An Interesting Copyright Question

A reader at Slashdot recently posted this item, which I quote in its entirety because it’s fairly short:

The Guild Wiki, an extremely popular fan-made wiki for documenting the Masssively Multiplayer game Guild Wars, was originally supported by donations, then later advertisements — supposedly just enough to break even. Just the past week, the owner of the domain name surprised this wiki community by revealing that he had sold the domain name, the database, and his services to Wikia, a commercial entity that intends to profit from Guild Wiki’s content. The catch? Much of Guild Wiki’s content falls under Creative Commons by-nc-sa license, which denies the commercial use of licensed material. created their own community run wiki to serve as the in-game help system, because they didn’t think they could use the material on Guild Wiki commercially. If Wikia continues to serve ads over Guild Wiki’s content, how can the thousands of contributors to the site stop them without going to the expense/trouble of hiring attorneys (or the crude path of mass vandalism)? If it turns out the site owner has been making a profit all along from ads, what’s the remedy?”

The questions that came up in the discussion below this post varied. Since the CC license existed for the articles posted to the wiki, did the site’s owner have the right to sell ads or sell the site for commercial use? Did the wiki writers on the Guild Wiki have the right to use so many direct quotations and screenshots in the first place, or does all that material belong to the Guild Wars makers? What real good does a Creative Commons license do when the user doesn’t register that copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office? Is there a legal case here for someone?

I’m no copyright expert, so I can’t claim to know the answers here, not without a day of research I don’t have time for right now. Still, we are getting to a point where we need to ask whether the Creative Commons can really protect the content it is supposed to protect or whether it is just a smoke screen. I, for one, really hope that Lessig picks up on this topic and holds forth.


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