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Wikipedia UK gets Charity Status

November 8, 2011

It’s great news that Wikimedia UK, the British arm of the Wikipedia organisation, that runs Wikipedia amongst other projects, has got charitable status:

[On 5th November] the Charity Commission has approved Wikimedia UK, the UK membership organisation supporting Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia projects, as a registered charity. The news comes shortly before the launch of this year’s global Wikimedia fundraiser. Starting  on 14th November, Wikimedia UK aims to raise £1 million to support Wikipedia and its sister projects. The Charity Commission’s decision, regarded as a milestone in charity law, means that for the first time British donors to Wikimedia will be able to make their donations go further with Gift Aid. For Wikimedia UK, being recognised as a charity is a springboard for ambitious plans to work with a growing range of major organisations (including the British Museum and British Library). Wikimedia UK recently appointed its first Chief Executive and will open new offices in central London on November 14th.

This also has major implications for charity law in the UK too:

Leading charity law specialists Stone King LLP, who advised Wikimedia UK on the successful application for charity status, describe our registration as “a milestone in the development of charity law in England and Wales”, and go on to say in  their own statement:
“Wikimedia UK’s registration as a charity is a significant step toward the updating of charity law to reflect developments in modern communications and the evolution of user-generated content. The promotion of open access to content and user-generated and -enriched content has not, until now, been recognised as a charitable purpose. Stone King and Wikimedia UK are therefore delighted that the Charity Commission has made the bold and wholly justified step that acknowledges the profound contribution that properly managed and regulated open content makes to society.”

So I asked a solicitor friend of mine about this and he replied that they’d had to look back to the 19th Century in trying to decide! He also said:

The Charities Act 2006 specifies that for an organisation to be designated a charity, it must have a recognised charitable purpose(of which there are 12 – for more details see here) and be for the public benefit. Wikimedia’s new objects clause states:
“The Objects of the Charity are, for the benefit of the public, to promote and support the widest possible public access to, use of and contribution to Open Content of an encyclopaedic or educational nature or of similar utility to the general public…”

These objects are clearly for the public benefit but they do not fit neatly into one of the 12 recognised charitable purposes. However, the Charity Commission has the discretion to designate “any other purposes currently recognised as charitable and any new charitable purposes which are similar to another charitable purpose” (see here for more information) as satisfying the test.  The Charity Commission’s decision has not yet been published in full but it appears that providing a user-generated online public resource is now a legitimate charitable purpose.

Will we be seeing more UK-based open source projects becoming charities? This may well be very interesting…anyway a huge well done to Wikimedia UK.

(Thanks to Edward for the information!)

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