Internet Brands sues people for forking under CC by-sa.

Wikitravel was started in 2003, as a Wikipedia-inspired collaborative travel guide, under the Creative Commons attribution-sharealike licence (CC by-sa). The founders sold it to Internet Brands in 2006, who promptly plastered it in ads. The German and Italian versions forked, forming Wikivoyage. The English version held on until 2012, but finally, when the technical neglect got too much, asked if they could bring the content to a similar project hosted by Wikimedia. Wikivoyage asked to join too. After the requisite bureaucracy, the board approved the project.

Along the way, Internet Brands did their best to derail the proposal, which is stupid and annoying but not actually intolerable — until they went as far as lawsuit threats against several Wikitravel contributors for encouraging a fork, and then actually brought a suit against unpaid volunteer contributors James Heilman and Ryan Holliday — for using the word “Wikitravel” in the phrase “Wikitravel community” in promoting the fork. (And various other spurious complaints. Read the suit, it’s gibbering.)

(Internet Brands has a track record of scorched-earth litigation against perceived competitors. Google “Internet Brands” “vBulletin” “xenForo” and wince.)

Apart from being an excellent way to render both their own brand and that of Wikitravel utterly toxic, and hopefully collect a mob of geeks with pitchforks and torches (it’s just gone Friday as I write this, after all), this also prompted Wikimedia to act. This Wikimedia legal blog post buries the lead somewhat, but what WMF is doing is asking for a declaratory judgement that you can in fact fork free content, given that’s pretty much essential to what we do. Read the PDF, it’s a cracking good tale in the genre “legal brief readable by humans.”

Jani Patokallio posts a useful diagram of how this is going to play out:

(Forked and edited from Gyrovague under CC by-sa 3.0 without even asking. SUE ME!)

PROTIP: if you rely on unpaid volunteers to run your website, don’t sue them. — Tom Morris

Update: A Slashdotting is about 6000 hits these days, if you were wondering. Hacker News netting 3300 hits in two hours was a slightly more noticeable strain until I correctly tweaked WP Super Cache. Techdirt: 17 hits total.

Update 2: Spammy oblivion. It turns out 48 dedicated volunteer admins can’t be replaced by one incompetent employee.

7 thoughts on “Internet Brands sues people for forking under CC by-sa.”

  1. from people out of left field, in other words if I share this with my friends and family, not a one will have any earthly idea what this means:

    “Wikitravel was started in 2003, as a Wikipedia-inspired collaborative travel guide, under CC by-sa.”

    a few of the more tech savvy know what wikipedia is, and will infer that wikitravel is a wikipedia for travelers. but none of them will have a goddamn clue what a “collaborative travel guide under cc by-sa” means.

  2. I’ll see what I can do, though given the nature of the blog I’m not going to bother with “first, create the universe.” If you’re not a free culture native this issue is going to be meaningless anyway.

  3. We will be fine if we develop the universe with free high culture and the circumstances in which it is used with the technology in our lives. we can see that in ‘CC BY-SA’ we are free to share, remix or make commercial use of the work but under conditions.

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