Deciding on the right license for an online community can be a touchy process.
Sometimes the community is focused on the organizing principles learned from software. Copyleft has been powerful in growing free software, and is regularly insisted on by online communities that build data, or community science content – not because it makes legal or technical sense for data or community science content, but because it’s a security blanket known well from software.
The problem is that in a lot of cases, share-alike breaks the interoperability of data and content, in a way that it doesn’t in software. We’ve covered this elsewhere at Science Commons. It’s a pretty simple problem: copyleft tends to require redistribution of derivatives under the same license that the original was licensed under, but if you have two works mixed together with two different copyleft licenses, you cannot legally comply with either license. They are incompatible.
Another problem is that much scientific work doesn’t fall under copyright. Facts are free, so to speak, and can’t be made more free by the use of a license or contract. They can only become encrusted with legal language that kills integration and interoperability. And stuff that is unclear in terms of copyright – metabolic pathway diagrams, for example – can get encumbered with contracts that make its integration into databases, semantic networks, ontology federations, and more nearly impossible from a legal perspective.
The choice really depends on what the community wants. Some open communities want the copyleft, whether what they do is copyrightable or not, and don’t worry about their integration into other products being chilled. This is certainly fine, though it does create a bias for integrationists away from their content. Of course, closed communities don’t even address the question at all! But some communities are deciding to embrace integration as a first principle, and looking to innovative ways to protect the norms under which they work without creating legal crust around their content.
A deep bow to the team at WikiPathways for their choice to make their work legally available and technically stable!