Open content attribution (or how we talk about it) is still too complicated

So, there is a certain amount of obvious irony to the revelation that Chris Anderson’s book Free contains significant unattributed copying from Wikipedia. The entire piece from Virginia Quarterly Reviews Waldo Jaquith is worth a read (and I leave it to you to decide if Anderson’s response is appropriate), but I just want to fixate on one small detail from Jaquith’s article:

Though reproducing words or original ideas from any uncredited source is widely defined as plagiarism, using text from Wikipedia presents an even more significant problem than reproducing traditional copyrighted text. Under Wikipedia’s Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license, Anderson would be required to credit all contributors to the quoted passages, license his modifications under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, note that the original work has been modified, and provide the text of or a link to the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. Anderson has not done any of these things in Free. [Bold text added.]

Now I don’t think “all contributors” implies that each editor to the relevant passage in Wikipedia would need to named individually. I dare suggest such a requirement would make it nearly impossible to accurately cite a passage (especially given the way MediaWiki tracks edits). The handy-dandy “Cite this page” link which fixes to a specific Wikipedia edit (example) doesn’t deal with individual editors. And the page on Citing Wikipedia says nothing about these Creative Commons rights. (Interesting to note that Anderson claims the absence of a good citation format was largely why there aren’t any citations.) But then why does Jaquith, clearly a very clever Waldo, suggest that quoting Wikipedia is “an even more significant problem” than a copyrighted text?

In any event, this passage in a widely-read online article sows some real confusion. And it concerns a process that needs to be absolutely confusion-free if it is going to take flight — especially in a domain like academia.

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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