Commons:How to detect copyright violations

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How to detect copyright violations[edit]

Often, people upload images, particularly photographs, that do not abide by our licensing requirements. This is done sometimes in good faith, sometimes in bad faith. So here a brief how-to for detecting many copyvios with a high probability.

It is not possible for us to detect all copyright violations. However, we can detect a great number of them by simply having a look around, especially in Special:Newimages, and watching for tell-tale signs. Here is a list of signs of probable copyright violations:

Photographs by professional photographers
Few of these grant free licenses over their images. Consider contacting the photographer, if possible using the e-mail templates, if somebody posts a vague claim to be the photographer, or of having obtained authorization.
In the event that a professional photographer allows reproduction of their images, make sure that the images are licensed under a free license (i.e. not "noncommercial" or "Wikipedia only") and post the permission to
Photographs of celebrities, rock bands, etc.
Not all such photos are copyright violations, but they often are, and thus they warrant special scrutiny. Signs of probable violations:
  • "Staged" photographs, where the subjects obviously pose for the photographer. Almost always, such people do not pose for amateur photographers; they pose for (semi-)professionals, who usually demand payment for their works and seldom put them under free licenses.
  • Low-resolution pictures. Probably taken from a web site; photographers have access to better content.
It is however possible for amateurs to take photographs of celebrities. Examples include concerts, public appearances, etc.; this often needs chance. But, generally, the people will then explain how and where they took the photograph, and will provide some high-resolution shot.


If the photograph contains a watermark, chances are it was not released under a free license.
Photographs of items or from angles not accessible to the general public
Generally, only professional crews have access to "press only" locations offering a good vantage point on the starting lines of races, etc.
Thumbnails (very low resolution photographs)
These are a tell-tale sign that the image has been downloaded from a web site.
File names
Servers often generate special file names.
  • facebook: ddddd_dddddddddddd_dddddddd_ddddddd_ddddddd_D.jpg →
  • flickr: → getInfo → (photopage)
Meta data
Especially the software, copyright, author, make and model rows are interesting. If you don't know the software, look it up. If it is a server-software, you are alerted.
Suspicious licenses
Apart from screenshots and icons of free software computer programs, very few images are licensed under the GNU GPL or other free software license. As well many people randomly tag images with "PD-Self" and such. Some people apparently choose a random free license to upload copyrighted content.
Modern art
Paintings, sculptures, and other works of art are copyrighted by their author (at least, in most jurisdictions). Photographs of such items can thus be covered by copyright of the artist (depending on the jurisdiction and the location of the item). Check for acceptable exceptions from this rule: {{PD-Art}} and {{FoP}}.
Suspicious user
Users who repeatedly upload copyright protected items under false licenses. These users may have several warnings, and many attempt to hide the original copyright owners identity by stating they created the work. Questionable Flickr images lists users from Flickr, the popular image hosting site, that we believe have incorrectly marked photographs as free that they don't have the right to.

Search engines[edit]

Search engines may help you to find the original source of an image.

For Google search-by-image and Tineye, there are two gadgets in your preferences (Maintenance tools) adding a one-click link. Activate the Tineye gadget now! and/or Activate the GoogleImages gadget now! is a "reverse image search engine" – you enter the URL of the image, and it searches for the same image. While it has only indexed a small fraction of the images on the Internet, it's quite good at identifying stock photographs from large providers. Tineye also reports the dates it indexed individual images, which makes it easier to evaluate whether an image uploaded to Commons is actually someone's original work.

The "big 3" image search engines are:

What to do if you find a copyright violation[edit]

If you find a file which appears to be a copyright violation, it will normally have to be deleted under deletion policy.

However, if the problem is a lack of information, you should consider whether it may be possible to fix the problem, either by checking the source, or by contacting the uploader.

  • Tagging for deletion. When you are on a File page, there are several links in the Toolbox at the bottom left to help you "tag" a file for deletion depending on the issue.
    • If you have a number of similar cases, you can do a mass deletion request – see page mass deletion request.
  • Get help.
    • Many copyright issues are documented under copyright rules. Applying the rules is often not straightforward, but looking up the relevant rules will help you ask the right questions.
    • If you're uncertain about the case and the uploader has been active recently, discuss the issue with them first – they are likely best placed to clarify or solve the issue, and this is likely to be helpful even if you later need to get help from others. If more help is needed, or the uploader has not been active recently, you can ask at the help desk.
    • For complex copyright issues, especially ones that might lead to a clarification of Commons' documentation of the relevant copyright rules, you can also raise questions at Village pump/Copyright.

See also[edit]

Categories to scan[edit]

Commons policies and guidelines[edit]