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Edge of the Creative Commons (2013) (brentlaabs.com)
172 points by TuringTest on May 15, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 65 comments

Internet Brands tried something similar with WikiTravel (also CC). When they bought the popular wiki and slapped their ads all over it, some contributors forked it as WikiVoyage. IB sued. It was eventually settled in favor of WikiVoyage.


TV Tropes is total crap now. I also departed around the time of one of the big censorship debacles, and honestly, don't miss it.

PS. thanks for indirectly sharing a link to All The Tropes (linked author's fork of TVTropes) too; might have a poke around there.

Can you expand? What happened with the censorship? As a casual, occasional browser I don't know where to start looking.

They've had a couple of rounds of deleting anything that might be considered sexual, NSFW, or controversial reference or language, as well as renaming articles. This is to make the site more attractive for advertisers because the admins want moar moniez.

It's also worse on tvtropes than most wikis because there is a very limited revision history on most pages (might be the weird software they use rather than admin-imposed), and anything that falls of the end of it after long enough is gone forever.

I'm still mad about them going and removing all the monster girl quest articles during that spiel. That was pretty much the end of tvtropes for me.

Trying to learn about that game so I could understand a good fanfic was what alerted me to the problem, and not surprisingly the first fork of the site I looked at, back when it was announced on HN (can't find the link, unfortunately), the front page (Wikimedia) highlighted that title.

I would appreciate some more detail, too. I've noticed that I find TVT much less engrossing than I did a few years ago, but I thought I'd just grown out of it. If there's an explanation for the decline I would be very interested to hear it.

edit: How accurate is the Encyclopedia Dramatica article on TVT? I normally avoid ED, but I gave in this time because it seems to be pretty comprehensive. edit 2: I found this blog: http://tvtropeshistory.blogspot.com/ Obviously it's hard to verify histories like these, but it seems pretty in-depth.

I made the same questions when I discovered All The Tropes, these are the most relevant links I found:

* The Google Incident [1] explains first-hand why TV Tropes adopted tighter guidelines against sexual fan fiction, from which several forks were created as reaction.

* The fork All The Tropes explains how they are different[2], and why they made the fork [3].

* This recent discussion at MetaFilter have lots of details and reaction from the community [4].

* These are the most juicy discussions at TV Tropes itself: [5] [6]


[1] https://allthetropes.orain.org/wiki/The_Google_Incident

[2] https://allthetropes.orain.org/wiki/All_The_Tropes:Who_we_ar...

[3] https://allthetropes.orain.org/wiki/All_The_Tropes:Why_Fork_...

[4] http://www.metafilter.com/138391/You-are-in-yet-another-maze...

[5] http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/posts.php?discussion=13850739750A...

[6] http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/posts.php?discussion=13426240890A...

How does a site like tvtropes need thousands per month? they must be doing something wrong...

Stick it on a few linode or AWS VPSes and add some backend code to bring in new ones as load goes up, maybe with physical servers for database backend. Switch to nginx if it doesn't use it already (can't remember (edit: yep, using Apache; also seems to only be on a single IP, hosted by ServerBeach)), add memcached, perhaps put the whole thing behind cloudflare, and problem solved.

You say "add memcached" like it's easy to do on 10 year old wiki software. TVT is running a highly custom Pmwiki install, with no upstream updates in a long time. The something wrong isn't the hosting costs, so much as the sole developer/owner/admin running the site.

I'll also note that the forums make up most of the traffic of the site, and that's the one place you can turn off adverts for free. The wiki supports the core product, which is apparently the forums.

If I was an admin there, I'd probably have made upgrading to some new software (that actually supports special characters etc. in titles, doesn't drop edit history off the end of the page into /dev/null, doesn't have the weirdest way of creating links I've seen, etc.) a key priority.

This is 6 months old, so it doesn't seem like it went anywhere. Probably because the greater internet has no motivation to oppose moving content to a non-commercial license.

I think it speaks to a different mindset from what we as programmers are used to.

Licensing is a pretty big deal for us. Virtually every programmer has some sort of opinion on GPL vs BSD vs public domain vs whatever. Open source projects can live or die because of their license.

Wikis are basically open source projects with natural language instead of code. But I get the impression that few wiki contributors care that much about licenses.

If I had to guess, I'd say that it's because code is more modular and flexible. If you write a useful open source library, the license you put on it can have huge implications for what products end up using it. There's no wiki equivalent to e.g. large quantities of BSD code being used to build a smartphone that sells hundreds of millions of units.

In programming, when you reuse others' work product it's considered good engineering practice. We call it "not reinventing the wheel."

In most professions where the work product is in a natural language, reusing significant portions of others' work is called "plagiarism", and is considered a serious ethical violation. Reusing small portions for the sake of making a point, on the other hand, is covered by fair use rules.

So yeah, licensing concerns might be a mostly irrelevant detail. The big questions about when you can and cannot reuse others' work product are already covered by a rigorously socially-enforced ethical standard, and the law. Both of those are more powerful than mere contracts in their own way.

Think about free textbooks, which may be commercially printed (of course you have to pay for a physical object) but are also available online under CC-BY-SA. If something is well explained in, say, Wikipedia, I can lift it and put it directly into the textbook, with a credit, making only the small tweaks necessary to make it flow in context. This can be hugely valuable, but tacking on NC means no one can ever sell those physical copies (which some people prefer).

I kind of hope this situation doesn't arise with TV Tropes, but you never know...

I don't see the distinction you're trying to make here.

It's plagiarism to copy someone's code without giving attribution. It's not plagiarism to copy someone's code if you give attribution.

It's plagiarism to copy someone's natural language text without giving attribution. It's not plagiarism to copy someone's natural language text if you give attribution.

In either case, copying someone else's code or natural text is potentially copyright infringement, but that's a different matter.

/ * @author BigDave1974 over at SlashDot */

I wonder if it would make sense to sell reusable chunks of text, like libraries of code.

I'm a programmer and at the risk of sounding like an idiot - I have no opinion on licensing and could not tell you a single thing about any one license. Are there really that many people knowledgable about different licenses?

I highly recommend learning about copyright and licensing. If you use or contribute to open source software, it's a must, IMO. Here's a post of mine which would be a good start: http://stackoverflow.com/a/11455485/247696

Based on the number of GitHub projects which don't include a LICENSE or COPYING file, I would say you are not alone.

If you intend to use your work commercially, you should be aware of licenses when you select what tools you are building on top of, or you may get bitten later.

You may also wish to license your own work for others to use. If you have an opinion about when others should be allowed to use your work, licensing can be important for you to achieve that.

You may not need to be aware if you have a legal department who do this for you, for example (or if you are willing to take the risk of legal action later).

The reason I care about licenses is because the auditors care about licenses and we can get hit with ginormously hefty fines if we're not in compliance.

So, I wouldn't say you're an idiot, but you're a bit dangerous to work with. Professional programmers should know about licensing.

Nah, you're not an idiot. There's a tendency on HN of people saying "all programmers" to mean "programmers who live in Silicon Valley, use open source tools to write web apps funded by ad eyeballs, and put all their code on Github". Witness the countless posts about "why should I interview when I can point to a Github account", or that article yesterday about "articles every programmer should read" that had something about SEO in it (and then the replies from people unable to see why that was silly), etc.

That's kind of funny, since I'm nowhere near Silicon Valley and don't even identify with that crowd, I rarely do any web work, and write plenty of proprietary code. (Ironically, web apps are an area where you can generally get away with not knowing anything about open source licenses, since you're not redistributing the programs you make.)

I merely observe that programmers generally use third party libraries, and that doing so requires at least a basic understanding of the license terms.

Maybe there are a lot of people out there writing code who never touch external code?

(Ironically, web apps are an area where you can generally get away with not knowing anything about open source licenses, since you're not redistributing the programs you make.)

Except if you happen to use something under an Affero GPL license, in which case you really should know about it.

But yes, those project are rare.

I hadn't heard of that one. Is it actually enforceable? I was under the impression that the GPL didn't require opening server code, not because it was missing something, but because server code doesn't get distributed and thus doesn't fall under copyright limitations in the first place.

You find a library on the Internet somewhere. What entitles you to copy it onto your machines? Copyright does not allow to do this, so you are reliant on a license to give you permission to do this. GPL gives you permission to do this, as long as when you distribute any modifications of it, you also pass along the source code. AGPL gives you permission to do this, as long as you give the source code to all of your users should they request it. If you can't meet the conditions, than you don't get the rights acquired by the license, and you fall back to default copyright, which says it's illegal to have copied the library to your own machines in the first place.

AGPL enforceability (under copyright) rests on the concept of modification rights. The basic idea is that one must get copyright permission in order to modify a protected work, which then AGPL adds conditions for.

This has been semi-tested in the past. In a court case regarding sold paintings, the court sided with the painter when the buyer wanted to chop the art into pieces and rearrange them. The court decided that the act of modifying the art created an derivative work which the painter had not given the buyer permission for.

The Affero GPL is a modificated version of the common GPL that explicitly handles the case of software used as a service through internet.

It's fairly uncommon, but those projects licensed with this version have specific function built in that allows any user to get a copy of the source code (and you couldn't remove it without breaching the license); and some known names use it (MediaGoblin, MongoDB, Diaspora, Ghostscript, Launchpad, POV-Ray are some examples).

If you use other people's code, you might want to take a glance at the agreement that you're entering into with the person who wrote it for you, because you're going to be held to it. Within FOSS we've pretty much standardized on a few general forms, with small differences. When you mix them, though, those small differences can become very important.

If you work with Microsoft, though, you may want to hire someone to figure licensing out for you. Figuring out Microsoft licensing seems to be a lot harder than programming.

Original author here: You're right. It hasn't gone anywhere in 6 months, because there's no real angle on getting involved in a legal dispute. There's no money to be gained in suing TVT. And forcing them to take content offline hurts the commons perhaps more than it helps it.

The motivation behind the original blog was at least partially catharsis -- there really are no good options for copyright enforcement of open content. Sure, if it was a few lousy pages, TV Tropes could stand to lose them, but I'm talking about core pages like "Anime" and several tropes of legend initially written by my colleague.

Sure I could send a DCMA request, but they'd have every reason to fight it, and what then? Hire lawyers? Try to delete content that people thought was legal and amended, but actually turned into infringing content? Get them to delete pages on works of fiction of which I am a fan?

All of the options are awful except one: getting people to leave that illegal and immoral site. True morality isn't about protecting children's delicate eyes from textual metapornography, it's about giving back to the people who give to you -- and not just taking more from them.

I recommend either All The Tropes or the Tropes Mirror Wiki on Wikia.

I'm the founder of a wiki so I know some of these legal issues better than most (although, of course IANAL). Typically how this is supposed to work is: Wiki's terms of use say

(1) Users own the copyright to their contributions (authors always do; TVTropes appropriating this is not right)

(2)Users grant wiki a non-exclusive irrevocable license to do use the content in any way Wiki likes, including specifically a right to distribute it under CC.

That's where author of OP felt cheated. He wanted to contribute because he felt the content will be licensed CC-BY-SA but Wiki changed it. But this is fine. Author owns the copyright to his personal contributions so he can always publish it under any license he wants. (like he did in his blog post, where he declared all his contributions to be available under CC-BY-SA). The only wrinkle is for someone to be able to find specifically the author's contributions. If the author built upon someone else's work, the result might still be fine to use under CC-BY-SA because at the time the original work on the wiki was under CC-BY-SA. But any edits after the author's contribution are off limits for CC-BY-SA.

Wiki is legally within its rights to change the licensing of its content.

> Wiki is legally within its rights to change the licensing of its content.

Would be if they had proper terms of use/service in place. But TVtropes has no terms as far as I can see, which makes the situation whole lot muddier. Basically we are working on an implicit grant of rights to TVtropes from content authors. The disagreement stems on what those rights include.

No argument there. My post said "Typically how this is supposed to work". It doesn't mean TVTropes works like that.

Their current terms of use also have no bearing on their legal right to change the licensing from CC-BY-SA to CC-BY-NC-SA. That depends upon what terms of use they had in place before the conversion.

Their current terms are: if you contribute, we own (the copyright to) all your contributions. That's not only unfair to users, it may even be illegal because in a contract you have to provide some compensation in exchange for the release of copyright.

For (2) you need users consent to that. That generally means, such provision must be reasonably visible and explained to user when he registers or starts editing. Linked post had shown the only thing user seems to consent before she could start editing to is that she's over 13 years old.

Edit: Oh, also. Everyone, please don't downvote parent post. While one may well disagree with what it says, that post is certainly relevant to the discussion, so pushing it down the comments page isn't a good idea. Even if what said there is plain wrong.

You are right that it's not enough to have ToS; the users should actively accept them. But what was plain wrong about my post? It said typically this is how it's supposed to work, in which the wiki has a right to change its licensing. Not that TVtropes ToS is like that or that what they did was right.

If the only provision of the ToS that you're accepting is that you are over 13, then the wiki has no rights to even distribute your content under CC-BY-SA. So the conversion to NC isn't even relevant.

And in any case, you own copyright to anything you author, unless you expressly transfer them to someone else in exchange for some sort of compensation. Absent that, the blogger of OP is fully able to release his work under any license he chooses. And he did that on his blog. So what's wrong?

What the article points out is that (2) is actually not the case, which is why the question arises.

No. The text below the edit page reads:

> TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org. Donation of text is irrevocable and appreciated.

While not explicit, this implies that the editor should make it sure that the contributed text can be legally merged to the existing CC-BY-NC-SA license (for the obvious reason). This clearly does not include a relicensing grant and you are not permitted to do so.

Actually, I've had a similar cause in another Korean wiki similar to TV Tropes (Rigveda Wiki). In this case the wiki temporarily condemned that its mirroring website does not have a legal right to do the mirroring, and pointed out that the mirroring website has ads attached. A funny thing is that, the wiki itself was licensed as CC-BY-NC-SA and also had ads! While it is debatable if website ads are considered commercial activities or not, the same logic directly applies to the wiki, but the wiki admin replied that it (thinks that it) has a relicensing right when I've asked for that. :(

"Donation of text is irrevocable" seems to be the only thing that implies a license from contributor to TV Tropes. It's pretty vague and I certainly wouldn't want to sue claiming a license with that to back it up.

It's also unclear whether that text existed before the switch to CC-SA-NC. Obviously it was updated, but was just the license changed? This is significant because contributing under CC-SA to someone using it commercially is possible. Contributing under CC-SA-NC to someone using it commercially doesn't make any sense, so they would need to have another license.

Good points. I don't know if the edit page had a mention about irrevocable relicensing back then though (the Wikipedia description seems to suggest that it wasn't the case).

That text was added in November 2013, way after the re-licensing took place. The first nine years of contributions to the wiki didn't include such provision.

What about the attribution clause? If I copy an article from a CC-BY-* wiki, am I expected to cite every contributor? That doesn't seem reasonable. How does Wikipedia (CC-BY-SA) deal with this?

Because Wikipedia makes the complete edit history of every page available, they suggest simply giving a link to the article:



Wouldn't giving a pointer to the specific point in the edit history you sourced it from (so people can dig backwards if they care to) be enough? I'd have guessed so (IANAL, etc.).

That was one of the reasons OpenStreetMap moved from CC to the ODbL. There are ~1 million OSM contributors and it is unclear if they all had to be attributed. So they changed the licence.


I'm curious, why would it be unreasonable to cite every contributor to an article you copy? They are the ones who made it, and it only seems reasonable to me to give credit where it's due.

Agree, and Wikipedia does this e.g. for Wikipedia books [0]. If you render any book as a PDF it will append a ~10pt list of all article contributors.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Books

Because the list can be huge. It's not unlikely that the list of contributors is longer than the article.

Storage is cheap, and you can stash the list away somewhere that doesn't interfere with the main content, so what does that matter?

What is the difference between stashing the list away somewhere out of sight and providing a link to the Wikipedia page whose history contains the same information? Particularly since storage is not cheap in every medium (e.g. requiring my one-page flier to attach 3 pages of attributions doesn't make sense) and if you're resorting to a link regardless...

I think linking to the Wikipedia page is perfectly reasonable too. I just don't see what's unreasonable about citing the people who wrote the stuff you're using.

I don't see that the link to Wikipedia is not "citing the people who wrote the stuff you're using". When you cite a scientific paper, you give the primary author (or few) and an "et al.", you don't list out everyone who contributed to the paper - you're still crediting them all and if people care, they can go look up the rest.

OK, I'm not really sure what the relevance of this is.

I was just responding to this: "...am I expected to cite every contributor? That doesn't seem reasonable."

And saying how it sounds pretty reasonable to me. If you say that a Wikipedia link counts as a cite then that just makes it even more reasonable.

I think people are using words sloppily. I think everyone agrees that the information should be available. I'm growing confident no one thinks that every contribution needs to be enumerated in situ, and beginning to suspect that no one thinks they actually need to be enumerated separately from the Wikipedia article (unless there are contributions not represented in the Wikipedia history). At which point, I don't think there's any real disagreement here.

I had interpreted your statement above as "Oh, of course go ahead and include a link to Wikipedia - they deserve credit too - but still redundantly list out every contributor to the Wikipedia page". This is because above, I think with the "...am I expected to cite every contributor? That doesn't seem reasonable." the author had in mind enumeration, not simple reference.

I'm just saying that you should give attribution either directly or in whatever substitute way the authors accept. If Wikipedia lets you just link to the page, great! If they wanted you to list out the contributors, well, do that. If that's an unacceptable burden for your case, don't use it.

I think I agree with that, though I'd personally encourage creators to be sufficiently liberal in acceptance of substitutes to allow lightweight use of massive collaboration.

If you're making a one page flyer with enough copyrighted information from Wikipedia to require onerous attribution, you're doing it wrong.

I don't see that this is the case, at all. A single paragraph that has been edited enough times could be the work of an unbounded number of contributors, since it is always a derivative work of the earlier versions. If that single paragraph, modified for format, makes up the bulk of your flier then you should clearly include attribution somehow.


It looks like a link is sufficient, or a list of all authors, optionally omitting those with only trivial edits.

In trying to "fix" this problem have TVT potentially made themselves liable for all the content posted there? They now assert "ownership" of all the content. In order to be protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act courts have held that they must not be "information content providers"[1], but TVT asserts full rights over all the content, including relicensing and use without attribution.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_230_of_the_Communicatio...

It seems that contributors care about availability of the content most, licencing issues less so. There are mirror tropes wikis so I don't see a problem. Clone that data and run your own version if you like.


That move is a bit scummy, but then they are in the business and best business is one that delivers profit at least cost.

my 2c

I generally don't find TVT interesting, but I'd love to hear more about these tropes that make these kind of people uncomfortable.

Well, they have anime, so why not hentai? And if they have hentai, why not extreme hentai like incest? And then you end up with a "Heartwarming" trope where someone sleeps with their mother.


I think porn examples are banned now.


I'm at work, so I won't follow the inner links. The page itself is OK.

nsfw language warning - afaik the monster girl quest articles proc'd the big porn cleanup fiasco


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