Citizendium Blog

December 21, 2007

Our gift to the world: CC-by-sa

Filed under: License, Press & blogs — Larry Sanger @ 12:04 pm

For immediate release 

The Citizendium encyclopedia project picks a Creative Commons license

“Our gift to the world: CC-by-sa”

December 21, 2007 – In a much-awaited move, the non-profit Citizendium ( encyclopedia project announced that it has adopted the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-by-sa) as the license for its own original collaborative content. The license permits anyone to copy and redevelop the thousands of articles that the Citizendium has created within its successful first year.

          The license allows the Citizendium to join the large informal club of free resources associated especially with Creative Commons and the Free Software Foundation. Wikipedia uses the FSF’s GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL), which is expected to be made fully compatible with CC-by-sa in coming months. Therefore, Wikipedia and the Citizendium will be able to exchange content easily. A minority of Citizendium articles started life on Wikipedia and so have been available under the GFDL.

          But the Citizendium, started by a co-founder of Wikipedia, Dr. Larry Sanger, is quite unusual as Web 2.0 projects go. “We are focused on quality and responsibility as well as quantity,” Sanger said. The project combines an open, dynamic wiki with a role for expert editors, a requirement of real names, and constitutional non-profit self-governance, rather than anarchy or Silicon Valley for-profit control. With a pilot project launched in November 2006 and public access launched last March, the project has created about 4,300 articles and more words (about five million) in its first year than Wikipedia created in its first year. The project reported accelerating growth throughout 2007 and anticipates even more vigorous growth in 2008.

          To explain the choice of license to present and future contributors, Sanger released a 22,000-word essay: “An explanation of the Citizendium license.” The project underwent a very lengthy deliberation process in multiple groups and venues, beginning last spring, and culminating in the essay. “The essay is written for our ‘Citizens,’ it’s not really for public consumption,” said Sanger. “We were very thorough. There are people who get quite passionate about free licenses, and so I felt I had to get it exactly right. It is as much the work of all the Citizens I am privileged to have been able to interact with as it is my own work–and we said a lot as we went through the issues.”

          The decision and the arguments for it are summarized in two relatively brief sections of the essay (links below). In short, Sanger argues that adopting the CC-by-sa license is most in line with the project’s top goal, of “giving the broadest access to vast amounts of high-quality reference content,” as well as the main mean to this end, of motivating participants. The project rejected a license (CC-by-nc-sa) that would forbid commercial reuse, an issue on which “Citizens” were evenly divided.

          The project will in coming months turn to recruitment and expanding its governance processes. The changes are anticipated to greatly increase the rate at which articles are approved by Citizendium expert editors.



Larry Sanger, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief; co-founder of Wikipedia


  1. I’m confused about one point. If I come up with content completely original to me, and I put it in Citizendium, can I also put it on my own website with my own license, or do I lose the right to relicense content original to me?

    Comment by Phil Deets — December 21, 2007 @ 1:52 pm

  2. From a skeptical Wikipedian, thanks for going with CC-by-sa. Probable future license compatibility will mean that contributors to either project won’t have to worry about wasting their effort by choosing the wrong project and never reaching the audience they expected.


    Comment by Sage (User:Ragesoss) — December 21, 2007 @ 2:08 pm

  3. Phil, you retain copyright over your own content. You merely license it to the world, for inclusion as part of CZ (initially at least). You can’t take away the license once it’s released under one license, but you can of course give it away under a totally different license as well.

    Comment by Larry Sanger — December 21, 2007 @ 2:38 pm

  4. Hoi,
    Congratulations, great choice. A nice seasons gift to the world :)

    Comment by GerardM — December 21, 2007 @ 2:47 pm

  5. OK, I was wrong. Excellent news!

    This furthers the public expectation that educational content will be available under a proper free content license. I hope Google takes note for Knol.

    Comment by David Gerard — December 22, 2007 @ 3:11 am

  6. I’m proud to be a part of it.

    Comment by harborsparrow — December 22, 2007 @ 9:16 am

  7. [...] Sanger, Gründer von Citizendium, hat ein Geschenk für die Welt: endlich ist eine Lizenz für die Wikipedia-Konkurrenz festgelegt worden. Die Wahl [...]

    Pingback by Dapete bloggt » Citizendium wählt CC-BY-SA 3.0 als Lizenz — December 22, 2007 @ 9:37 am

  8. Yeah!!! I’m going to make a new article right now!

    Comment by Tom Kelly — December 23, 2007 @ 2:02 am

  9. Since the Citizedium is now CC-BY-SA, shouldn’t we not allow CC-NC or CC-NC-SA images, since they become part of the “work” once they are uploaded?

    Comment by Gabriel Hurley — December 27, 2007 @ 9:40 pm

  10. Gabriel: we do allow them. They don’t become part of the work. Individual contributors are the licensers of their edits; no one licenses a whole “work” that consists of everything together, and therefore there is no requirement that the combination use the same license.

    Comment by Larry Sanger — December 28, 2007 @ 6:50 am

  11. Gabriel, have a look at Sections 1(a) and 1(b) at

    Comment by Stephen Ewen — December 28, 2007 @ 11:14 am

  12. Sorry, here’s a link that works:

    Comment by Stephen Ewen — December 28, 2007 @ 11:15 am

  13. [...] (2) The adoption of the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license—the Creative Commons license closest in spirit to the Wikipedia GFDL license—for all material posted to the site henceforth. The license is the emerging standard for mass collaboration projects of this kind; as signalled by the recent announcements from Creative Commons, Wikipedia and Citizendium. [...]

    Pingback by From Debatemapper to the Debategraph… : Open to persuasion… — March 10, 2008 @ 3:14 pm

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