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Frequently Asked Questions: WikiLeaks Edition

Dec 20th, 2010

Workspace ,

Amanda Hickman

With WikiLeaks in the news, there are a few questions (two, actually) that we’ve been asked rather frequently of late, questions we hadn’t anticipated in our original list of frequently asked questions. Questions like …

Is DocumentCloud the new Wikileaks? Isn’t OpenLeaks just a Swedish DocumentCloud?

No, not really. We’re both nonprofits dedicated to publishing data and documents, but that’s about it.

To join DocumentCloud, you need to be a journalist, or work a lot like one. Our goal is to help reporters publish more source documents and to build a catalog of primary (and secondary) source documents that individual journalists have researched and written about: we expect our users to be uploading documents they’re reporting on. Document contributors make a commitment to us that they’re confident of the authenticity of the documents they upload. And every user tells us their name — it goes right on every document.

DocumentCloud is not an anonymous service and we don’t offer anonymous accounts.

We’re building tools to help journalists be more transparent and more effective. We’re building a catalog of source documents, but all of those documents are attributed to a journalist who stands by them. WikiLeaks and OpenLeaks both aim to provide a channel through which someone can anonymously leak documents; they have a different project.

What’s stopping Amazon from cutting DocumentCloud off if someone posts a document they don’t like?

It’s a good question, one news organizations should take more seriously when evaluating third party services. Our terms of service are pretty specific about your responsibilities as a user. Within the bounds of those terms, we’re confident that reporters have the right to publish the documents they’re publishing through DocumentCloud.

At this stage in our beta most users publish documents by embedding a few lines of code that phone back to our Amazon servers for each document’s page images, annotations and text. In a tool that’s in active development, that makes a lot of sense. From the start, though, we’ve given users the option of downloading a document viewer to host on their own servers. The option is right there in our publish menu. The trade-off, of course, is that users who download the whole viewer won’t be able to take advantage of improvements to the the software. But hosting your own documents certainly ensures that Amazon can’t cut you off.

We collaborated with an excellent attorney to develop our terms of service, and we take them seriously. We also believe that our terms are fundamentally compatible with Amazon’s. While that compatibility is no guarantee that Amazon won’t ever disagree with us, we think we’re on solid ground.

Your next question ought to be “So what’s stopping you from cutting me off?”

The answer to that is simple: our reputations are on the line here. If you’ve published a document that we believe is in violation of our terms of service, you have our assurance that our first step will be to discuss it with you. You’ll always be able to download a viewer and host any document yourself. Each of us is committed to the values and principles of journalism. That’s why we’re building this. It’s our purpose, not a side project.

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