We often encounter client work that, in our eyes, relies too heavily on Wikipedia. Some “borrowers” copy Wikipedia content into their work without understanding the responsibilities and the consequences of such heavy borrowing.
Authors, bloggers, and contributors to articles, books, and blogs are responsible for the intellectual property in their work. It is important to be aware of financial aspects of value added vs. non-value added inclusion of content belonging to others. It is wise as well to appreciate the professional and legal responsibilities of using content created by others and the ramifications of illegal use of copyrighted content.
Sole Source or Springboard?
Some pull so much from this source that there is little originality in their “new” work. If you copy a substantial amount from any sole source into your article, book, or contributions to collective works, you may not be viewed as a serious researcher or writer. A better approach is using Wikipedia as a secondary resource and springboard to other more authoritative primary sources.
As one source among several that a creator can rely on, Wikipedia has much going for it. It contains timely and current material on many topics. Because of the nature of the format and the technology, these articles can easily be changed when current events affect the topic and when new discoveries, changing ideas, and altered concepts regarding it change cultural perspectives. Online articles often can give a good general overview on a selected topic. And within its texts and bibliographies there can be references to researchers and primary sources that are pertinent to the selected topic.
But remember, this online encyclopedia contains contributions from community authors who choose to write on any topic. It relies on other community participants to correct inaccuracies and biased writing. Many articles allow anyone to edit and make changes. For this reason, there is little established expert editorial oversight like what you would expect from a traditional encyclopedia.
A large portion of the work in Wikipedia is licensed under a Creative Commons license CC-BY-SA. One limitation of this license is that the derivative (the new work containing the work being copied) must allow the same use with the same limitation that the original article allowed.
So another reason to refrain from copying in whole or large part from Wikipedia articles is that in doing so we must allow others to copy our derivative work under the same license the source article gave us (share-alike Creative Commons license). We should ask ourselves what copying large portions of a single source does to the value of our work. Anyone can copy large portions of our work and distribute it or even sell it at any time since the borrowed content can’t be copyrighted as our original work.
Procedure for a legal sharing of Wikipedia content
If you use material from a Wikipedia article in your blog or print work, you must give attribution to the author of the article. This is a requirement of the CC-BY-SA Creative Commons license. You will want to provide a URL to the webpage where the article is found, or you may credit the article by providing the title of the article and the names of the creators of the entry you are using. You must also indicate to your readers you have made changes if you make modifications to the source content.
It is important if you quote any source to credit the source in a way that makes it apparent exactly what section of your work contains the Wikipedia content. Often in-text citations, numbered footnotes, or a bibliography should identify the exact section of your work containing the Wikipedia content.
To find information about Wikipedia works’ copyright status and original source, click on the details button in the article. This resulting page view will give what the authors of the articles believe to be the copyright status of content belonging to them. It will also give the status of the work of others that they have included in their article. These works could be in the form of content like photos, charts, maps, artwork, or quotations. If the copied work in the Wikipedia article is labeled as public domain, you should check other sources to verify this public domain claim. And remember that any content in the Wikipedia article not original to the community of authors, but taken from external sources, may require permissions and credits beyond the Wikipedia use. If the Wikipedia article is not the original source, the Wikipedia authors may not have the right to grant Wikipedia users the right to republish.
And lastly, remember that a court of law may consider content a “fair use” in a Wikipedia article but not a “fair use” in your work. Fair use is decided on a case by-case basis relying on four factors. You must make this determination in light of how these factors apply to your use of content that is labeled fair use in the Wikipedia work. For help in determining fair use see http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#107.
So to sum up, Wikipedia is a wonderful resource for those who use it wisely as a springboard to other sources. They should take into account copyright limitations and the effect on the value of their resulting work.
Want More About Copyright Law?
Order your copy of Copyright Clearance for Creatives for a basic overview of copyright law and essential guidelines on when, how, and where to get permission to use copyright content in your works.