[R-wiki] License for R Wiki contents

Frank E Harrell Jr f.harrell at vanderbilt.edu
Fri Jan 20 04:56:16 CET 2006

Philippe Grosjean wrote:
> Paul Johnson wrote:
>  > [...]
>  > And people who add
>  > things should have some control over who can edit their input.  If
>  > Prof Harrell were to put in something, and he really does not want
>  > other people to fiddle it, he should be able to protect.  TWiki allows
>  > that kind of control.
> Here, I say "no, no way!". This is against the Wiki phylosophy, and 
> also, against the license I propose for the R Wiki, which is "Creative 
> Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5" (but see: 
> http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.5/).

You are right Philippe, and thanks for all the thoughts below -Frank

> OK, a couple of explanations are required:
> 1) The Wiki is for collaborative work. By the way, I believe it is the 
> missing block in the R world: to offer a way for *collaborative* 
> writting of documentation. Currently:
> - The R core team is responsible for edition of .Rd files of base 
> packages and for the R manuals. Limited input from users through "bug" 
> reports.
> - Package authors/maintainers have control over their .Rd files and 
> vignettes. Users feedback on the documentation is also limited.
> - R News allows for writting papers on R topics. Nice for reviews, or 
> presentation of particular features, but static once it is published.
> - Other documentation is either in the form of html/pdf documents, or in 
> the form of published books. Both need effort from their authors to keep 
> them up-to-date with a R software that changes rapidly with two versions 
> each year! A lot of these web/pdf documents are not updated, because 
> their authors are not "rewarded" enough from such a painful work. Some 
> books are updated (MASS, with its 4th edition, comes to my mind 
> immediately), but it is even harder for the users (who owns the four 
> editions of MASS?).
> Collaborative work may be a solution to this problem: if someone notice 
> an error in a page, he can correct it himself... even if the author has 
> no time, or no interest on updating its own documents. Now, does it 
> means that all pages you put on the Wiki are left for free changes by 
> anybody? No, because there are several ways to cope with that:
> 1) The Wiki stores all versions of each page. If you, as the author, do 
> not like changes made by others, you are free to revert to a previous 
> version. This can lead to a dispute if the other person revert again and 
>   again. This sometimes happens on Wikipedia. In this case, the dispute 
> is solved by a discussion on a dedicated forum. Here, we have R-sig-wiki 
> which could play the same role, if needed. Ultimately, the original 
> author could ask for a locking of his page, if needed, which leads to 
> the second tool:
> 2) It is possible to give write access to selected pages to only one 
> user, or a specific group of users. However, this should be used only in 
> extreme cases, since it plays against the Wiki phylosophy and strength: 
> *collaboration on the same documents*.
> 3) Bad users can be blacklisted. So, they are bannished from write 
> access to the whole Wiki, temporarily or definitely.
> This mechanism clearly requires a team of maintainers for the Wiki. 
> Given the high investment of many people on R-Help, I anticipe we could 
> find enough volunteers in the R users community for doing this job.
> Now, back to the license. I think that authors on the Wiki should keep 
> rights on their outputs... but not  with an usual copyright approach, 
> because it is against collaborative and incremental building of 
> documents, by definition!
> GPL suffers from one big problem regarding the Wiki: it does not 
> inhibits a commercial use of the material. This is not much a problem 
> for a software (think about Linux distributions: some are sold by 
> companies and this is just fine), but in the case of documentation, I 
> would not like that someone decide to publish a part or the whole R Wiki 
> in a book, claiming to be the editor because he just compiles the 
> documents and put them in a format suitable for Springer, Chapmann & 
> Hall, or whatever editor... This is the same problem for the GNU Free 
> Documentation License.
> After a search for a better license term, it appears that the Creative 
> Commons license named "Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike" is a good 
> one in this context because:
> 1) Attribution -- (Original) authors must be always explicitly cited 
> (except if they dislike changes or use made of their material, in which 
> case they could ask for not being cited),
> 2) NonCommercial -- It is explicitly stated that commercial use is 
> prohibited. Thus, nobody can publish a book using material in the Wiki, 
> never! But anybody can compile PDFs or other formats that are freely 
> distributed on the Internet.
> 3) ShareAlike -- This is exactly the same idea as GPL: you can use, 
> copy, distribute, modify and redistribute your modifications, but at the 
> condition that you keep the same license for the redistributed material. 
> It is what makes the strength of R (and Linux, and Apache, and...). So, 
> the idea is to use the same phylosophy for the documentation on the R Wiki.
> By the way, CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike is a license rather 
> common for public Wikis.
> Now the last point that is, I think, important: would it be possible to 
> compile part of the Wiki and to publish it in another form? Indeed, I 
> think at a publication that is better valuable in a C.V. Yes, I think 
> about somethink like JSS. It should be possible to do so, with all 
> authors cited, of course, in an order that reflects the amount of work 
> done be each people. That is the theory, but I am not sure it would be 
> that simple in practice!
> Best,
> Philippe Grosjean
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Frank E Harrell Jr   Professor and Chair           School of Medicine
                      Department of Biostatistics   Vanderbilt University

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