Wikipedia Book Sparks Debate over Writers' Royalties

By May 13, 2008

Plans to publish Wikipedia articles in a book are causing a stir within the Wikipedia world, as debates about royalties owed to contributing writers arise.   Germany-based publisher Bertelsmann is planning to release the Wikipedia

book this summer, igniting concerns that the profit made by the publisher and the Wikimedia Foundation will unjustly omit the articles’ writers.   The book, titled The One-Volume Wikipedia Encyclopedia, will go on sale in September for 19.95 euros (about $32). In addition to earning its own profit from the book, Bertelsmann will give the Wikimedia Foundation one euro ($1.59) for every copy sold.   The 992 page book will contain 50,000 of the most popular German Wikipedia articles, each about ten lines each. Germany’s Wikipedia site has about 275,000 articles, second to the U.S. which has over 2.3 million.   Beate Varnhorn refers to the coming book as a “yearbook” in an interview with the Associated Press, saying the printed edition will bring Wikipedia to a new audience.   The problem lies in the volunteer efforts of many being used to make money for other people.   Wikipedia is a free, open-source online publication that does not hold copyrights for the articles on the Web site, nor do the volunteer writers who contribute. Many say the decision to use the articles for a profit would have dissuaded many from volunteering their time and effort.   The German book deal could elicit and English-language version if its sales do well, and that would further the debate regarding writer royalties.   The book is part of a business development campaign by the Wikimedia Foundation to get its name publicized, possibly with an eye on other media possibilities in the future including mobile platforms.   With the book not even in print yet, the royalties debate is only just beginning.   By Danny Scuderi   FEEDBACK For comments on this article, email us at

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