Ladies and gentlemen, authors and fans of Wikipedia, welcome to Den Bosch, at our birthday party for a ten-year old Wikipedia in Dutch. As president of the supporting association Wikimedia Nederland I have been asked for an introductory speech to set the right mood for the evening.
And how could you better set the mood than by quoting from the Big Book. Indeed, I mean the Bible, as we are in the Roman [Catholic] South [of the Netherlands]. We read from Luke 9:
Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” And they did so, and had them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces. (Luke 9, 11-17)
This is an absurd story, which I retained from my Confirmation. It didn’t make me exactly a religious person. Where is the logic in it? But of course, spoken about multiplication, also nowadays in the internet age, we know a lot of absurd stories.
Think about the fact that so many people download illegally content from the internet – music, Hollywood movies – while those same people would never get in their mind to go to a store and steal a DVD, or a book. Why this difference?
Law experts explain it to us with the difference between material goods and immaterial goods. A book is a material good, you are not supposed to steal it, and so it has been always. But the content of the book is immaterial good, and that is a law concept that exists only for about two hundred years. It’s still not rooted enough in our culture, it seems.
The real explanation comes from economists. They talk about scarcity. Air is not scarce, drinking water, at least in the Netherlands, is not scarce, while nearly everything people manufacture is scarce. If I steal a book from someone, then I have it and he doesn’t, and that’s not fair. But if I borrow the book, and copy the content, and nowadays this is easily done digitally, then I have the content, he has his book – so where is the scarcity? Everyone is happy, or not?
Now this is where copyright comes in. Copyright is a means to make content artificially scarce. For commercial reasons, of course.
I even don’t want to complain about that here, but we from Wikimedia are firmly convinced that there has to be also a different kind of content, open content, free knowledge. And that ought not to be made scarce. As someone in the 19th century already expressed it: knowledge is a special good. If you share it, it doesn’t become less, it becomes more.
And that’s what the man from Nazareth wanted to say. Not that the five thousand people didn’t like the fishburgers and returned them. He meant: Give, and it will be given to you.
We from Wikimedia give every month to nearly 400 million people. 400 million visitors to our websites in the whole world.
That is, of course, a sad thing.
Because they should be much more. There are billions of people on the world. We don’t want only the children in Amsterdam or Den Bosch or the Achterhoek to have a free encyclopedia in their own language. We want the children in Nairobi and Jakarta and Sao Paolo have theirs, too.
Even today, on our day of honour, we have been busy with improving Wikipedia, by taking photographs from the beautiful old town of Den Bosch. Thanks to everybody who made Wikipedia in Dutch possible.
I believe that I have created a little bit of the right mood. Ladies and gentlemen, authors and fans of Wikipedia, my name is Ziko van Dijk, we are Wikimedia, and this is your party. Enjoy it.