Wikipedia, Collective Authorship, and the Politics of Knowledge


Posted: 5 Mar 2009

See all articles by Matthew Rimmer

Matthew Rimmer

Queensland University of Technology (QUT)


This chapter considers the legal ramifications of Wikipedia, and other online media, such as the Encyclopedia of Life. Nathaniel Tkacz (2007) has observed: 'Wikipedia is an ideal entry-point from which to approach the shifting character of knowledge in contemporary society.' He observes: 'Scholarship on Wikipedia from computer science, history, philosophy, pedagogy and media studies has moved beyond speculation regarding its considerable potential, to the task of interpreting - and potentially intervening in - the significance of Wikipedia's impact' (Tkacz 2007). After an introduction, Part II considers the evolution and development of Wikipedia, and the legal troubles that have attended it. It also considers the establishment of rival online encyclopedia - such as Citizendium set up by Larry Sanger, the co-founder of Wikipedia; and Knol, the mysterious new project of Google. Part III explores the use of mass, collaborative authorship in the field of science. In particular, it looks at the development of the Encyclopedia of Life, which seeks to document the world's biodiversity.

This chapter expresses concern that Wiki-based software had to develop in a largely hostile and inimical legal environment. It contends that copyright law and related fields of intellectual property need to be reformed in order better to accommodate users of copyright material (Rimmer 2007). This chapter makes a number of recommendations. First, there is a need to acknowledge and recognize forms of mass, collaborative production and consumption - not just individual authorship. Second, the view of a copyright 'work' and other subject matter as a complete and closed piece of cultural production also should be reconceptualised. Third, the defense of fair use should be expanded to accommodate a wide range of amateur, peer-to-peer production activities - not only in the United States, but in other jurisdictions as well. Fourth, the safe harbor protections accorded to Internet intermediaries, such as Wikipedia, should be strengthened. Fifth, there should be a defense in respect of the use of 'orphan works' - especially in cases of large-scale digitization. Sixth, the innovations of open source licensing should be expressly incorporated and entrenched within the formal framework of copyright laws. Finally, courts should craft judicial remedies to take into account concerns about political censorship and freedom of speech.

Keywords: Wikipedia, The Encyclopedia of Life, Copyright Law, Open Source Licensing, Creative Commons

Suggested Citation

Rimmer, Matthew, Wikipedia, Collective Authorship, and the Politics of Knowledge. INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY REFORMS: FOSTERING INNOVATION AND DEVELOPMENT, Christopher Arup & William Van Caenegem, Edward Elgar, 2009, Available at SSRN:

Matthew Rimmer (Contact Author)

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) ( email )

Level 4, C Block Gardens Point
2 George St
Brisbane, Queensland QLD 4000

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