Matt Vetter (Department of English) and co-author Zach McDowell (University of Illinois, Chicago) recently published an article in the International Journal of Communication. "The Realienation of the Commons: Wikidata and the Ethics of 'Free' Data" interrogates ethical issues related to Creative Commons Zero licensing in one of the most influential engines of the semantic web. 

Wikipedia’s founding in 2001, accompanied by the techno-optimism of Web 2.0 and the ambitious agenda for free knowledge, inspired countless volunteers to contribute. The success of the encyclopedia both inspired and provided evidence of the power of “wikinomics,” “crowdsourcing,” and “commons-based peer production.” In many ways, Wikipedia, and its parent company Wikimedia, can be viewed as the standard bearers of Web 2.0’s early promises for a free and open Web.

However, the introduction of Wikipedia’s sister project Wikidata and its movement away from “share alike” licensing has dramatically shifted the relationship between editors and complicated Wikimedia’s ethics as it relates to the digital commons.

This article investigates concerns surrounding what we term the “re-alienation of the commons,” especially as it relates to Google and other search engine companies’ reliance on data emerging from free/libre and open-source (FOSS/FLOSS) web movements of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Taking a Marxist approach, this article explores the labor relationship of editors to Wikimedia projects and how this “realienation” threatens this relationship, as well as the future of the community.

Access the article online