Wikipedia Threatens Artists Over Domain Name Of Art Project Involving Wikipedia

from the openness? dept

First up, a disclosure: back in college, Nathaniel Stern, one of the main characters in this post, was a very close friend of mine — someone I hung out with a lot. After college, though, he and I mostly lost touch — other than a random email or Facebook message back and forth. The last time I heard from him, in fact (and the first time I’d heard from him in at least two years), was when he sent out an email alerting me to the fact that he (along with one other artist) had launched a project called WikipediaArt. The idea was to create an art project on Wikipedia, but which stayed within Wikipedia’s rules. Nat’s become a pretty well-known artist over the years, often experimenting in new media art, and the project itself struck me as quite interesting, though I doubted it was even remotely possible, given the way Wikipedia works. You knew that it would get deleted. However, I never expected the folks behind Wikimedia to go legal on them.

But, that’s what’s happened.

Both the EFF and Paul Levy (who has agreed to represent Wikipedia Art) have alerted us to the news that Wikipedia is demanding the artists hand over their domain by threatening legal action. As the EFF and Levy point out, this is a rather surprising move by the Wikipedia foundation, who should know better than to make a bogus demand on a URL just because it includes Wikipedia’s name in it:

Wikipedia should know better. There is no trademark or cybersquatting issue here. First, the site is entirely noncommercial, which puts it beyond the reach of U.S. trademark law. Moreover, even if U.S. trademark laws somehow reached this noncommercial activity, the artists’ use of the mark is an obvious fair use. Wikipedia Art uses the “Wikipedia” mark to refer to the project: a critical comment on Wikipedia and creativity. The disputed site describes the project, provides links to media coverage of the project, and so on. It does not use any more of the Wikipedia mark than need be; for example, it doesn’t even use the Wikipedia logo. Simply put, the site does not purport to be, nor does it look anything like, Wikipedia and the artists have done nothing to suggest Wikipedia endorses their work. Finally, the creators are engaging in precisely the kind of critical speech sheltered by the First Amendment.

While the EFF does note how odd it is for Wikipedia to be taking these actions, it leaves out the fact that Wikipedia is represented by Mike Godwin, (of Godwin’s Law fame), who was also the first EFF in-house lawyer and absolutely should know better than this. Hopefully Godwin and Wikipedia come to their senses, apologize and back down.

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Comments on “Wikipedia Threatens Artists Over Domain Name Of Art Project Involving Wikipedia”

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RD says:

Hahaha good one

“So, after listening to our editors’ feedback, we sent a letter to Wikipedia Art that was aimed, not to threaten legal action, but to outline what our legal concerns were, and to try to begin a negotiation to resolve the matter amicably[…]”

Hahahaha good one. Especially the words “negotiation” and “amicably”, gotta love the complete and utter misuse of those words. They have NO INTEREST in “negotiating” anything because like all TM/Copyright Nazi’s they feel they can use the law to bludgeon and intimidate, especially when they clearly have no legal leg to stand on. But when you have the bigger stick (money+lawyers) you can get your way even when you are abusing and misrepresenting the law to do it.

Wiki is now nothing more than any other large corporation that is more interested in acquiring money and power than they are in whatever inspired them to start it to begin with. Greed and power drive them now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Isn’t this the point? Now that there is such information about and relevance about WikipediaArt in the social consciousness, in the old media, etc, WikipediaArt now is valid for being an article to be included in Wikipedia..

..Which i assume was the artist’s point…?

…? Right? Isn’t this all just a piece of performance art?

Seth Finkelstein (user link) says:

"and absolutely should know better than this"

“represented by Mike Godwin, … who was also the first EFF in-house lawyer and absolutely should know better than this”

I have to be very, very, careful what I say here, for a lot of reasons. Let me just recite a few unarguable facts:

1) Mike Godwin is a lawyer.

2) He works for the Wikimedia Foundation.

3) The Wikimedia Foundation has been doing more business lately.

Draw your own conclusions, especially about any lawyerly responses.

Baylink (user link) says:

And more to the point

“Fair Use” has nothing whatever to do with trademarks, only copyright.

But, as it happens, copyright law has 4 or 5 bright-line violations, and as far as I can see, this use does not really impinge on any of them… except possibly “confusion”, which would be easy for them to avoid, and they probably are.

SO, is it time to invoke Godwin’s Law on this incident, and move along? (see what I did there? 🙂

Morgan Wick (profile) says:

Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.

So when someone comes by and tells Wikipedia THEY’RE violating copyright or something, no matter how flimsy the pretext, like Nielsen telling them they can’t use their market lists and forcing them to use something completely made up, Wikipedia runs away so fast it’ll make your head spin.

But they have the legal resources to tell someone ELSE to back down on copyright on their OWN flimsy pretext? WTF?

Brian Sherwin @ Myartspace Blog says:

Read the thoughts of the artists

I’ve been close to the Wikipedia Art story since day one. You might want to read my interviews with the two artists. Are the artists ‘trolls’as Jimmy Wales has called them? I don’t think so– not anymore than some of the longtime Wikipedia editors who mark articles about artists as not notable even though the subjects of the articles have exhibited in museums and so on.

On Wikipedia a baseball player who only played one game is considered notable, a politician who never won an election can be notable without question– but artists who have exhibited in a few museums often have articles about them questioned or speedy deleted unless they have been reviewed in the New York Times or one of the longstanding art magazines. That appears to happen often.


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