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Commercial Use of Memory Alpha Content

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Hey folks, it's been a while, hasn't it? I've been keeping a low profile because of a need to spend a lot of time on my job and other things lately... but I wanted to post this e-mail that I received barely twenty minutes ago. I'm not sure that there's a lot we can do about it at this point, but I thought that the community should be aware of the interest.

From: Kim Cunningham
Sent: Wednesday, April 19, 2006 3:46 PM
To: removed
Subject: G4 Media - Use of Memory-alpha information - Star Trek 2.0
Dear Harry & Dan: I am contacting you on behalf of G4 Media, Inc., a cable network located in Los Angeles specializing in videogame-related programming. We are currently launching an interactive show called “Star Trek 2.0” and would like to be able to cite materials from your website as the source of information to be used therein. We would be willing to include a message which states “from Memory-alpha.org” at the end of a fact in each instance where we used your material.
Please advise whether we have your consent.
Your earliest reply is appreciated as our launch is imminent.
Thank you for your assistance.
Sincerely,
Kim Cunningham
Legal & Business Affairs
G4 Media, Inc.
address removed

Suffice to say, this would be an incredibly awesome way to get the word out about Memory Alpha... except for that little niggling bit of legalese called the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License. This is based solely on my own personal and untrained understanding of the license, but I don't believe that there's any way to give carte blanche access to Memory Alpha's content. I don't think any of us could have foreseen Memory Alpha getting this kind of big attention two and a half years ago! Still, discussion is probably warranted. Thoughts? ☺ – Dan Carlson | [[User talk:MinutiaeMan|Talk]] 23:05, 19 April 2006 (UTC)

Having the URL flash across their screen even once could atract countless new contributers. This is another (see above) enormous honour to Memory Alpha, and we should go through any means we can to find a legal way to do this. Also, they probably have there own legal experts, so I would get in contact with them to see if this can be done under the CCL. They would really just be citing us as a source, I don't see how commercial that is. Jaz talk 17:33, 19 April 2006 (UTC)
Also, we have a type of "license-loop" going on in the relation between our site, using copyrighted material with a non-commercial disclaimer to attest to our "fair-use" of the material, being contacted by a licensed agent of the owners of the material we are using. Meaning they already have the right to use a lot of the material in our database. Thereby, any "commercial" use of material stored on MA but owned by the franchise already would be their purview. I say we take the credit, and maybe examine our license to see if the fact that the info is being commercially reused by the owners of said commercial material might make it an exception. -- Captain M.K.B. 01:43, 20 April 2006 (UTC)
Just to get it out of the way, I am providing commentary here as an archivist and not in any way providing legal advice - seek legal counsel as necessary if a legal opinion is sought. Having said that, the CCL appears to be the license under which people like me (the "Licensor") gives Memory Alpha (the "You") rights to my work. MA can do stuff with it. One thing it can do is to publicly display the re-written material (the "Derivative Work"). Those who view the material are offered the same license restrictions from me (which, presumably, they may or may not exercise). One such restriction is not to use the work for commercial advantage. So even if MA isn't paid, theoretically G4 Media would be using the text for commercial advantage, thereby potentially violating the license from the original writer (the Licensor). So my initial read is it can't be done without G4, at least, violating the license. A legitimate response back to G4, though, could be "G4 is welcome to reproduce excerpts from Memory Alpha, provided that in each instance Memory Alpha's URL is credited as being the source, and provided such is done in accordance with the Creative Commons License located [give link]." G4's attorneys can then determine whether they have a problem (e.g., whether it could it be "fair use" on their part), and Memory Alpha has done its bit to preserve the license. G4 may conclude it is too much of a headache, but I don't think we can simply say "sure, use it as you will" without violating the CCL. But having said that, whoever is actually in charge of Memory Alpha can seek a legal opinion or simply do as I suggest and throw it to G4 to figure out how to act in accordance with the license. (As an aside, the CCL is a very poorly written license - I don't know why it was selected if the choice was voluntary. And I'm not sure how Memory Alpha today is getting money from Amazon and Google without being in violation of it; but that's a question for another day.) Aholland 18:35, 19 April 2006 (UTC)
Well, there really is no way to solve this "by discussion". As Aholland correctly pointed out, all content that is published here is published under a specific license (and for a reason!), and anyone who wants to reproduce this content has to comply with that license. Whether G4 wants to do that, and if it even is a form of "reproducing our original content" if they basically just state that "the answer to this question was looked up on Memory Alpha" is something the guys at G4 should decide for themselves. I'd say, Dan, reply to them as Aholland suggested, and let's see what they will do with that answer. -- Cid Highwind 07:47, 20 April 2006 (UTC)
We are not making money with MA. The Google ads are run by Wikicities, and pay the hosting costs. There is no Amazon income that I'm aware of (unless Dan is writing his comments from his new luxury yacht? :D) -- Harry t 15:44, 20 April 2006 (UTC)

BTW and IIRC, the CCL was chosen for exactly this reason - being able to publish, rewrite and reuse original content (similar to the GFDL), while at the same time not allowing commercial use (as the GFDL does) of something that we do not have the right to use commercially - the Star Trek franchise. -- Cid Highwind 07:54, 20 April 2006 (UTC)

Good to hear from you, Dan. From what I've seen in CCL-BY-NC, we can offer above described access only if G4 will use this for non-commercial use. That's tricky. Will they estimate the share of income for this news bit and donate it to... whatever... wikipedia.org? Anyway, I'm sure when we are used on a commercial basis, sooner or later Paramount will show up and I don't want to see that. We are NC and share NC. Fans can copy us non-commercial. G4 might wants us as consultants and I'm almost sure, our community would be proud and compliant to work under another licence (GFDL?) in a closed corner, apart from Memory Alpha articles. — Florian - talk 17:23, 20 April 2006 (UTC)

Based on my understanding of the license, my interpretation is essentially the same as Aholland's — that G4 can't use MA's content under the CC-BY-NC license, unless it's possible to say it's fair use somehow. I'm in the middle of composing a letter just to that effect. (read it here) And as I say to Kim, we'd love to let them use our stuff, but only within the license terms. Effectively, it's up to their legal department, I think.

Other notes: For Aholland's concern about the CCL, read Why Memory Alpha doesn't use the GFDL for a little commentary that I wrote a while back. Also, Memory Alpha itself (specifically, Harry and I as the primary founders and admins) get zero commercial benefit from this, no funds whatsoever. The Google ads are simply spliced in by Wikia, our hosts, and that's clearly permitted under the CCL. As for Amazon funds... I have absolutely no idea what's up with those. I've never checked that at all, and I don't know if anyone's used it at all. It's a leftover from the days when MA was hosted independently. I'll make a note to check that out. – Dan Carlson | [[User talk:MinutiaeMan|Talk]] 17:43, 20 April 2006 (UTC)

Thanks for the short history on why the CCL was chosen! Having read the draft letter, I would strongly urge that any letter sent not contain suggestions of MA doing anything other than 100% in accordance with the license. (The bits about "bending" the license, for example.) The thing is, the license is not subject to a wiki-style opinon poll; it is whatever a court is willing to enforce. So I think it best to leave it to the G4 lawyers rather than the MA community to determine what's permissible. My suggestion (for what it is worth) would be to open pretty much as you did, but then not make any conclusions as to how they can use it. Just say "The unique nature of Memory Alpha is such that no one person 'owns' the work product, nor can anyone grant rights to it beyond the CCL. However, as with any reader, G4 is welcome to use the information in Memory Alpha in accordance with the CCL. We would ask, though, that our URL be given appropriate credit when used." And just kinda leave it at that. Make G4 reach whatever conclusion they want so that MA, Dan, Harry, and the Wikia people, don't get caught up in a legal fight with someone who's nose gets bent out of shape because their name wasn't used or something. Again, just a suggestion - and it is a very nice honor to be asked. Aholland 19:20, 20 April 2006 (UTC)

Non-commercial organizations are still allowed to advertise -- we do in google (paid for by wikia I believe). Perhaps we could say we are advertising with G4 and our payment is letting them use facts from our site. Also, just as a side note to our success, I was checking some stats at Alexia, and 4 times in the past 6 months our page rating has exceeded that of StarTrek.com! Jaz talk 22:55, 23 April 2006 (UTC)

Also, I just emailed the CCL people ask them their opinions on this. Jaz talk 06:08, 24 April 2006 (UTC)

As said above, we shouldn't desperately try to find some loopholes in the CCL that allows someone else to use our content in a way other than what our license describes. The idea that someone using content is actually taking that as some form of payment for advertising is shaky at best - and based on the idea that "MA" even is able and allowed to give away that content, which it is not. Also, I think we shouldn't go around and contact various people - why not just let Dan and Harry handle that? -- Cid Highwind 08:50, 24 April 2006 (UTC)

I don't see any conflict here. They want to cite us as a source for information, not republish our content, which means copyright infringement souldn't be an issue. I can't think of any use they'd make of our info that violates our license. (Even if they were going to, say, republish our content the way Answers.com does with Wikipedia, the "human-readable" version of the license says "Any of these conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder" - which is what they are doing by asking us.) --Vedek Dukat Talk | Duty Roster 09:56, 24 April 2006 (UTC)

Well, if all they are going to do is to state that "according to Memory Alpha, the answer is (insert half a sentence of information here)", then you are probably correct. If they use more than that, for example by displaying or reading text directly taken from our articles, then they have to do that according to our license. And while "waiving" is possible, it is only possible for the copyright holders - which are the individuals that wrote a specific article, but not "Memory Alpha" as a whole. -- Cid Highwind 10:13, 24 April 2006 (UTC)
I think Renegade hit the nail on the head about how they intend to use our content. But for the record, don't we release our work to Memory Alpha when we submit it? I always thought we were "giving" it to the project, which would make it (although I don't know who exactly "it" is - Dan and Harry, I suppose) the copyright holder. --Vedek Dukat Talk | Duty Roster 15:46, 24 April 2006 (UTC)

From looking at their web site, I'm guessing what they're wanting to do is use information on MA in some of their games/contests, such as for trivia questions, etc. Obviously, this is only supposition, but if that's the case, just citing us as the source for "authoritative" information, I don't see a problem - but then, again, I'm no lawyer. :) -- Renegade54 15:33, 24 April 2006 (UTC)

To address Vedek's comment above, the "owner" of the work placed on MA is the person who places it on MA. The owner is granting a license to reuse it, combine it, etc., but ownership does not transfer. Hence, no one person or entity owns or can freely grants rights in or to the work outside the license. Theoretically, then, if someone were to take your work and publish it for profit somewhere you could sue them and prevail as they would have violated your copyright (in the U.S.) and the terms of the license. I, still, suggest that whoever responds to them just tell G4 they can use MA as they wish, so long as it is in conformance with the license - same as any other reader. Aholland 16:49, 24 April 2006 (UTC)
Thanks for clearing that up, and yeah, that's probably the best course of action. Something told me when I first read this that the "permission" they were seeking had as much to do with getting the word out about Star Trek 2.0 as covering the legal aspect of it... ;) --Vedek Dukat Talk | Duty Roster 17:17, 24 April 2006 (UTC)

I did get a response today. Here it is.

Hey Josh,
We are currently working on trying to clarify the definition of noncommercial & have prepared draft guidelines (which I have attached for your reference). As you can see, according to the guidelines, use by a for-profit company constitutes a commercial use & is prohibited under an NC license on the rationale that all actions by a for-profit company are ultimately for profit. However, if your community of contributors feel that use by a for-profit company is a noncommercial use, then you can probably allow it.
You should probably also consider whether the use that the company wishes to make of the material at your wiki implicates the CC license at all. CC licenses do not restrict fair use and only apply in relation to an exercise of a copyright right. As we explain in our database FAQ, facts are often considered to be free of copyright: http://sciencecommons.org/data/dbfaq. The Copyright Office also explains what is not covered by copyright: http://www.copyright.gov/ circs/circ1.html.
All the best,
Mia Garlick
General Counsel
543 Howard St., 5th Floor
San Francisco CA 94105-3013
United States
Tel: 415-946-3073
Fax: 415-946-3001

I think if they are only using one or two lines at a time, that constitutes fair use. We use much more than that in what we call fair use quotes from scripts, or even audio from episodes. Jaz talk 00:20, 25 April 2006 (UTC)

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