For this year’s Wikimania (26-28 August, Buenos Aires) I submitted an abstract of a paper comparing transnationalization processes and community relations of Creative Commons and Wikimedia. In this series I present some work in progress.

A few days ago, Wikimedia, the organization behind Wikipedia and its sister projects, announced the results of its most recent community vote: All contributors who had made at least 25 edits to any Wikimedia project prior to March 15, 2009 were invited to vote on the proposal to license Wikimedia material so it is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license (CC-BY-SA), while retaining dual licensing with the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). This proposal is in line with earlier statements of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who repeatedly stated that “Wikipedia, had it been founded after Creative Commons, would have certainly been under a Creative Commons license” (see, for example, his speech at an iSummit party in December 1 2007 in the video below) The proposal was accepted by a solid 75.8 % majority (see results page).

For Wikimedia, this community vote was not the first experiment with formalized modes of community participation in its organizational decision making. Only one year after its foundation, Wikimedia allowed its community to elect members of its governing “board of trustees”. In these elections both active and passive right to vote depend on slightly different criteria as more than 400 edits three months prior to the respective election are required to participate. Around 3,000 contributors participate every year in these elections (see election history).

While being obviously arbitrary, the decision to draw community boundaries at certain numbers of “edits” is explicit and transparent. As I see it, this possibility to clearly define boundaries is conditio sine qua non for effective and relatively uncontested community participation in formal organizational decision-making.

Contrariwise, Creative Commons is an example of the difficulties in defining community boundaries: While being very successful in porting its alternative copyright licenses into other jurisdictions and in bonding with local “affiliate organizations” (see Dobusch and Quack 2008, PDF), its attempt of organizing community participation within the framework of the separate organization “iCommons” has not been successful. Lacking better criteria for identifying members of the “Creative Commons community”, people were invited to register as “nodes” at the iCommons webpage; thereby, new nodes had to be approved by already existing ones. However, only very few people followed this relatively bureaucratic procedure – especially, as the role and benefits of being a “node” remained unclear. As a consequence, granting voting rights to nodes was discussed but never implemented. Even more, also heavy users and activists in Creative Commons jurisdiction projects had severe difficulties in differentiating Creative Commons – the organization responsible for developing the set of copyright licenses – from iCommons, which was meant to function as an organizational framework for diverse communities of license users.

While drawing boundaries of Creative Commons communities is unlikely to become easier in the future, another difference to Wikimedia is indeed puzzling: Since 2008 and in addition to the directly elected community representatives, two “chapter-selected” seats are held by representatives of local Wikimedia chapter organizations. By the end of 2008, Wikimedia officially recognized 22 such chapter organizations, compared to 49 jurisdiction projects with localized license versions in the realm of Creative Commons. The latter, however, has not established any formal participation of its affiliate organization in its formal decision-making processes.

One possible explanation for this difference might be the “technical” role fulfilled by Creative Commons as a kind of “legal service provider”. New divisions like CCLearn or Science Commons as well as the growing number of non-legal affiliate organizations might however change the role of Creative Commons significantly into a more “political” one. Hence, I would not be surprised if we would encounter increasing claims for formal participation by jurisdiction projects in the near future.