Wikipedia Founder Asks: What's Your Dream? If you could take any copyrighted work and set it free, what would it be? That's the question Jimmy Wales wants to have answered. He's the founder of Wikipedia, the online open-source encyclopedia. Two weeks ago, Wales e-mailed the wikipedia community to ask people to dream big.
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Wikipedia Founder Asks: What's Your Dream?

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Wikipedia Founder Asks: What's Your Dream?

Wikipedia Founder Asks: What's Your Dream?

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

If you could take any copyrighted work and set it free, what would it be? That's the question Jimmy Wales wants to know the answer to. Wales is the founder of Wikipedia, the online open source encyclopedia. Two weeks ago, Mr. Wales e-mailed the Wikipedia community and asked them to dream big. What did they want to set free? Encyclopedias, photo libraries, news archives? He also suggested he might have the resources to make this happen.

Before we talk with him we want to hear from you. E-mail us. Talk@npr.org is our address. Tell us what you would like to liberate from copyright bondage. Or give us a call, 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. And again that e-mail address, talk@npr.org.

Jimmy Wales joins us now by phone from Clearwater, Florida. Nice to speak with you again.

Mr. JIMMY WALES (Founder, Wikipedia): Hi. Good to be on.

CONAN: Give us some back story. What was behind this e-mail?

Mr. WALES: Well, I've been thinking for awhile about the kinds of things that we might be able to do in our community if we weren't limited and restricted by the incredibly long copyright terms that are out there right now. And there's a ton of material in the world that is under copyright that nobody's using.

It has no market. It's orphaned works, out of print works. And the idea is let's think about how we can buy some of that stuff and liberate it. And if we were going to do that, what is it that we would like to do first?

CONAN: And is this simply an abstract question or do you have some resources behind it?

Mr. WALES: It's more than an abstract question, but we're not really talking about a donation per se. We're thinking about - you know, we have people who are interested in thinking about how they can make this into a sustainable thing. Something with a business model, where they're able to take the content and use it in conjunction with Wikipedia in a way that they can actually continue to fund liberating more and more stuff. so we want to use the Wikipedia model as a leverage to increase freedom all around.

CONAN: But there's no free lunch. This has to start with some actual cash, no?

Mr. WALES: That's right. Yeah.

CONAN: And where does that come from?

Mr. WALES: Well, we'll see. I'm not announcing that yet. Behave yourself.

CONAN: But there is someone or some ones there ready to come up with - if somebody comes up with the right idea?

Mr. WALES: That's right, yeah.

CONAN: All right. So let's hear some ideas. There are some constraints on this, as you've mentioned.

Mr. WALES: Yes, that's right. So you know, in terms of the constraints, you know, one of the restraints is Wikipedia of course is very interested in historical works of great value. We're not so much interested in entertainment works, although some of those could be of great historical value as well. And then, you know, we're looking for things that really add value to the educational process, so out of print textbooks and things like that are some of the things that the community has really come up with that we're really eager to see.

CONAN: So this might be something that would be integrated into Wikipedia somehow.

Mr. WALES: That's right, or into some of our other projects. We have a Wikibooks project for textbooks, and you know, Wiktionary is our dictionary project. So we have a lot of different projects that might benefit from something like that.

CONAN: And what kind of response have you gotten?

Mr. WALES: A huge outpouring from the community, and then, well, the funny thing is it's actually gotten a lot of press attention. I just intended to ask people in the community, but I guess people watch what we do these days.

CONAN: Funny how that happens.

Mr. WALES: Worldwide. And we've been soliciting some e-mails ourselves, and Ron suggest one, the Windows operation system, two, LexisNexis legal information system, and three, New England Journal of Medicine publications.

Mr. WALES: Yeah. So I think more than likely, I doubt if Microsoft would be willing to sell Windows for -

CONAN: A mere $100 million.

Mr. WALES: A mere $100 million. And any, I think, you know, GNU Linux is so much better, I'm not sure why anybody would want to buy Windows, but the other things, you know, something like the New England Journal of Medicine, or to be more specific, the archives of many, many academic journals are under proprietary copyright. There's not a whole lot of money involved to liberate that stuff and make it available for free and freely licensed on the Web. It seems like, at least to me, an achievable goal.

CONAN: Let's talk with Sarah, Sarah's calling us from Sacramento.

SARAH (Caller): Yeah, hi. I think the Oxford English Dictionary should be freed up.

Mr. WALES: The Oxford English Dictionary, absolutely. Well, one of the earlier editions is now in the public domain, but the cost would be to digitize it, to scan it and make it available in a useable format. So that's actually a very excellent idea.

SARAH: Oh, cool. Well, I look forward to finding it on Wikipedia, then.

Mr. WALES: Yeah, I hope so. That would be wonderful.

CONAN: Sarah, thanks for the call.

SARAH: Thank you, bye-bye.

CONAN: Let's go to - this is Susan. Susan's calling us from Hartville, Ohio.

SUSAN (Caller): Hi there.

CONAN: Go ahead. What's your suggestion?

SUSAN: Sure. I'd love to see the Far Side. Gary Larson won't allow any of his cartoons to be on the web. That would be my big fantasy, to be allowed to post those cartoons on the web.

Mr. WALES: Oh, that's really interesting. I mean, that's really outside of our normal educational and research.

SUSAN: I don't know. I think he's kind of educational.

Mr. WALES: Oh, I would have to agree with you there. It definitely is. Maybe not in the traditional sense, but I know I've learned a lot from those.

SUSAN: Yeah, you said to think big, and that was a big one for me.

Mr. WALES: That's great.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Susan.

SUSAN: Thank you.

CONAN: It certainly makes - you just drop them in randomly, and it would certainly make things a lot more interesting.

Mr. WALES: That's for sure.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail from Davey. One of the things I would like to see set free are all of the American Film Institute's list of top 100 movies from Citizen Kane to Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Mr. WALES: Yeah, see, now that's a really fantastic one, and there's been some really fantastic work that's gone on with the Prelinger Archive, Internet archive has put online public domain films. But there are still a lot of those old films, which are of enormous historical importance that would really be important to have those shared, and not just share - remember, when I talk about freely licensed, I don't just mean make it available for free as in no cost, I mean let's let people remix it. Let's let people take this and, you know, edit it, slice it up, use it build other creative works. I think enriching the commons is one of the fantastic things we have the opportunity to do here.

CONAN: So I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy. Well, lets it go. Anyway, let's see if we can get another suggestion, this an e-mail from John. College texts that are assigned by universities for their general requirements toward a bachelor's degree. Save a lot of people a lot of money.

Mr. WALES: Oh yeah, absolutely. And actually, my way of looking at that one is that the real opportunity in terms of doing something in an economically feasible fashion is taking out of print textbooks that are maybe 10 or 15 years old and using a broad community of academic scholars, teachers and just ordinary Wikipedia volunteers to update that content and bring it up to date and modernize it and also allow professors to interact with it and adapt it and things like that. You can get the stuff for pretty cheap, and you can actually have a huge impact on the proprietary textbook industry.

CONAN: Let's talk with Robert, Robert calling us from Pablo, Montana.

ROBERT (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, go ahead.

ROBERT: I'm a communications director for the Salish and Kootenai tribes in western Montana, and we've often been frustrated by having to ask for permission to run photographs that are owned and licensed by university or museums. We'd love to run images of our own people, but we find ourselves having to ask permission to run images of ourselves, historical images. Is there a chance you could do some sort of national outreach to the Indian tribes, over 550 federally recognized tribes, to unlock these tribes.

Mr. WALES: Yes. Absolutely. And in fact, that example gives rise to one of the example business models that we had talked about in order for people to be able to do this in a sustainable way, and that would be to, say for example, go out and solicit corporate sponsorship just to liberate these collections, you know, just for kind of a feel good thing. I mean, you can somehow imagine, you know, the Nike - I don't know, Nike might not be a good choice, but you know, the Nike American Heritage Photo Collection, which they would buy up all these copyrights and it wouldn't cost a whole lot of money, and they would get public credit for it, and people would say, you know, this is really fantastic, that they're, you know, not just putting it in a stale museum but actually putting it on the Web, which is really the museum we all can visit.

ROBERT: There's been good will from these institutions, and I think this could be the next step, to have them free it up officially. I spent a whole day calling the Smithsonian trying to get permission to run a photo of a Kootenai woman in a canoe on our Flathead Lake in western Montana, and frankly, they were kind of flummoxed by the request and said go ahead, it's your people.

Mr. WALES: Right, exactly, and I think a lot of this is really an education effort, that a lot of museums have a lot of fantastic stuff that they have the rights to, and they've just never really thought about gee, we could just actually just make a blanket permission for people to reuse this stuff because it's really part of our cultural heritage.

We do find there are some museums who are very annoying in this respect. They really want to - they want to protect their poster business, and so they really try to control access to even public domain artwork, and I find that to be a really frustrating process. We end up quarreling with museums sometimes when they want us to take down a photo of a painting that's 400 years old, you know.

ROBERT: I'd recommend -

Mr. WALES: It's not what museums should be doing.

ROBERT: Vine Deloria's son, Philip Deloria, wrote a book called Playing Indian, which really talks about the dynamic of culture trying to take control of the Indian image, and what it is to be Indian and how, as American Indians, we don't always have the power to define who we are to the world, and so I see this as a great movement towards that direction.

CONAN: Well, Robert, good -

Mr. WALES: Yeah, absolutely.

CONAN: Good luck to you.

ROBERT: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an e-mail we got from Shannon in California. I understand from many documentarians, that historical footage of Martin Luther King, Jr., is incredibly difficult to get permission clearance to use from his estate. Particularly now when we're experiencing a fearsome lack of leadership in the United States, it seems that the more footage of a true leader in action we could see, the better. Above all, King preached freedom. Shouldn't we set him free?

Mr. WALES: Yes, absolutely. And this is actually one of the beautiful examples that we had discussed when we were first discussing this idea, is there's so much material there that, you know - and this is actually, you know, another example of something that could actually be sustainable in a business sort of sense in that the amount of archival material is enormous, and by setting part of it free somewhere on the Web that Wikipedia could send traffic to and let people be aware of, then they could use that as a platform to actually sell more historical DVDs or whatever it is that the family would like to do.

So the idea would be to use some of the material that's currently not being used to actually, you know, free that up, and the purpose of freeing it up would be to draw attention to something so that you could actually get more benefit out of even the stuff that you're not willing to let free yet.

CONAN: We're talking with Jimmy Wales, the founder of the Wikimedia Foundation about a project where he's soliciting ideas about what you might like to see freed from the prison of copyright. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get some more suggestions. This is Noah, Noah calling from Norman, Oklahoma.

NOAH (Caller): Hi. I love the Audubon Society's animal identification books, and I use them quite often, and I can't find any good, like bug identifiers on the Web. I mean, that would be a killer thing to have.

Mr. WALES: Sounds good.

NOAH: Yeah, thanks.

CONAN: All right, Noah, you've got it. There you go. Here's a e-mail from Omar in San Francisco. I'd buy rights to a vast swath of medical information from stuff like PDR - the Physician's Desk Reference, I think that is - and Micromedex from Thomson that doctors use to independent drug interaction drug interaction checkers, like those from facts and comparisons to the most recent journal articles on cancer therapies and more and put it all into the public domain. It would inform and perhaps engender more research and more ideas.

Mr. WALES: Yup, absolutely. And in fact, one of the - one aspect of that that people don't normally think about is that all of that kind of information, if its' expensive for you here, just imagine the challenges faced by a physician or surgeon working in a developing country where the budget is essentially zero and access to information is essentially zero. We now have the technology of the Internet to actually make that available to them at low cost. The only problem is we get hung up on the proprietary rights.

CONAN: Here's a similar suggestion - along the same lines, anyway, from Jeff. I'd purchase either rights to AIDS drug formulas or rights to human gene discoveries.

Mr. WALES: Yup, that sounds good. Sounds expensive, though.

CONAN: The gene discoveries in particular.

Mr. WALES: Right, yeah. I mean, I think that for some of those kinds of things, I think we really need to examine, and this is getting a little bit off the topic of what we might purchase and set free, but I think the world really needs to examine some of our one size fits all patent and copyright models and really start to look at maybe shorter term patents so that yes, someone can make some money off of some research, but a lot of these things - and I know more about software patents than anything else.

Software patents aren't a tool that generates creativity and research, they're a tool that people use to beat each other up for creativity and research.

CONAN: That's - lawyers are creative people.

Mr. WALES: Well, that's true, that is true. We really don't want our lawyers to deprive us of their beautiful art form, but maybe we could spend a little time doing something else.

CONAN: Here's Andrew, Andrew with us from Columbus, Ohio.

ANDREW (Caller): Hi, how are you doing today?

CONAN: I'm well, thanks.

ANDREW: I've been to the Vatican and saw part of the library there. I would love to see the private collection at the Vatican library that nobody gets to see somehow put online, maybe not published by it, but by the rights to copy it and put it online. Of all the private works, it's only the higher up priests and the librarians there ever get to see it and that's very few people. It's thousands of years of history there.

Mr. WALES: That sounds fantastic. I think there are a lot of archives like that - and we're talking about stuff in a case like that where the real issue is the cost of digitization. It isn't so much a copyright issue, it's an access issue, and what I'm really hoping that we'll see, as you know, we have many projects going on now to digitize things is that you know, in another 25 or 50 years, we will have digitally preserved a huge swath of materials, even more obscure things than that. That's a pretty important collection that's being well taken care of, but there are a lot of collections that maybe seem obscure today, but we would love to see those preserved for the future.

ANDREW: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Andrew. And let's see if we can get Dave on the air. Dave's calling from Grand Rapids in Michigan.

DAVE (Caller): Hey, this might seem frivolous at first, but I think we could do more good for the world if we could somehow release The Beatles catalogue than we could with just about any other possibility.

CONAN: You're not the only one to suggest it. We had some e-mails along those lines, too. What do you think, Jimmy Wales?

Mr. WALES: Well, I think that's a good one. I'm not sure exactly how we can afford it and how we can actually still make some money from it, right, and be able to recoup the investment. I mean, if somebody wanted to buy those rights and donate them, I think that would be fantastic, but boy, that's going to be expensive.

One of the things -

CONAN: I'm not sure Michael Jackson is listening.

DAVE: Yeah. One of the owners is probably a little hard up for cash right now. I don't know.

Mr. WALES: Yeah, maybe so. And I do think that a part of this can be, we could say - you know, you can get a really big impact out of the symbolism of what can be done. In other words, if we freed up that music and then we saw over the next three to five years that a lot of artists were actually remixing and building on it and we have a whole rebirth of sort of The Beatles as a cultural phenomenon because it's freed of all the rights constraints, I think it could really open people's eyes to some of the possibilities here.

CONAN: Dave, thanks for the call, and Jimmy Wales, will you come back when you've made some decisions?

Mr. WALES: Absolutely. I certainly will.

CONAN: And if it occurs to you to let us know who's giving this money, give us a call back, okay?

Mr. WALES: I'll find out if I can do that.

CONAN: Jimmy Wales is founder of the Wikimedia Foundation joining us today by phone from Clearwater in Florida.

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