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Only the copyright holder of a work can license it under a free content license. No one else can declare a free license for a work without permission from the copyright holder, except in cases where the copyright holder has been dead long enough for the work to be in the public domain or it is in the public domain by some other means. Media tagged by a user for not having permission to license it under a free content license from the copyright holder will be deleted 7 days from the day it is tagged.

OTRS and Permission[edit]

Confirmation of licensing permission is handled with our OTRS system, which can keep records of email correspondence sent to it and verified by a volunteer. Unless the source declares a free license (if there is a source link) somewhere for an image, permission must be logged in the OTRS system or the image will be deleted for having no permission.

Where OTRS confirmation is necessary[edit]

OTRS confirmation of permission or authorship is usually required in several situations:

  1. When a work looks too professional to have been created by an amateur photographer (which most Commons users are). New users who have uploaded high quality images will usually be targeted more under this rationale than established users (who have been trusted in their contributions of self-made images).
  2. When a work by a professional is uploaded by someone with a user name or other mannerisms that suggests in good-faith that they may be the person who created it.
  3. When a user declares on the image description page or in a deletion discussion that they have permission to post an image, yet there is no evidence.
  4. When a user declares a free license for a work that they did not make.
  5. When a user posts an author name that is not their user name, and there is a doubt as to whether the two are the same person.

An extreme example[edit]

Consider the following (extreme, though elements from it have occurred before) scenario:

  • Your friend has sent you some nice photographs he or she has taken. You ask them if it would be acceptable to put them on Wikipedia, and they say yes.
  • You upload the photos to Commons, with a free license tag just like the instructions say.
  • An ad agency is looking for stock photography for a new campaign. One of their employees does a Google image search and finds your friend's photo on Commons. They check the image page, and find that it says they're "free to use it for any purpose, including commercially".
  • Your friend is driving to work and sees their photo on a giant billboard. They angrily call the company whose product it advertises, threatening to sue unless they're paid. The company says they need to sue the ad agency. The ad agency say the image was available on Commons under a free license, and your friend should sue Commons if the license wasn't correct.
  • Your friend goes to the image page on Commons, and sees that their photo is indeed there with a big box saying anyone can use it for any purpose. They send an angry e-mail to the Wikimedia Foundation demanding to know what right we have to say that anyone is free to use their photo. Someone from the Foundation replies, saying that someone named "Lou Sander" had claimed to be authorized to license it in that way, but that the Foundation would certainly take it down if that's not true.
  • Your friend calls you on the phone, asking what the hell did you do with their photo. You say you're sorry, but you thought they'd said it was okay. Your friend says they only said it was acceptable to put it on Wikipedia, not to have it used for free in an ad campaign. You again say you're sorry, you were just following the instructions on the Wikipedia upload page.
  • Your (ex-)friend is not satisfied. Their photo was used in a nationwide ad campaign and they didn't get a cent for it. They e-mail the Foundation again, demanding money or they'll sue. They say they never gave you permission to license the image that way, and ask what reason we ever had to believe your supposed claim that they would've done such a ridiculous thing. We reply that we assume good faith from uploaders. They ask if we shouldn't assume sanity from photographers instead. Oh, and they'll still sue unless someone pays them at least $1000 for the use of their photo.

You ultimately either pay, or persuade your friend not to sue. The other possibility is a nasty four or five way lawsuit, with your friend suing Commons and the ad agency, and possibly the advertised company as well, and the ad agency themselves suing Commons, who are asserting a DMCA safe harbor and saying your friend and the ad agency should sue you instead, and possibly you counter-suing Commons and/or your friend. In any case, it won't be pretty.

This is why Commons requires explicit assertion of permission.

Using OTRS to gain permission[edit]

Permission grants must specifically contain a free license grant and may not merely give permissions for Commons or Wikipedia. Images that only grant permission to Commons, Wikipedia, or similar will be deleted. To be considered free, it must be a non-revocable license grant that allows unrestricted commercial use, distribution, and modification for any purpose. Releases are sent to our Open Ticket Request System (also known as OTRS), where they are validated by volunteers, who then confirm the release. It is recommended that this release come in the form of a known free content license in order to prevent disputes on whether the release provides all the required freedoms, such as Creative Commons Attribution and Attribution Share-Alike, or the GFDL.

The common method to obtain permission on an image is to:

  1. Upload the image and place {{OTRS pending}} on it. This will alert admins to the fact that permission is going to possibly be obtained for an image and not to delete it immediately.
  2. Send an email specifically requesting a free license grant on the image. It is recommended that you use a template for your message.
  3. When you receive a reply, forward it to Once an OTRS volunteer verifies it they will tag the image with {{PermissionOTRS}} and reply back to you.

See also[edit]