Commons:Coats of arms

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In heraldry, the definition (description or blazon) and the representation (rendition or 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]

Arms of George, Prince of Wales

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

  • The definition (referred to as a “blazon”) is a textual description – for example, “Per fess argent and vert, a dragon passant gules”.
  • The representation (referred to as an “emblazonment”) is a visual depiction – for example, an artist’s drawing derived from the textual description.

In heraldry, there is no one “correct” way to create a representation of a coat of arms, unlike with logos and emblems where the representation must be the official one. This is because in heraldry, any drawing based on its corresponding definition is correct so long as the artist makes the coat of arms in line with the textual description and that the representation is readily recognizable as such by a herald.

Both the definition and the representation of a coat of arms are intellectual creations, 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]

Definitions of coats of arms fall within the public domain in almost all cases, due to the fact that as a general rule, simply textual descriptions are not copyrightable. For example, article 2 of the World Intellectual Property Organization treaty state that “Copyright protection extends to expressions and not to ideas, procedures, methods of operation or mathematical concepts as such”. As a blazon is a textual description of an abstract idea or image and contains only the bare facts about a coat of arms in general terms, it is generally not eligible for copyright protection.

However, even if a coat of arms is specified only by a blazon or similar imprecise textual description in a governmental publication, a particular depiction (image or rendering) of it may still be copyrightable. To avoid this, some countries explicitly exempt their national emblems from copyright, although many others do not. Thus, there is little chance that copyright can be claimed on the definition of a coat of arms, although if the claim is made on a copyrighted representation, it obviously then falls under valid copyright.

This means that anyone can make a representation of a coat of arms from a definition without copyright constraints, so long as only the definition is used to make the work, otherwise if a representation is created based on or in reference to a copyrighted representation, it would then be a derivative work. If a coat of arms 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.

This means that (from Copyright on Emblems):

  • A representation drawn to faithfully depict a geometric specification of an emblem (a definition) is not copyrightable. This applies even if the colors used in the emblem are imprecisely or not at all defined, and even if the emblem contains writing. For example, a faithful reproduction of the EU flag is not copyrightable in itself. Likewise, a representation of the Swiss flag at sea is not copyrightable, even if the choice of the precise shade of red is left to the author of the emblazon.
  • Any drawing containing only geometric shapes or standard patterns is not copyrightable. For example, a representation of the Flag of Scotland is not copyrightable. Again, the precise coloring is immaterial and does not give rise to copyright.
  • A representation drawn to represent a description containing non-geometric shapes is copyrightable. An example would be the flag of the county Kent; the precise drawing of the horse is original enough to warrant copyrightability. Again, coloring is immaterial, for example taking the emblazon shown at Flags of the World and changing the color to a slightly different shade of red (or to some other color) does not make the new image copyrightable in itself; it remains a derivative work and as such is subject to the copyright of the original.
  • A representation drawn to imitate another representation containing non-geometric shapes is not copyrightable separately from the original work. If the goal of the author is to replicate a single preexisting work as precisely as possible, the result will have no copyright beyond that of the original work, and will thus be considered a derivative work of the original (and is protected— or not— under the same copyright).

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 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.

Legal restriction on national emblems[edit]

The use of national emblems or logos is typically subject to certain restrictions outside the scope of copyright law designed to prevent disparaging or confusing uses and to avoid misrepresentations. Following article 6ter of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property on patents, national emblems or logos cannot be used as part of a registered trademark. Using a national coat of arms in a context where the display of the arms might be construed to falsely imply an official endorsement is also generally forbidden. In the U.S., for instance, official seals typically are only to be used by official agencies. As an example, the logo of the USFWS and its usage restrictions. Any such usage restrictions are beyond copyright law however. They are designed to prevent fraudulent abuses of emblems, in particular to prevent using them to imply an affiliation with or an endorsement by an official body when there is no such affiliation or endorsement. Merely showing such emblems (for instance, in a Wikipedia article) is generally not subject to such national emblem or insignia laws, although the basic rules of copyright still apply.

Copyright on the representation[edit]

Saying that a given definition is within the public domain does not mean that a given representation is, nor that derivative works are not possible. Generally speaking, the author’s copyright regarding a coat of arms is attached to the artist that draws a given representation, not to the definition (the blazoning). Therefore, a coat of arms can be freely drawn using the definition (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 definition alone (and independent free models), if you have seen an image of the coat of arms, you might want to use coats of arms already within the public domain as a model for details, choose standard colours, and even consciously make different artistic choices where possible.

Countries where official Coats of Arms are within the public domain[edit]

In a few countries, official coats of arms are considered official works, but are not subject to copyright. Such cases will often have their own PD-Coa- licence 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)
Georgia {{PD-Coa-Georgia}}
Germany {{PD-Coa-Germany}}
{{PD-Coa-Germany-b1945}} for pre-1945 CoAs
Hungary {{PD-Coa-Hungary}}
Latvia {{PD-Coa-Latvia}}
Liechtenstein {{PD-Coa-Liechtenstein}}
Lithuania {{PD-Coa-Lithuania}}
Mexico {{PD-Coa-Mexico}}
Moldova {{PD-Coa-Moldova}}
Netherlands {{PD-NL-gemeentewapen}}
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 issue with coats of arms on Commons is not to upload copyrighted images “found on the net”, but coats of arms drawn afresh from just a description (blazon) are acceptable.

  • For example coats of arms 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” coats of arms 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 coats of arms, 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 acceptable for 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]

Coats of arms found on Commons may be (1) reproductions of PD-old artworks, (2) recent artwork with a clear “free” licence, or (3) self-made reproductions of non-copyrighted images. The rest should be deleted (and eventually will be). Now, if you hurry to make a SVG version inspired of a to-be-deleted coat of arms, that is fine (however check! They are easily indeed copyright violations). There is no “derivative rights” involved with coats of arms so long as the representation is based solely on the description, as the descriptive blazoning is generally within the public domain, although a specific drawn representation may not be.

  • Coats of Arms may be uploaded on some Wikipedias (such as the English Wikipedia) under the fair use clause, however fair use arguments are not accepted on Commons.

How to tag images of emblems[edit]

There is the tag {{Insignia}}, which can be placed in addition to a licence 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}} or {{Fictional|CoA}}.

For more see Category:Heraldry templates

See also[edit]