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Commentary authored by Gardere Technology Attorney Peter Vogel and Published in the E-Commerce Times
The Mysterious Workings of Wikis: Who Owns What?
October 10, 2012 11:54 pm

E-Commerce Times:

By Peter S. Vogel is a trial partner at Gardere Wynne Sewell, where he is chair of the eDiscovery Team and Chair of the Technology Industry Team. Before practicing law, he was a systems programmer on mainframes, received a masters in computer science, and taught graduate courses in information systems and operations research. His blog covers contemporary technology topics.

Most everyone on the Internet reads Wikipedia, whether they rely on it or not, but few understand how wikis work or who owns the content. Understanding content ownership is important, because so many people freely contribute to wikis. If the owner of the wiki decides to revise or move the content, that could lead to a lawsuit.

Similarly, if the contributors move the content, that too could lead to a lawsuit. A case was recently filed on just this issue -- moving content. However, it is not copyright infringement that's alleged, but rather trademark infringement and unfair business practices.

Understanding Wikis

Wikis are a critical component of social media and continue to evolve, as does social media generally. As of September 2012, the most well known wiki, Wikipedia, claimed to have 23 million articles contributed by individuals around the world in 285 languages, and an estimated 2.7 billion monthly page views in the U.S. alone.

In addition to Wikipedia, there are thousands of wikis in use today, including internal business wikis closed to public view and public wikis of all sorts.

Although wiki content is contributed by wiki members, because the development of wiki content is iterative and results from multiple contributors, ownership of wiki content may not be clear. And interestingly, there have been no major copyright infringement cases interpreting who owns what.

Commentary authored by Gardere Technology Attorney Peter Vogel in E-Commerce Times


Too Soon to Know Where This Will Go

Since the lawsuit was filed in August 2012, it is still too soon to really get a sense of what will happen with the alleged claims, but it does seem like an interesting development in the wiki world regarding forking and ownership of wiki content.

Stay tuned to see where this will head, and potentially these forks may give us a clue about the future of wikis and whether there can be any copyright infringement, given the collaborative nature of wikis and the impact of the use of open source software.

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