August 31, 2012

Wikimedia proposes "Legal Fees Assistance Program" for Wikipedia, etc support role

I hope I'm not drummed out of the Wikipedia Critics Guild for this post, but it's worth noting there's a hopeful proposal from the Wikimedia Foundation (the nonprofit which owns Wikipedia and various other projects) for a "Legal Fees Assistance Program"

The Legal Fees Assistance Program of the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) has been established to help secure funds for legal assistance in appropriate cases for Wikimedia users who serve in a community administrator, arbitrator, email response, or project governance role that is specified in this document. ... [It] is intended to help with the costs of a legal defense arising from a support role in the unlikely event that a user should face legal action for their actions in such a role.

I should note this specific program is not about content, which is a different policy.

One of my deeper criticisms of the exploitative nature of Wikipedia, and why I don't believe it's a good model for anything much except taking advantage of relatively powerless people, is the way it engages in the practice "risk-shifting". For example, where low-level volunteers bear the legal risks and costs of legally problematic actions. The con-men who push wonderful stories about self-emergent collective-mind free work, typically never mention that lawsuits can get directed towards real people, not technomystic concepts. This problem is made much worse by the ability of some organizations to disclaim liability and push it onto the unpaid labor.

Kudos to whoever at the Wikimedia Foundation took steps to address this issue. It would be a great use of resources.

That being said, I have some unfortunate worries which I'll phrase as follows: I hope that what sounds so much like a program which would defend the rank-and-file against abuse of power, doesn't get corrupted into stealth lobbying for Google or similar in legal fights about copyright. Basically, misused as another way to channel Wikipedia prominence and reputation into the service of corporate interests. Again, I don't contend that's what the proposers have in mind, and I'm not claiming this is intended as any sort of propaganda effort. But there's many forces who do want to use Wikimedia as a corporate front. And sadly I could see a way it might happen here. Maybe it's dour to bring that up that possibility for such a praiseworthy proposal. But I've seen too much bad net.politics to be unreservedly optimistic.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on August 31, 2012 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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