Two weeks before suing two Wikitravel volunteers in late August, alleging theft of intellectual property and unfair competition in a civil conspiracy with the Wikimedia Foundation to create a new travel wiki website, Internet Brands proposed a partnership with the foundation.
Behind-the-scenes plot twists are coming to light in the midst of dueling lawsuits by Internet Brands and the Wikimedia Foundation, the parent of Wikipedia, and the prospect that a new English language travel wiki website, hosted by Wikivoyage in Germany, could make its debut very shortly.
To recap, on August 23 the Wikimedia community voted 540-152 to transition the Creative Commons content hosted by Internet Brands’ for-profit Wikitravel into a new, not-for-profit travel wiki website supported by the Wikimedia Foundation.
Wikivoyage, which broke away from Wikitravel several years ago after Internet Brands acquired it, has agreed to fold its content into, add its resources, and host the new travel wiki website, at least on a preliminary basis.
The Wikimedia Foundation is not a defendant in the Internet Brands lawsuit against the two Wikitravel volunteers, but the Wikimedia Foundation expects that it will eventually be named as such.
Transition to Wikimedia Foundation
Perhaps when the legal dust clears, the new travel wiki website would transition to being hosted and supported by the Wikimedia Foundation. If it has been decided, the name of the new site has not been publicized.
The Wikimedia Foundation is keeping details close to its vest.
“The Wikimedia Foundation and the Wikimedia community are in discussions regarding the next steps for the establishment of the travel project,” says Wikimedia Foundation spokesperson Jay Walsh.
And, in a statement earlier this month, the Wikimedia Foundation board vowed the Internet Brands lawsuit “is not going to intimidate the Foundation or stop the process.”
Proposals and counter-proposals
There apparently had been discussions between the Wikimedia Foundation and Internet Brands, which owns more than 100 websites including Wikitravel, FlyerTalk and CruiseMates, over the summer and before the lawsuits.
In the Wikimedia Foundation lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment about its role in supporting a new travel wiki website, the foundation says in June Internet Brands approached it about jointly operating a “semi for profit” company, and the Wikimedia Foundation declined the offer because its mission is to publish free content.
And, in its own lawsuit, Internet Brands states that on July 14 the foundation asked it to donate Wikitravel’s website, domain name, and trademark rights.
What’s on the record in some detail is that Paul O’Brien, community manager of Internet Brands’ Wikitravel, on August 13, prior to the final vote and the lawsuits, proposed to the Wikimedia Foundation and community that it reevaluate the “fork of Wikitravel,” and entertain a counterproposal to:
- Keep Wikitravel “independently hosted by Internet Brands;”
- Establish Wikitravel as a “sister project of the Wikimedia Foundation;”
- Enlist Wikitravel as “a fundraising source for the Foundation,” and
- Have the Wikimedia Foundation contribute its expertise in the administration of the open source MediaWiki technology that Wikitravel uses.
O’Brien, posting on the Wikimedia community discussion site under the screen name iBobi, argued that the foundation and community would be unfairly leveraging Internet Brands’ multimillion dollar investment in Wikitravel, and that the community was ignoring the sentiments of other stakeholders, including “thousands of Wikitravelers” who have indicated in surveys that they are satisfied with the site.
“Ads may be inconsistent with the beliefs of some in the broader wiki community, but they have served as a relatively benign source of funding for the host to maintain and grow the site,” O’Brien of Wikitravel writes. “We also note that Wikitravel has always provided an option to turn off the ads.”
The Wikimedia community, with its vote, in essence rejected the Internet Brands counter-proposal.
Meanwhile, the community and the Wikimedia Foundation are moving ahead with their plans.