BCopenEd, UBC Wiki

Why University Wikis Need Open Licenses

Unlike traditional scholarly publishing, a defining characteristic of the wiki model is a lack of barriers between the role of reader and that of editor; users are usually free to move back and forth between the roles at will. Due to this collaborative nature, the question of reuse of wiki content can be more complicated than it is for non-collaborative platforms. The author or creator of a work is generally considered to be the owner of that document’s copyright. However, the inherent ability for any wiki user to modify or expand upon another editor’s work makes it difficult to apply individual authorship or ownership to wiki-based content.

Content on collaborative wikis can thus be considered to be works of joint authorship of all the editors who collaboratively edited and compiled that page. The issue of joint authorship is particularly important around republishing; As Black et al state (pdf), republishing content becomes a community matter as one wiki editor cannot grant republishing or reuse permission without the express permission of the other editors (2007).

A community-based level of permission for reuse can be easily granted and expressed through the use of an open content license, such as a Creative Commons license, that allows for modification and reuse. Individual users would agree (such as through a terms of use), that any content they contribute is done so under the wiki’s open license thus allowing for basic wiki functionality of community editing and reuse. Black et al (2007) further state that for wikis where there is no explict copyright license:

It may be argued that due to the inherent nature of a wiki as a fully editable website that allows any user to read and add content to that state, a license that allows for these basic functions must be implied as a matter of necessity (p. 254).

An open content license thus should be seen as a best practice for the core functionality of university-based wikis: republishing jointly-authored works. Due to their collaborative nature and purpose, most educational and non-commercial wikis do specify an open documentation license that allows their wiki content to be republished, reused, and modified. For example, academic wikis which specify Creative Commons licenses include the Thompson Rivers University Wiki, the University of Calgary Wiki, the CUNY Academic Commons Wiki and many more.