Commons:Coats of arms

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In heraldry, the definition – blazon and the representation (rendition – emblazon) of a Coat of Arms are two different things. 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]

Coat of Arms of George, Prince of Wales

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 (referred to as a "emblazonment") 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.

To show this circumstance in certain cases, you can use the {{Coa blazon}} tag.

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.

If a CoA is drawn inspired from a representation (e.g. found in a book or on the net), then there is an obvious risk of making a derived work, see below. If the CoA consists of standard elements (that you recognize), then you might be able to derive the blazon and make your own representation based on that, but you risk ending up with a faulty blazon and a faulty representation.

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 using the blazon, but if you draw it as a copy of a picture "found on the internet" (or in a book), then you risk creating a derived work (or simply a copy).

To be sure you make an independent representation, based on the blazon alone (and independent free models), if you have seen an image of the CoA, you might want to use free CoAs as model for details, choose standard colours and even consciously make different choices where possible, e.g. regarding exact layout and proportions.

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-File:Flag of Wales 2.svg representation.

  • For example CoA on "Heraldry of the World" (formerly "International Civic Heraldry" – NGW) cannot in general be readily (like most other sites) 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 general 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 "Heraldry of the World" 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 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.

How to tag images of emblems[edit]

There is the tag {{insignia}}, which can be placed in addition to a license tag on the image description page of images showing emblems. It informs the reader that there may be some usage restrictions on the image, even if the image is freely licensed and thus free as far as copyrights are concerned (compare #Legal restrictions on usage).

Generally you can use {{COAInformation}} as appropriate replacement for {{Information}}.

For unreferenced CoA you can use the {{Lacking insignia source}} tag, similar to {{Disputed coat of arms}}.

For more see Category:Heraldry templates

See also[edit]