Commons:Coats of arms

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See also en:Wikipedia:Copyright on emblems.

In heraldry, the definition (blazon) and the representation (rendition) of a Coat of Arms are two different things (see en:Heraldry for more information).

As heraldry is a very old discipline with at least 800 or more years of history, a variety of differences in custom and legal traditions can be found between different times and countries.

Definition and representation[edit]

Flag of Wales 2.svg

Two very different things are involved in a Coat of Arms.

  • The CoA definition (referred to as a "blazon") is made of words - for instance, "Per fess argent and vert, a dragon passant gules".
  • The CoA representation is a picture - for example, the one on the right.

There is no such thing as an "official CoA (drawing)" in heraldics, this would be a confusion with logos (where the representation must be the official one). In heraldics, any drawing corresponding to the definition (like the one to the right) is correct (as long as a herald can recognise it).

Both the definition and the representation of a Coat of Arms are intellectual creation, and their legal protection may be considered as such.

Public domain definition (blazon)[edit]

The Coat of Arms definitions are public domains in almost all cases. This corresponds to a long-standing tradition.

There are various reasons why the description usually can't be copyrighted: it is often a legal production, most of the time a very old creation, there is little artistic creativity in it, and it is an abstraction, not a definite realisation. The fundamental reason is that definitions are not subject to intellectual property rights, anyway.

To be sure, some CoA definitions indeed claim copyright, but this is very rare. Furthermore, there is little chance for such a claim to stand in court if the claim is indeed on the definition part (whereas if the claim is made on the representation, it is obviously valid). In any case, this is a nonexistent situation for official Coat of Arms.

This means that anybody can draw a new coat of arms from a definition without copyright constraints: the "derivative work" notion simply doesn't apply in that case.

This also means that a Coat of Arms inspired from another (found on the net), with the same composition, but with a different interpretation, is not a "derivative work": When a new CoA picture is made, it is a "derivative" of the (PD) description, not of the website's (copyrighted) image, hence the copyright regime is simply that of a self-made picture.

Legal restrictions on usage[edit]

Like a trademark, a coat of arms represents its owner and cannot be used for any purpose:

  • It cannot be appropriated by someone else.
  • Its use in a defamative context may cause a prejudice to its owner, who can ask for reparation.

The respect of such legal restrictions is under the responsibility of the picture's user.

The existence of such legal restriction is not considered as a restriction on the licence terms, since whatever the licence terms, it cannot be interpreted as allowing an illegal or prejudicial usage. Such legal restriction is therefore admitted on Commons.

Copyright on the representation[edit]

Saying that the CoA definition is public domain does not mean that a given representation is, nor that derivative works are not possible. Generally speaking, the author's right on a CoA is attached to the artist that draws a given representation, not to the CoA definition (the blazoning). Therefore, a CoA can be freely drawn after a model (without involving derivative rights), but a given picture "found on the internet" cannot be uploaded: it must be redrawn.

Indeed, if someone makes a .svg translation of a .jpg original drawing, it is a copyvio - but not a "derivative work", since there has been no artistic creativity.

Countries where official coats of arms are PD[edit]

In a few countries, official coats of arms are considered official works, and not subject to copyright. Such cases will often have their own PD-Coa- license tag (see Category:Heraldry templates) which should always be used in preference to a more general PD tag. NB Some countries with tags in Category:PD-exUSSR-exempt_license_tags may not have Coa tags; check the relevant PD-exempt tag for such cases.

Country PD tag
Armenia {{PD-Coa-Armenia}}
Azerbaijan {{PD-Coa-Azerbaijan}}
Belarus {{PD-Coa-Belarus}}
Brazil {{PD-Coa-Brazil-1983}} (only for coats of arms commissioned before 1983)
Estonia {{PD-Coa-Estonia}}
Finland {{PD-Coa-Finland}} (not by definition, but covers most official COAs)
Germany {{PD-Coa-Germany}}
{{PD-Coa-Germany-b1945}} for pre-1945 COAs
Georgia {{PD-Coa-Georgia}}
Hungary {{PD-Coa-Hungary}}
Latvia {{PD-Coa-Latvia}}
Lithuania {{PD-Coa-Lithuania}}
Mexico {{PD-Coa-Mexico}}
Moldova {{PD-Coa-Moldova}}
Norway {{PD-Coa-Norway}}
Romania {{PD-Coa-Romania}}
Russia {{PD-Coa-Russia}}
Switzerland {{PD-Coa-Switzerland}}

Coat of arms "found on the internet"[edit]

The main problem with CoA is not to upload private (copyrighted) images "found on the net", but CoA drawn afresh are OK. As soon as the change in the drawing is substantial enough, so that the original picture can't be identified, it is (for example) a derivative of the "Per fess argent and vert, a dragon passant gules" PD-definition, not of the CC-Image:Flag of Wales 2.svg representation.

  • The coats of arms on international civic heraldry (like most other sites) cannot be used on commons, because the drawings are (most of the time) made by a recent artist who owns the copyright on that specific picture.
  • The only "public domain" CoA in such database would be those who are obviously scanned from very old publications - that is almost impossible to identify (but if you find such CoA, go ahead and upload it under a {{PD-old}} template).
  • Images from International Civic Heraldry ( fall into two categories:
    • Those images drawn by the webmaster himself. These can be uploaded here using the {{ngw}} template. Note: These are only Dutch coat of arms.
    • Those images which come from other sources. These are only ok to upload if they are free for some other reason such as PD-old (see above) or due to local legislation (e.g. PD-Coa-Germany). If free these can be uploaded here using the appropriate licence and the {{ngw2}} template (see Commons:Deletion requests/Template:Ngw2 for developments).

Accepted on Commons[edit]

So, CoA found on Commons may be (1) reproductions of PD-old artworks, (2) recent artwork with a clear "free" licence, (3) self-made reproductions. The rest should be deleted (and eventually will be). Now, if you hurry to make a .svg version inspired of a to-be-deleted CoA, it's OK (check! easily indeed a copyvio): there is no "derivative rights" involved with coats of arms, this is what is meant by "CoA are public domain": the blazoning (description) is PD, indeed, but not a specific drawn representation.

  • Coats of arms may (afaik) be uploaded on some Wikipedias (such as en:), under the fair use clause. But this is commons, not Wikipedia, and fair use is not accepted on commons.

See also[edit]

For a relevant legal discussion from a US perspective, see Wikilegal/Flags and logos from international organizations.