Wikimania 2006 – in review

Last night I got back from Wikimania 2006 at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, sanitary Massachusetts. The conference is put on by the WikiMedia Foundation which runs Wikipedia and other similar projects. Here are some of the highlights of what came out of my visit:

  • Brewster Kahle – founder of The Internet Archive and Alexa Internet – gave a keynote address in which he talked about providing universal access to all knowledge. A sub-theme was that our country “massively screwed up” copyright law in 1976 when we said anything ever written down was automatically copyrighted. This applies in part to LyricWiki which always has to look over its shoulder since the law is really unclear on whether song lyrics are copywritten material or if they are distinguishable as different from the songs that they represent. I think it’s safe to say that if you bought a CD and all that was inside the case was the lyrics you would be understandably peeved since lyrics are not the same as songs, but legally there have been some precedents in which lyrics sites have been shut down. About this legal uncertainty surrounding copyright, Kahle had this to say: “The way you ask a question in this country is you go out and, uh… cause a lawsuit”.
  • Legal Stuff – At the legal discussion led by Brad Patrick, the General Counsel for WikiMedia, the only resounding point was that the laws governing copyright and many other online issues are still very much in a gray-area, but in general it is fairly safe to do something ethical without having to be afraid constantly. After saying that we have to “get used to this idea of ‘I don’t know‘” in current laws, he pointed out that the highly controversial Wikipedia has still only had 1 litigation (in Germany, that resulted in a victory) in its entire existence.
  • LyricWiki non-profit? – I have tentatively decided to spin LyricWiki out of Motive Force as a non-profit organization. There are a couple of reasons for this decision.
    1. It doesn’t turn a profit anyway, and would be very hard to make it do such a thing without endangering the vision of the site.
    2. If it gets sued, I don’t want to risk losing Motive Force LLC over it.
    3. If it is non-profit, I would have no qualms with accepting donations for it. Hopefully, this could offset the costs which are not nearly being covered by the Amazon commissions from in-page links to albums.

    This may take a little while to finalize since I’m not familiar with the process for setting up a non-profit organization and legal paperwork is oppressively time-consuming in general. Furthermore, there is still a small possibility that I won’t make the conversion to a full third-party entity, but I see that as unlikely.

  • AboutUs – In one of those weird small-world coincidences, I was sitting next to Ray King, founder of SnapNames and the new AboutUs at one of the sessions and – because of the shirt I was wearing – he asked me if I was the one who wrote the review of WetPaint. Awesome! People actually read my blog! Traffic is relatively low on my blog compared to several of my other sites, but now I’ve recieved comments from the people who created WetPaint, AboutUs, and (the code for) Atlassian Confluence. That feels rather fulfilling. Making the small-world coincidence even stranger is that I had just been to AboutUs a few days earlier even though it is just now making a major (still beta) launch. AboutUs is basically a whois site taken to the next level and then made into a wiki to boot. Personally I think it’s pretty cool, you might want to check it out also if you’re into domains.

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