, then the authors should get paid, because they provide a service contributing there work to a public for free. It would be like a non profit organization raising money through volunteer and then turning around an saying “eh i think we should go for profit” they would be profiting from the work of volunteers thinking it would help a cause. if wikipedia turned for profit, i don’t know about legally but, it would feel like fraud to the writer unless they got a cut. and the other situation of musicians contributing work doesn’t count because they were contributing for benefit in the first place.

Ok sory this is really long but Wikipedia would not work or would never have worked if it was for profit. If Bertelsmann actually think wikipedia would work and be as good and as accessible as it is now if it were for profit, hes just a stupid capitalist.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not the same

It would be like a non profit organization raising money through volunteer and then turning around an saying “eh i think we should go for profit” they would be profiting from the work of volunteers thinking it would help a cause.

Uh. But that’s not the case at all. The terms of the deal (including the possibility of for-profit offshoots) have always been clearly stated.

JJ says:

Re: Not the same

This is obviously way over your head. Let’s look at the land analogy again. It’s all about separate transactions. In the original analogy, you sell land to me, I build on it and resell it again for profit. In what state of mind do you think I owe you a penny from the profit? I made the investment of building the house and took the risk that it would not pay off.

In your analogy, I own the land yet you build on it and I claim all the profits. That is obviously criminal, so thanks for pointing out an obvious fact, but to what real even do you place this analogy? Nothing in this article is even remotely similar to a situation which you are describing other than you stealing these forum posts… You make little sense.

Nasch says:

Re: Re: Not the same

In the altered analogy (which I think also works), the land is Wikipedia, and the buildings are the articles. The landowner owns the land (Wikimedia foundation owns/controls Wikipedia). He invites the builder to build whatever he wants on the land, making it clear that the builder will supply all materials (this is where the analogy is flawed, as always comparing infinite goods with finite) and labor, will receive no compensation, and will have no property rights in the structures. The landowner then allows a tourism company to charge money for people to visit the cool buildings, and the builder complains that he should be getting money from the tour company.

The outcome of the analogy is the same: if the builder wanted compensation for the buildings, he should never have agreed to the original terms. Complaining later is foolish, pointless, and perhaps even unethical.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Not the same

How about I go ahead and publish a book containing all the comments from everyone on here? I wonder if you will think that is fine and dandy?

As others have correctly pointed out, yes that would be fine and dandy. In fact, it would be better than that, because you’d be helping to drive more attention to us. So, if you’re going to do that, thank you. If you need any assistance, please let me know.

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

The book remains the intellectual property of its contributors

The book remains the intellectual property of its contributors, i.e. a public work owned by the public.

Given that Wikipedia is free, the book cannot be charging for the work therein, but the costs in producing everything else comprising the book.

Anyone can copy Wikipedia or the book and publish their own books and charge twice the price (or half) if they fancy.

It’s a free market – NO FRICKING MONOPOLY!

known coward says:

I am not sure i agree

The content writers worked with the understanding that wikipedia was a free resource for the world, and that a profit was not to be made from it. Folks worked on it for the betterment of mankind, and accepted the wiki license agreement for whatever reason they chose. Now someone is attempting to profit off of the work that was given away for a free cause, the worker has a right to be miffed, the license that the author worked under is being unilaterally violated, and he is morally entitled ( let the real lawyers determine legally) to renegotiate the usage of his work in that product. If the individual author and Bertelsmann can not agree to a price the section should not be included in their book.

/sarcasm on
unless of course Bertelsmann, like JK rowling is donating the profits to “charity” then it is all OK.
/sarcasm off

Hua Fang (user link) says:

Re: Re: I am not sure i agree

Agree with the idea of full donation to free world of knowledge, Wikipedia.

Furthermore, we need promote the idea called “Base-line” education package for everybody in the world. No matter how rich or poor you are, the total cost of pre-graduate school education should be very small, and the “pay-back” amount shall NEVER be beyond 5 percent of an educated-colleague-graduate’s annual income. As a result, it will force a more efficient system coming out to serve everybody in the world.

Have a good future!

Hua Fang

CJ says:

Re: I am not sure i agree

Sorry, you’re wrong. All wikipedia articles are licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Wikipedia’s copyright page says “Wikipedia content can be copied, modified, and redistributed so long as the new version grants the same freedoms to others and acknowledges the authors of the Wikipedia article used”. So Bertelsmann can print a book edition of wikipedia without the authors work “unilaterally violated”.

SomeGuy says:

Re: I am not sure i agree

Say I hire you to do some work. We agree that you’ll build me a house for $X. You agree to do so; what your reasons for agreeing are is irrelevant. You build the house. I pay you $X. I then sell the land, with the house, for three quarters of a million dollars. Do I owe you any of the sale price? No, that was never part of our agreement, which you entered into freely. This doesn’t change if X is 0.

known coward says:

Re: Re: I am not sure i agree

I think as the agreement stands CJ is correct the author gets squat, but i do not think it is ethical.

As to someguys point, the analogy is flawed, a better analogy:

You have a piece of property that is a public park free for all to use.

You ask me to help you make the park beautiful, I agree and do it for free since it is a public park free for all.

You then tear down the park and put up a parking lot, and charge for parking.

Again it may be legal, but it is definately against the spirt of what was requested of me and I gladly provided.

Anonymous Coward says:

Wait a minute...

If I were a contributor, I would feel ripped off by this. I contributed my time and expertise to this site under the assumption that it would always be free. Those were the (at least assumed) conditions on which I contributed my work.

Legally, I see the point that I cannot sue. However, I would think twice about contributing for free again. Why should my work make someone else money and me nothing? It goes against the spirit in which I contributed the content. (again, legally, I know that probably wouldnt stand up in court)

On a side note, if Wikipedia can claim that it’s a platform and therefore not responsible for the content is users create when they plagarise or infringe on copyright, how the hell do they justify turning around and then selling the content as though it belongs to them?

Im confused.

Matt says:

Re: sorry, you contributed free, not yours

If you don’t want to contribute via GPL, don’t.

If you’re donating for free, you should be welcome that your work is included and thus being given out to more people than it would reach in the first place. You might even be able to present yourself as an expert in said topic, and sell things related to that, whereas before the distribution nobody knows you/cares. Your view is very you-centric. If your ideas are private, then don’t publish em. Simple as that.

If you don’t want your work to make other people money while you make none, then don’t release it under GPL. If you can’t figure out a way to monetize your own efforts for your own purpose, that is not our problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Wait a minute...

But Wikipedia IS still free online. That hasn’t changed. They’re just publishing a real-world book and selling that. I’m not sutre how your description even fits with this. No one HAS to buy the book, and all the information is still online (and more useful there, I’d say), but having a hardcopy book could be a useful thing for certain people.

Hank (user link) says:

Re: Wait a minute...

The content is still available free of charge on the website.
Think about the printed version like this for a second; they are charging for the SERVICE of printing the content on the website, not for the content itself, which may change many times after it has been printed.
You can do this yourself by printing everything from the site to your printer, however this will take a great deal of time and resources (paper & ink). Plus I doubt you will put a snazzy cover on the one you print at home, which will allow it to become damaged more quickly and require you to reprint portions of it.
Therefore paying someone else to do the printing for you in no way changes the final outcome, which is that you have a printed copy of the content on the site.

Michael Brutsch (profile) says:

You just don't get it, do you

#14: “under the assumption that it would always be free”

And it always will be free. You contributed to Wikipedia, Wikipedia is still free. Bertelsmann is trying to sell a copy of something that is freely available on-line.

“how the hell do they justify turning around and then selling the content as though it belongs to them”

Actually, they are not. Bertelsmann is making their own copy, under the GFDL, and selling the copy that they made. German Wikipedia has nothing to do with Bertelsmann’s decision. Frankly, I’m surprised at the number of people that just don’t understand this.

Andy (user link) says:

Wait a minute

1. Wikipedia is still free, so you’re assumption is correct. The site isn’t going anywhere.

2. You CAN use your work to make money and the work of the other contributors. Release your own copy of Wikipedia in book form. If you were concerned that you weren’t getting rewarded for your contribution, then don’t contribute.

3. Wikipedia isn’t plagiarizing or infringing any copyright. Read the license you agreed to by contributing.

4. You are confused.

John Smith (profile) says:

Wrong Analogy

Unless the authors agreed to have there freely posted work distributed on a paid for basis (a book) your analogy is wrong.
A correct analogy would be similar to software source licenses. The author gives it away with permission to distribute it for free (a freely accessible website) if the source code is to be used in a commercial product, a licensing fee must be paid. (a royalty to the authors)
So yes the authors are entitled to a share of the profits unless they expressly agreed to have their work distributed in a commercial paid for product(the book)

jeisen says:

Easy solution

The Wikipedia content is under the GFDL. In effect, it only has two conditions:

1) You must provide the source on request, or a network-accessible place where the source can be downloaded.

2) If you change anything, you must maintain invariant texts from previous versions and make it clear this is a changed work.

So, bottom line, if you’re mad that someone’s selling Wikipedia in book form, there’s an easy solution. Go download the source and print it yourself. Sell it for as much or as little as you want. Get it into bookstores listed as free, right next to the pay edition. Problem solved.

Free Speech says:

This is Stupid

Wonder if Hillary would pay the walrus guy???

Absolutely no. Wikipedia content is entered on free will with no compensation. Period. It’s like vlounteer workers wanting to get paid.

The Wikipedia book is just a home written encyclopedia (with errors) and Bertelsmann should get no profit either. Let’s pay the ancestors of the writers of the Declaration of Independence for their efforts too while we are at it.


Brad says:

I would have to say that the analogy of land being sold is inaccurate to this situation. Let’s say that I had written a lot of valuable content on Wikipedia, which is freely available to anybody with an internet connection and web browser. I knowingly offer that information freely, without restriction. But then, somebody decides to take that free information and sell it for a profit. Now somebody else, who did really no work at all, is profiting from work that I did.

The issue is not that I’m not getting a piece of the profits, but rather that somebody it getting something for essentially nothing. Even though I’m not expecting any payment, I’m still getting cheated. Now, if this printed book will be sold for a price that does nothing more than cover the publishing and printing costs, meaning the person doing it gets no money for themselves out of the deal, then it’s no big deal. But it is ethically wrong to make a profit on somebody else’s free work.

A more accurate analogy of this situation would be me going around a neighborhood doing yardwork for free, and then somebody coming around behind me trying to collect fees for said work without having done any of the work themselves, other than the work of traipsing from door to door. Imagine if you found out that somebody was trying to take advantage of your free service. I think you’d be pretty ticked off, no matter who you are.

The bottom line is, no Wikipedia author should get paid for their work, but neither should anybody else who distributes said work in any form. To do so destroys the spirit of free information. The only I way I would support a printed version is if it was done in a way as to be completely non-profit. Another acceptable method would be for any proceeds to be channeled back into Wikipedia in order for them to further enhance their services.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I understand what you’re saying here Brad, but here’s my additions to your comments:

1. Bertelsmann is taking a financial cost in producing the book that might backfire. it’s a risky venture – half of the appeal of Wikipedia is in its instantly searchable and ever-changing nature. Putting the site into book form entails risks that are totally the company’s own, so they need to be compensated for it.

2. Either way, this move does not affect the content that’s already online. In fact, it puts your work out there to be appreciated by a wider audience, doubly so if the book credits the entries. Personally, I’d be flattered rather than annoyed if my entry was chosen to be in the book – there’s no physical way the entire thing can be printed and sold.

3. Legal talk here, but as with anything online, you should be aware of the terms and conditions of your interactions with any given site. Wikipedia members will have agreed to have their work distributed under a specific licence, so have no recourse when that licence is used.

4, I think your yard work analogy is completely off. Nobody’s trying to take credit for the work that’s been done under false pretences. They are simply moving the site to an offline mode, and taking the profits from the risk and costs of doing so. your analogy would be pure and simple fraud. This is more along the lines of contributors not realising that money could be made, and are now pissed that they didn’t think of it first.

5. One last point – think about Penguin and other publishers of public domain work. Should Shakespeare’s ancestors get a cut because a publisher sell his complete works? No, of course not – the works were there free for anyone to use, to be published with little additional work from the publisher. other than the age of the work involved, this is no different.

Hank (user link) says:


Screw it, let’s all just go on welfare. Then we can get paid from the hard work of everyone instead of focusing our efforts.

Get a grip damn hippies!! If you want to get paid for the work then publish it yourself or get a deal to write for Encyclopedia Britannica. If you weren’t smart enough to profit from it yourself, well, too bad. Life sucks, learn the lesson and get over it!!

Tony (user link) says:

A little confusion?

I think there is some confusion about a couple issues:

“This doesn’t change if X is 0.”

I learned some time back that in contract law, there must be an EXCHANGE of value for a contract to be valid. That is, I must receive some compensation for my work – even if only $.01. If you paid me NOTHING for building your house, then there is no valid contract. If you paid me a penny, then there is.

Not sure how GNU and such licenses hold up under this – but I will grant that volunteer work for non-profits has never been held to the same test (at least not that I know)

“they “sell the bindings” that just happen to have scripture in them.”

Actually, certain TRANSLATIONS of the bible ARE under copyright (NIV and NASB, for example). The copyright is on the specific translation, not on the original text. The KJV is, obviously, public domain.

“Unless the authors agreed to have there freely posted work distributed on a paid for basis (a book) your analogy is wrong.”

Did the contributors to Linux specifically agree to Redhat making money?

Randal says:

I am not sure i agree

I disagree with your analogy. Here is a more accurate analogy in my opinion.

You have a piece of property that is a public park free for all to use.

You ask me to help you make the park beautiful, I agree and do it for free since it is a public park free for all.

You take pictures of the park, print the pictures at your own expense, find a publisher to publish the book and sell it for a profit. The park is still there to be enjoyed and can be made even more beautiful by other people.

Sound legal and ethical to me.

#14 says:

RE: Wait a minute

I retract my statement, I was confused. Unthought of to me was that the information is still free and if people are willing to pay for something they can have for free, then value (that I did not contribute) has been added.

I would have a problem if i contributed for free then the WEBSITE wikipedia began to charge to read it without paying me. As this is not the case, I dont see the harm.

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Re: RE: Wait a minute

Well done on your first point. If you sell something that’s free, you must be selling added value.

On your second point, it would still be fine for Wikipedia to charge people to read the site – without paying contributors. The thing is, no-one would pay such a charge, especially given the first payer could copy the whole thing and permit free access to everyone else (or charge a slightly lower price).

Duodave (user link) says:

Funny, this is two years old...

How is this commercially available print edition of Wikipedia any different from the commercially available digital edition that was made for the Palm Pilot a couple years ago? Funny, I don’t recall any contributors making a big deal about its existence, or wanting a cut of the profits.

If I was Bertelsmann, I would refer to the Palm Pilot version and its lack of objection as an excellent example of why contributors really don’t have a leg to stand on.

cram (profile) says:

Is this a first?

Hi all

Would like to know if this this the first time someone’s printing any or all parts of Wikipedia. I certainly hope more and more people come forward to release Wikipedia in print format because it would be a lot more useful than people think. Wiktionary should be next on the list.

Another point: People who sell printed Wikipedias in countries like India would be doing a great service, because the vast majority of people don’t have Net access. And most of the encyclopedias available are either too expensive, or not uptodate, or both.

Brandon says:

Just my two cents. I have yet to see a bunch of Wikipedia contributers who are really upset about this. Most of what I’ve seen are non-contributers who are upset. In fact, I’ve seen a large majority of contributers who are praising this book, happy that their work could be even more widely appreciated since most of them do it just because they enjoy the fact that their work might help someone. Especially since, as I understand it, the book will have to site the authors of the articles they use.

As for the analogy, I think it makes more sense of me owning a piece of land. I let you come along and build whatever kind of house you want on it without paying you a dime. Then I let someone else come along and make an exact copy of it which they can charge money for. In the meantime, you’ve made no money but you’re still allowed to change anything you want in the house, remove parts, add on parts, you can even make your own copy and charge for it, but any copy has to stay exactly as it is.

You could even go so far as to say that what you built are all parts taken from someone else and copied by you, because Wikipedia is essentially a repository of information available elsewhere, it’s just centralized in one spot. So if you do make money off a Wikipedia contribution that you write, couldn’t you say that you’re making money off something someone else has already done as well?

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