As I wrote in my last blog post, we’ve been preparing a new policy for the Wikimedia trademarks. Unlike how other organizations normally prepare legal documents, this policy is developed in public with direct input from Wikimedians across the world. The first step in this process was to solicit comments on how our trademark policy should be revised and prepare a draft based on that input. Next, the draft was posted on Wikimedia Meta-Wiki for review and feedback from the Wikimedia community. There is a lot of organization to maintain a productive online discussion around a legal policy with multiple stakeholders. The draft has now been under public discussion for little over 10 days and I wanted to take advantage of the Thanksgiving weekend to jot down some thoughts about the process.
There are now roughly 250 comments on the discussion page for the draft. Most of the comments were posted in the first few days after the release. Many of them are responses from our legal team. Overall, most of the comments make suggestions or ask challenging questions about the draft that helped us clarify the language. But the high participation on the page did not come easy. We first announced the release in a blog post in 7 languages, an email to the Wikimedia community, and messages on village pumps and other notice boards throughout the Wikimedia sites. We then sent out an invitation to everyone who has applied for a trademark license to us in the past year to let them know that we’re updating the trademark process. My colleague Luis kindly extended the invitation to members of several FLOSS mailing lists. We’re also running announcement banners for logged-in users on Wikipedia and 12 other Wikimedia sites. Our next step will be to reach out to Wikipedians who have written about trademark issues in various languages, as they are likely to be interested in this topic. The idea is to get a productive discussion between as many interested parties as possible. The variety of perspectives will make sure that the policy anticipates more trademark issues. In essence, if the policy doesn’t cover important uses of our trademarks, it has bugs. And, in words of Eric Raymond, “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” To date, I’ve been really impressed with people’s willingness to participate in the discussion and the quality of their comments.
The purpose of the policy update is to: (1) strike a better balance between the interests of the Wikimedia community and trademark law; and (2) to create a document that better communicates how people can use Wikimedia trademarks. To maximize the comprehensibility of the document, we used simple language and applied various information design principles. The initial comments suggested that people mostly liked the new design and found the document “approachable and easy to read.” My impression is that the design and readability of the draft also improved the substantive discussion of the draft. As people could get a better overview and easily understand the legal terms, they could jump into the discussion and comment on the substance of the terms. It helped them propose revisions or point out scenarios that were not yet addressed by the draft. And their comments have already resulted in several substantive revisions to the draft.
Our team’s active participation in the discussion also helped to keep it in positive terms. Given the amount of time that community members devote to reviewing the draft and suggesting revisions, they deserve timely responses that show that their input is taken seriously. It also encourages new people to join the conversation because they can see that we will think about how we can improve the draft based on their comments. But thoughtfully responding to comments and discussing proposed revisions online is quite time consuming. And time is very scarce when you’re on a small team of six lawyers tasked with protecting the sixth most popular website. The sheer amount of comments that were posted right after the release made it difficult for us to respond quickly. I’m incredibly grateful to my awesome colleagues, who took time from their busy schedules to sit with me and respond to comments. The team effort helped to maintain a productive discussion with the community. I’ve heard through the grapevine a few days into the discussion that people really appreciated our quick response time. While the pace of the discussion may eventually slow down, the initial statistics for the discussion page showed that the team made a total of 161 edits to the discussion page (but they are not all complete comments).