I'm working on a commercial book and would like to include a series of Wikipedia "talk" pages (example). This text appears at the bottom of the page:

Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Wikipedia® is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization.

My use is essentially covered by the Creative Commons license, but what does "additional terms may apply" mean?

I'm aware that Wikipedia has far more "fair use" protection than I do. In that spirit, I might have to delete quoted material that is copied from other sources. But are there any other legal booby traps I should be aware of?

My book is titled Conspiracy Science, and I want to include talk pages relating to the topics "conspiracy" and "conspiracy theory" because 1) they're a gold mine of information, 2) they include fabulous examples of propaganda and manipulation, and 3) I want to preserve them in case Wikipedia later deletes them.

I contacted Wikipedia, but I got a boilerplate answer, something like "The pages are released under a Creative Commons license, but we can't give you specific legal advice."

My hunch is that I can legally reprint the series of pages in my book as long as I delete quotes extracted from other works.

My book will be published in the U.S., though it will be sold online and therefore available to people in other countries.


The "additional terms may apply” piece dates back when Wikipedia was solely under a GFDL license (note that now text is under a CC BY-SA 3.0 License plus -almost all of it- GFDL). The GFDL has some less-common terms that would need to be taken into account on certain cases. For example, on a printed book, you would need to include a copy of the license, instead of just including a link, as with online documents. I find the additional terms may apply phrase a reminder to check the fine print of the applicable licenses.

Regarding possible pitfalls, first of all, I would recommend you to be wary of any image hosted on English Wikipedia. You can expect most of them to have been uploaded under a Fair Use rationale, (free ones would typically have been moved / uploaded directly to Wikimedia Commons). Thus, for any image you would be including, you should click on it and check the stated license. Plus, I'd recommend some checking that it actually makes sense and it was not a complete lie by the uploaded.

Even if the usage is fine from a copyright point of view, they may be protected trademarks or fail under different terms under your own jurisdiction (your book will be published in the US, and Wikipedia should be compliant with US law, though). Also, in some corner cases their criteria may differ. Particularly, there may be some files whose copyright was restored by URAA which were not detected as problematic.

Second, you shall credit every author. The copyright does not belong to "Wikipedia" (that's not even a legal entity), nor does it belong to Wikimedia Foundation Inc. It belongs to each and every contributor that edited that page. So, if you are doing things seriously, you would credit each of those that created the content you copy.

You can view a list of the people (and bots) that edited any page (and what they changed) on the history page. The link there to Page statistics would provide you a list of every user that edited that page. This would most of the time be a superset of everyone that would need to be credited (for instance on many articles there will users that added a vandalism, then immediately reverted. There's no need to credit changes that didn't impact the text you are copying). Also, if you only copied a section, you wouldn't need to credit people that only did changes on other parts of the page.

As a possible pitfall, in some cases text is copied which appears as added by one person, but was sourced on another page or different Wikipedia version, with a note on the edit summary. The authors of that prior work could easily go unnoticed.

As you are actually interested in talk pages, your task will be easier than for an article, as the different messages on talk pages should be signed by their respective authors.

As you mention, on those talk pages, users may have quoted other texts which are not under a Creative Commons license. It'd probably still be fine for you to Include those quotations in your work, but you should check anyway what you are going to include, their extend, if they are reasonable, etc.

Third, source the information. Rather than including the text and just saying "Copied from wikipedia", it'd be much better to say "Copied from talk page of 'UFO landings' on English Wikipedia as of 3 November 2020 - https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Talk:UFO_landings&oldid=986784877".

Fourth, note the license. Licenses have requisites, you should get familiar with everything it states (in the long, boring text!) and comply with it. For example, Creative Commons licenses have a requisite that you would have to include a link to the license itself, which is friendlier than having to copy the full text, as GFDL does, but still something easy to skip. If you also include images, note they may be under a different license than the text, so you would need to comply with those additional license terms with regards to that image.

Consult a lawyer as needed. Your editor may also provide you with some legal support. A printed book has a persistence different than online text. You wouldn't want to be put in a position to recall the first edition of a book due to a tiny legal mishap. Even more than in other mediums, it pays to do things right.

Finally, consider if you want to tell about your book to the people whose content you are including. While you are not required to do it, it's a polite thing to do, as they will probably like to know their work being used elsewhere. While I would probably not contact everybody (unless it was a very small set), I would recommend contacting the most relevant editors you are copying. Some might express a preference to be credited differently in your book, could provide interesting insights / be useful beta-readers, or interested to buy your book once it's in print. Expect that some of them won't reply or even read your message (they may have moved to other things, be uninterested, or even died). Note that from a logged-in account (with an associated email), it is possible to send other users an email by using a link on their user page (unless they disabled that option / don't have an email set).

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. Any mistake you commit by following random advice by a stranger on the internet is your fault. Good luck writing your book. :)

  • "you shall credit every author" - Is this really needed? It sounds extremely onerous for Wikipedia pages that have been heavily edited for many years.
    – Justin
    Nov 4 '20 at 15:28
  • "You are free to share/remix the work under the following conditions: (1) Attribution: you must attribute the work (...)." Crediting the wikipedia authors of article foo will already be more than most reusers, but if you want to do things properly, you will have to credit everyone. After all.why would you not give the credit deserved by someone that redacted an important paragraph of the article three years ago?
    – Ángel
    Nov 5 '20 at 0:03
  • As noted, there are a number of approaches that you can use to filter vandals (would be a pity to credit those), bots, trivial edits, etc. A manual check of users with low edits/byte changes may actually let you skip them. But for popular and old articles, you will have very many editors.
    – Ángel
    Nov 5 '20 at 0:18
  • Note you might for instance combine all editors in an annex at the end. That shouldn't be too obnoxious for a book. There's no need to credit all of them immediately after the article.
    – Ángel
    Nov 5 '20 at 0:19
  • Your main alternatives for attribution are at 7.b of the [Terms of Use[(foundation.wikimedia.org/wiki/Terms_of_Use/en). You could set up a web site containing a list of everyone you would attribute in the book (or just hope that Wikipedia keeps that list for you?). But the really solid way would be to include that list of people within the book IMHO, just like one would be including the article.
    – Ángel
    Nov 5 '20 at 0:22

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