Commons:First steps/License selection

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COM:FS/LS

How to select the right license

When you upload a file, you must apply a license statement for it.

Choosing your file's license is an important decision, as all content in Wikimedia Commons has to be licensed freely. It is therefore imperative to clarify your rights to upload it under a free license. The decision tree is a graphical overview of the issues below.

Tips and tricks

Decision tree chart for media upload in Wikimedia Commons. (click to enlarge)
  • Generally, if you're releasing your own content under a free license, you cannot revoke the permissions granted.
  • Some free licenses automatically cover various versions of the licensed content, because under applicable copyright law, these versions would be considered the same work. For instance, you may wish to license thumbnail-quality files under a Creative Commons license while keeping raw, higher-resolution copies proprietary. However, when doing so, you should be warned that you might well be unintentionally licensing those other versions, because in regard to copyright, the two could be considered the same work. If you grant such a license for users to use a version of a work, the license may automatically give users the same rights to use any version that differs only in the level of some automatic conversion, regardless of the quality or resolution. While details of what would be considered the same work vary between jurisdictions, one key issue is whether or not enough creative expression is added in the conversion. See Commons:Same work for more details.
  • The easiest case of licensing are self-drawn images. Pictures taken by you are a little bit more problematic, as every person displayed has to agree on publishing it. This doesn't apply if the photograph has been taken at public events or the persons are well-known, provided the photograph hasn't been taken in that person's private vicinity.
  • Artwork permanently displayed in public is covered in several nations, including for example, Germany, Switzerland and Austria under Freedom of Panorama, while other nations like France and Belgium have no such regulation. If Freedom of Panorama applies, you can upload your images of either artwork or buildings undaunted. This is not allowed in nations like France and Belgium, e.g. you cannot upload a picture of the Atomium in Brussels, Belgium. In cases where the object in question was only temporarily installed in a public place, freedom of panorama might not apply. One famous example for this was the wrapped Reichstag by Christo in Berlin, Germany. You'll also have to obtain permission for objects in museums or shots on private property — indoor photographs especially strictly require the owner's consent.
  • Most images you'll find on the Internet can't be uploaded, unless the copyright owner explicitly allowed for publication under a free license. You might try asking for permission, however. If you obtained such a permission via email, please forward it to permissions@wikimedia.org and reference it at upload. It is advisable to attach a standard declaration of consent such as Commons:Email templates to your email asking for permission.
  • If a work's author died more than 70 years ago it is within the public domain in most nations and can be uploaded in almost all cases. This applies to third party reproductions as well, as these lack the required own creativity needed to put it under copyright (see for example the Bridgeman v. Corel case).
License selection of self-made files at upload dialog.

With this basic knowledge in mind you should be able to choose the proper license in most cases. Just select the desired license from the "Licensing" drop down list. More detailed information on copyright and licensing as well as copyright laws in different nations can be found at Commons:Licensing.




Available licenses

Licensing jargon
Term Meaning
License A legal document outlining the permitted use (or lack thereof) of media. Only the copyright owner of media can apply a license to it.
CC Creative Commons, an organization that has written free licenses for public use. These licenses are prefixed with CC.
Attribution Giving credit to the author. In CC licenses, this is abbreviated with BY.
Share-alike Licensing works derived from a copylefted source in a similar fashion, this is abbreviated with SA.
Copyleft Allowing more permissive use than traditional copyright
Fair use A doctrine in which the public has a limited right to use copyrighted materials


If the media you are uploading is your own work, you have a number of available licenses to choose from. If you are not concerned with your rights to the media and merely want to add a file quickly, choosing an option from the "Best practices" section is a great choice. If you want to weigh what permissions you give and what rights you obtain, study each license and decide based upon your criteria. Following are a basic outline of each license, organized by best and better options.

If there is no appropriate license to select, you can set "None" and manually insert the proper license later on (for a list of all allowed licenses see Commons:Copyright tags). This is a rather advanced way, however, as it requires you to know the exact license template's name.

"I don't know what the license is"
This isn't a valid option, but rather a test to verify that you know what you're doing. Files uploaded with this option checked will be deleted. Especially Fair use and other non-free licenses (like grants for non-commercial usage) are not allowed at Wikimedia Commons.

Best practices

"Own work, copyleft, attribution required (Multi-license GFDL, all CC-BY-SA)"
It is possible to publish your works under multiple licenses. This particular combination requires that the author of the media be credited for the work and any derivative works to be licensed similarly. This is the recommended choice, as it makes using your media files very easy while still allowing you to keep some rights to the work.
"Own work, attribution required (GFDL, CC-BY 3.0)"
Another multi-license, this option requires attribution and/or releasing derivative works under similar licenses.
"Own work, all rights released (Public domain)"
With this choice, you grant everyone the permission to use your media for whatever purpose they see fit. People don't even have to credit you. Once within the public domain, your image cannot be relicensed later on. Other free licenses allow you to retain at least some of your rights.

Better practices

Creative Commons Attribution licenses
These licenses were created by Creative Commons, who created a group of modular licenses which can be mixed in many variations. The two accepted types of Creative Commons licenses at Wikimedia Commons are the "Attribution" and "Attribution share alike" licenses. Both simply require crediting the author, while the Attribution Share-Alike license requires people to additionally release modifications under the same license as the original work — the copyleft principle.
All published versions of the two licenses are accepted, but the most commonly used version on Commons for contributed files are the 3.0 versions ({{cc-by-3.0}} and {{cc-by-sa-3.0}}). The 2.0 versions is often used for uploads from Flickr since it is the only version available. Licenses containing the "Non-commercial" and "No derivative works" variants are not accepted in any form on any Wikimedia project, including Commons.
GNU Free Documentation License
The GNU Free Documentation License is a license published by the Free Software Foundation commonly used for text content on Wikimedia projects, but has also been used for images on Commons. It is a copyleft license similar to the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license, but it also additionally requires that a full copy of the license be distributed with any reproduction of the work.
Due to the license text distribution requirement and the fact that the GFDL was originally designed and intended for documents, uploading user-created photographs licensed only under the GFDL or any other license with such a requirement is discouraged. However it is still an acceptable license regardless.

Wrapping up

Once you're done with these choices, it is a good idea to check "Watch this page" to keep track of any changes pertaining to your media. With your personal watchlist, you can see the tracked files' change dates, comments and the persons committing the change. You can find the watchlist in the user tabs atop any page.

Finally, once you click on "Upload file" it may be necessary to approve this action, as your software might consider this a security issue. After the upload is complete — which may take a while — you'll be redirected to that file's page.

If you uploaded the file for use in Wikipedia or another project that uses Wikimedia Commons as a file repository, you still need to edit the relevant page(s) in that other project in order to make your file show up there. Please refer to that project's help pages about media use for further instructions. The instructions for the English language Wikipedia can be found at Wikipedia:Picture tutorial.

Further reading

Wikimedia Commons pages: