Commons:Problematic sources

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Shortcut: COM:PRS Wikimedia Commons accepts only images

  • that are explicitly licensed under a free license that specifically and irrevocably allows anyone to use the material for any purpose; simply writing that "the material may be used freely by anyone" or similar isn't sufficient, or
  • that are in the public domain in at least the U.S. and in the source country of the work.

There are many images available from many sources that do fit these criteria. But some sources, in particular on-line sources, may be problematic. They may host images that appear to be free or in the public domain at a first glance, but that may actually be copyright-protected.

This page lists potentially-problematic sources – ones that have much free content, but for which caution is in order.

Image repositories[edit]


See also Commons:Flickr files and Commons:Flickr files/Guide.

Flickr is a great resource that hosts many images that are freely licensed. Nevertheless, some care must be taken when intending to import a Flickr image to the Commons.

  • Most Flickr image pages contain a statement "This image is public". This is not a copyright statement. It just means that the image can be viewed by anyone.
  • The copyright statement at Flickr is a line saying either "© All rights reserved" or "Some rights reserved".
    • If it says "All rights reserved", the image is not freely licensed, and must not be transferred to the commons.
    • If it says "Some rights reserved", click on that text (it's a hyperlink). This takes you to a license page explaining the licensing conditions for that image. If that license says anything about "non-commercial" or "no derivative", it's not a free license, and the image must not be moved to the Commons. If it only mentions "attribution" or "share-alike", then it's basically okay. It should have an "Approved for Free Cultural Works" stamp.

Flickr washing: is the work original with the uploader, or a copyright violation?[edit]

Even if a Flickr image is freely licensed as {{Cc-by-2.0}} or {{Cc-by-sa-2.0}}, some care should be taken. Anyone can upload anything at Flickr, and place any license claim on their uploads. Some people upload copyrighted works and license them "freely", even though they do not own the copyrights on the images they upload. We call that "flickr washing", or a "flickrvio". Some common sense is needed:

  • Is it plausible that the Flickr uploader took the image themselves?
  • Has the photo been uploaded to Flickr shortly before it appeared on Wikimedia Commons?
  • If it looks like:
    • a poster,
    • promotional photo,
    • wallpaper,
    • screensaver,
    • celebrity shot,
    • advertisement,
    • or some such,
    ...then it is suspect.
  • Take a look at other uploads of the same Flickr user.
    If there are other such items in the user's uploads, extra careful evaluation is needed.

License changes[edit]

A related problem is that Flickr allows uploaders to change licenses. An image may be freely licensed at one point but later be switched to a more restrictive license or to "all rights reserved" – though note that the previous license cannot be retracted.

Flickr images uploaded to the Commons are therefore reviewed automatically by a piece of software here at the Commons running autonomously. If that software finds that the image is still freely licensed at Flickr, it records this information on the image description page. Trusted users such as administrators and community approved users may also review Flickr licenses manually.

If the Flickr license changes after a successful review, the image may be kept at the Commons because free licenses cannot be retracted. However, verifying that a photograph was released under a free license at some point is the past has become easier as Flickr now shows license history as of October 25, 2022.

How to upload properly licensed images?[edit]

Main page: Commons:Flickr files#Uploading images.

The following tools help upload properly licensed Flickr pictures to Commons:

When you are uploading images from Flickr, please upload the largest version of the image, and use the Flinfo tool for providing an already filled out version of {{Information}} for a picture at Flickr identified by its id.


A lot of images and other material on NASA Web sites and in NASA-distributed publications and reports are out of copyright in the US because they were made by US government employees as part of their official duties. Even so, NASA Web sites and NASA-distributed works can incorporate material that is subject to copyright restrictions.

Things that should be regarded with caution include, but are not necessarily limited to:

Project Gutenberg[edit]


Project Gutenberg operates under U.S. copyright law only, while Commons operates under U.S. and source country law. Thus some images at PG are not acceptable at Commons, though they are almost always acceptable at English Wikipedia, which also operates under U.S. copyright law only (as per Wikipedia:FAQ/Copyright and Wikipedia:Public domain).

The exception is works that are under copyright in the U.S., but for which Project Gutenberg has received permission from the copyright holder to distribute. These works can not be uploaded to Commons without receiving a license from the copyright holder. Not all works distributed by Project Gutenberg are Public Domain. Project Gutenberg refers to works that they can legally publish as "eligible", and writes: "We can legally publish any material that is in the public domain in the U.S. (C.10), or for which we have the permission of the copyright holder."[3] Project Gutenberg says, "Authors or publishers may grant Project Gutenberg an unlimited license to republish their works. In this kind of case, the copyright holders still retain their rights, but grant permission for us to share these eBooks with the world."[4]

These copyrighted PG publications can still be copied, but the permissions granted are spelled out in their headers, and usually forbid anyone to republish them commercially.

Since Commons media must allow commercial publication, such works cannot be hosted on Commons. If an image is public domain in the U.S. but not in the source country, please upload to English Wikipedia, and use the template {{PD-US-expired-abroad}}. If and when it becomes public domain in the source country, it can then be transwikied to Commons.


Although not primarily an image repository, Project Gutenberg also includes images that have been published in the books they host. The problem is that they operate exclusively under U.S. law and consider anything published more than 95 years ago and before 1977 as being in the public domain. They only claim their books to be in the public domain in the U.S., or to have a license from the author to distribute, in case of works still under copyright.[5][6]

Non-U.S. works found at Project Gutenberg that are in the public domain in the U.S. can be uploaded here at the Commons only if they are also in the public domain in their foreign source country. This is a subtle pitfall that even experienced contributors cannot always avoid.

Beware also that not all works at Project Gutenberg are in the public domain – they may also be distributed under license, which does not extend to Commons.


The illustrations from Beatrix Potter's books, for instance, were copyrighted in the UK until 70 years after the author's death, i.e., until the end of 2013. (Potter is also the painter of the illustrations.) As an example, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny was published in 1904 simultaneously in the U.S. and in the UK. Until 2014, the work was thus in the public domain in the U.S., but not in the UK, where it was regarded a British work. As British works, these images are also copyrighted in the rest of the European Union. Therefore, the illustrations could not be hosted at the Commons prior to the end of 2013.

Other examples are Alice B. Woodward's illustrations in Adventures in Toyland: Woodward was British, died 1951, and the book was originally published in the UK in 1897. Or Edmund Dulac's (d. 1953) illustrations in Stories from Hans Andersen, Hodder & Stoughton, London 1911. Or also most illustrations by Arthur Rackham (d. 1939).

Photographs from Gutenberg e-books may also pose problems. One example are British photographs that appeared in Newcomb, A; Blackford, K.M.H.: Analyzing Character, Blackford, New York, 1922. That book is in the public domain in the U.S. But the photo of John Masefield (Fig. 33), for instance, was done by E. O. Hoppe (d. 1972), a British photographer, and the photo of Henry Hartley Fowler (Fig. 63) was taken by Ernest Herbert Mills (d. 1942), another British photographer.

In some cases, such images can be hosted at the English-language Wikiprojects. The English Wikipedia operates only under U.S. law, and thus considers any work published before 1928 as being in the public domain. See Image:Henry_Fowler.jpg, Image:John Masefield head.jpg, or also en:Category:Edmund Dulac. The correct license tag for such images at the English Wikipedia is {{PD-US-expired-abroad}}.

As Potter's work is now in the public domain in the UK as well as the US, illustrations from The Tale of Benjamin Bunny are now available on the Commons at Category:The Tale of Benjamin Bunny.

When can works be hosted at the Commons?[edit]

When can such works be hosted at the Commons? That depends.

Before 1928[edit]

If published before 1928, the works will be in the public domain in both the U.S. and in their source country (as required by the Commons) once they go out of copyright in the non-U.S. source country. For Potter's works, that's at the end of 2013, Woodward's at the end of 2021 and Dulac's at the end of 2023.

1928 to 1977[edit]

If first published in or after 1928, it depends on the effect of the URAA copyright restoration for foreign works in the U.S. (But such works are not (or should not be) hosted at Gutenberg either, since they are copyrighted today in the U.S., too.) Works that were simultaneously published (i.e., within 30 days) in the foreign source country and in the U.S. are treated as both U.S. and foreign works. In the foreign source country, they are domestic works. In the U.S., they are U.S. works, and as such not subject to the URAA copyright restorations. But if the work was first published in the U.S. more than 30 days after the foreign publication, and its copyright was not renewed in the U.S. or the U.S. publication otherwise failed to comply with the U.S. requirements for copyrights, then the work was subject to these URAA restorations.

The URAA restored the U.S. copyrights on such works if they were still copyrighted in their foreign source country on the URAA date, which is January 1, 1996 for most countries. (List of URAA dates.) If the U.S. copyright on a foreign work was restored in the U.S., it was restored to the full U.S. term: 95 years since the original publication for works published 1928 - 1977. Such works may be uploaded only if both this U.S. 95-year term and the copyright term in the non-U.S. country (typically 70 years after the author's death) have expired.

1978 or later[edit]

For works created and published 1978 or later, the U.S. copyright term is also 70 years after the author's death. For works that were created before 1978 but first published 1978 to 2002, the U.S. has a special rule: such works are copyrighted in the U.S. to the later of the end of 2047 or 70 years after the author's death.


Be careful when uploading images from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as it often publishes images from other sources under fair use. In particular, photographs of wanted and missing persons are most likely not taken by the FBI because the subjects would need to be in the FBI's custody in order for the agency to photograph them. See deletion discussions (1, 2, 3 and 4) for examples. Some of those images may be in public domain for other reasons, but it is up to the uploader to verify this.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum[edit]

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) displays a lot of images from World War II. Their sourcing is inadequate; they very often state only who gave the photo to them, but not where the image originally came from and who the photographer was. On many images, they state "© USHMM".

Many of their images are evidently German photos taken by Germans during World War II. These photos must not be uploaded here (yet) even in cases where the USHMM claims the images were in the public domain as they are in general copyrighted in their source country, Germany, for 70 years after the photographer's death. (Or until 70 years after the original publication or the creation, if the author of the photo is truly unknown.) In the U.S. (and in the UK), such photos may indeed be in the public domain due to special legislation concerning confiscated enemy property, but this does not make the images copyright-free in Germany. You may, however, upload such images locally at the English Wikipedia, where their description should include the tag {{Do not move to Commons}}. This applies to all images at the USHMM where a German origin must be assumed (for instance, all images from Nazi calendars). Unfortunately, this means that nearly all photos of Nazi leaders are off-limits for the Commons.

Other images at the USHMM may be fine to upload here under the tag {{PD-USGov}} or one of its subtags. In particular, mugshots of the accused in the Nuremberg Trials and the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials may be assumed to have been taken by U.S. officials as part of their duties, and likewise for images from the courtrooms in those trials. Some such images were also published in the proceedings of these trials, the "blue" and "green series".

Images on which the USHMM claims copyright, either for themselves ("© USHMM") or for someone else ("© any") must not be uploaded at all. Even if the USHMM itself is unlikely to be the owner of the copyrights on all such images, it must be assumed that a "© USHMM" is a cautionary copyright notice indicating that someone still holds the copyright. Maybe the USHMM, or maybe someone else. Museums and archives frequently do this instead of placing individual copyright notices giving the true owner of the copyright.[edit]

The relevant licensing policy is at the website.[7] publishes content under "All rights reserved" according to their change of policy, with the exception of certain websites where 20 minutos keeps a CC license. This will be notified with the standard CC symbol. To upload to Commons a content from this site, you must double check it has been photographed by any of the websites where 20 Minutos keep the Creative Commons license. If not, the content can't be published to Commons.

Note: you could encounter older content CC-BY 2.1 Spain licensing, this is their old license. Keep the template on the page, and add the new one (the file will so be multi-licensed CC-BY 2.1 Spain and CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported): the previous licenses is irrevocable but the new license could be added. You may use the templates {{}} and {{}}. If in doubt, please ask a review at your favourite Commons help desk page.

Google Books[edit]

Works on Google Books may be treated as "out of copyright" by Google when they are out of copyright in the USA but still copyrighted in their source country. Works which are not under copyright in the USA but still protected by copyright in their source country are not accepted on Commons but may be acceptable on the English Wikipedia when combined with a tag such as {{PD-US-1923-abroad}}. This situation is similar to that of images at Project Gutenberg.

The copyright status of books and other items included in Google Books varies, even for items which are fully viewable and not restricted to snippet viewing. The current Google Books policy for users in the US is to treat items published after 1923 as being copyrighted with the exception of certain items such as US government works. Though it is not definitively mentioned, it is possible that a work that is considered out of copyright in the USA by Google Books could still be copyrighted in its country of origin. For reusing Google Books items that are in the public domain, Google requests (but does not require) that attribution to Google be preserved and cautions that the public domain status of a work may vary from one country to another.

When uploading an image from Google Books, a {{PD-old}} tag can be used for unenhanced scans of images free of copyright. For scans of images free of copyright where the scan may have been automatically or mechanically enhanced in a non-creative manner, the {{PD-scan}} tag may apply instead; see the When to use the PD-scan tag guideline for details.

Common cases[edit]

Celebrity shots[edit]

Freely licensed photos of celebrities (actors, football/soccer/rugby/tennis/... players and other athletes, pin-up girls, porn actors, and so on) are hard to find. Most such photos, even if claimed to be freely licensed, are actually copyrighted, and most copies of such photos that you can find on-line are actually copyright violations (or used on these web sites under a restrictive license or under a "fair use" claim).

For celebrity photos, there are several places where one may check whether the image is such a copyrighted photo:

If an image is listed at one of these sites, it's copyrighted and not freely licensed, and thus must not be uploaded at the Commons. Of course, Google's image search can also help.

Extreme negative example: Commons:Deletion requests/Image:Keira Knightley.jpg.

Sports images[edit]

See #Celebrity shots (above). Additionally, if one can identify the team, the team's website is usually a good place to look. Many have photo galleries. For U.S. sports related images, Getty/Zimbio and USA Today Sports are the top image banks.

  • Sportsfile and InPho are Irish sports photo agencies.
  • PPA is a UK sports photo agency.
  • VI-Images is a Dutch soccer photo agency.
  • Mexsport is a Mexican sports image agency. Search works, but can't be restricted by date range except by including the year in the search terms. Javascript popups on the thumbnails give author information, but cannot be linked to directly.
  • LAT Images and its parent company Motorsport Images for motorsport/auto racing images.

News images in general[edit]

See #Celebrity shots and #Sports images above. AFP and Reuters do not have image banks that could be searched by the general public. StarNews is large Korean news agency.

Fan sites[edit]

Fan sites very often use celebrity photos without caring much about copyright. A few fan sites may actually have their own photos, but that is the exception from the norm. For instance, many images found here are actually copyright violations taken from FilmMagic. Furthermore, many such fan sites are notoriously bad about maintaining credits for images. For instance, there is no photographer info at all for the images found here, not even any uploader info. At least some of these images are copyright violations. For instance, this image is clearly the same as image ID 2434227, ©RDiamond/WireImage, 23 Mar 2004.

Photographs from fan sites should therefore in general not be uploaded to the Commons. We need precise and correct photographer and location information, and precise and correct licensing information, and the license must be a free license. Because fan sites often do not own the copyright to the images they host, it is futile to ask the operators of fan sites for a permission.

Example: Commons:Deletion requests/Image:BrendaSong Katrina.jpg

Forums and blogs[edit]

Images from blogs should in general not be uploaded to the commons. In virtually all cases, blog authors do not own the copyrights on the images they show. Very often, they just hotlink to images hosted on other sites. An image from a blog is acceptable at the Commons only if

  • the image is not hot-linked from some other site, and
  • there's a clear statement by the blog author on their blog that they are the rightful owner of the copyright on the image and that they license it under a free license: either that they place the image into the public domain, or if they mention a specific license explicitly (such as {{Cc-by}}, {{Cc-by-sa}}, or {{GFDL}}) and that license is a free license, and
  • if there are no indications that the blog author's statement was incorrect. Such an indication would be for instance finding the image on other websites where content is typically not freely licensed (commercial image banks, newspapers, etc.), or also if the image is found elsewhere, and it has a higher resolution or was uploaded earlier at that other website. The Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive can help to find out when an image first appeared at a particular web site.

If you contact a blog author to obtain a permission, make sure the permission gets also sent to our VRT permission archive, and please consider using one of our e-mail templates.

Promotional photos[edit]

Promotional photos or press release photos are copyrighted. Despite common and misleadingly vague phrases such as "may be used freely", publicity photographs are generally provided with the understanding that they will be used in unmodified form for informational purposes in a context related to the subject of the photographs (such as an article about the product, company, or person depicted). Uses of such images are thus restricted to reporting about a particular event or to promoting a product or person. This is essentially a restricted, revocable license, and does not imply that anyone were free to use the work for any purpose (commercial or noncommercial) in modified or unmodified form. Such releases are not a free license.

Promotional photos may be uploaded to the Commons only if there is an explicit release under a free license. Preferably, that release is also sent to our permissions archive (VRT).[edit] is a site for marketers and promotional uploaders. Its default license is a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, but this is not adequately understood by their uploaders, who frequently post images for which they do not own the rights to release under the Creative Commons license. Consensus is to avoid using the site.

Professional photographers' images[edit]

Professional photographers' photos are very rarely freely licensed. But some professionals do license some of their work freely, and some even contribute themselves to the Commons by uploading their own work. This is great. But sometimes third parties upload professional photos of others at Commons. To avoid copyright violations, we can accept professional photographers' works only if:

  • The source, photographer, rights owner, and specific license are clearly indicated. That is actually true for all image uploads at the Commons.
  • An explicit release confirming the license has been sent by the photographer (or rights owner) or forwarded by a Commons contributor to our VRT permission archive. The e-mail address is

Sending a release to VRT is imperative if the images have already been published elsewhere in a book or online. In that case, the photographer/rights owner should also double-check: if they granted someone else an exclusive license to publish the image, they cannot themself freely relicense and upload the image at the Commons. An explicit release sent to VRT is also mandatory if the image is not uploaded by the photographer/rights owner themself. To request permission, please consider using one of our e-mail templates.

If you yourself are a professional photographer and upload your own photos, you also must send an explicit release for any of your images that already have been published elsewhere. We even strongly encourage sending an explicit release to VRT for your as yet unpublished own work of professional quality, as it helps prevent future confusions. An additional way of leaving a permanent record (but not a substitute for an VRT release!) is to put author and licensing information into the EXIF data of the image itself.

You may be actively contributing to the Commons now. But will you do so in ten years? In twenty years? In that time, your freely licensed image may have appeared in countless other places, and the provenance of the image and the fact that it was originally rightfully uploaded here under a free license may have gotten lost. (It shouldn't, but such things happen.) If in ten years some confusion arises whether one of your images was wrongly uploaded and was actually a copyright violation, an explicit VRT release stored in our archive goes a long way to resolving the matter quickly.

An example of a professional photographer's photo that would have been deleted here had we not succeeded in getting an explicit release is Image:5705 MNA12064 C Recoura.jpg.

Also, sending in a clear release from a verifiable e-mail address helps prevent other people pretending to be you. Take a look at this incident, where someone chose a nickname (Bpeele) suggesting they might be a professional, and was caught red-handed.

Images of copyrighted artwork[edit]

TBD. Examples: photos of paintings of recently deceased or still living painter. Again, we need an explicit release sent to VRT, otherwise not acceptable. Example: Commons:Deletion requests/Image:Peter-Lalor-by-Peter-Graham.jpg.

Sculptures etc.: unless the artwork is permanently installed in a public place in a country that does have "freedom of panorama", we again need an VRT release by the copyright owner of the artwork shown in the image. Example: Image:Babe Ruth statue.jpg (sculptor has agreed to GFDL for the image).

Medical images[edit]

See Commons:Patient images.

Particular cases[edit]

Lafayette Studio[edit]

In general, images made by the Lafayette Studio and archived at the V&A Museum are still under copyright, even though these are old photos and the photographers died more than 70 years ago. The problem with these images is that most of them were never published while they were originally under copyright. The negatives were "lost", then rediscovered in 1968, and then again forgotten until 1988. They were presumably first published in 2002 at the V&A web site, then at [1] (now inactive).

In the EU, there is a so-called publication right. If a hitherto unpublished work is published for the first time after the work's original copyright has expired, the publisher is granted an exclusive publication right on the work for 25 years from the publication date. This is the case with many of the Lafayette photos.

Lafayette Studio photographs may only be uploaded if it can reasonably be asserted that the image was published while it was originally under copyright (details of the earlier publication must be given on the image description page). Otherwise, it must be assumed that the V&A Museum indeed holds a publication right on these images.


American Institute in Taiwan[edit]


While the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) is the de facto embassy of United States in Taiwan, and their employees are mostly approved by the US federal government, it is, by de jure and inter alia, an U.S. Government-Sponsored Nonprofit, Private Corporation. Therefore AIT employees, unlike embassies and consulate generals of the United States in other countries, can't be considered as federal employees, and their copyright of works are not exempted by Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of US Code.

In general, using {{PD-USGov}} or its sister tags for files from AIT should be avoid when necessary, unless there are evidences that files are originally created from federal government departments within US territory, such as the Department of State.


  1. HubbleSite - Copyright Notice. Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). Retrieved on 2014-08-09.
  2. About APOD. NASA. Retrieved on 2019-04-13.
  3. Copyright FAQ. Project Gutenberg. Retrieved on 2019-04-13.
  4. C.24 I see some Project Gutenberg eBooks that are copyrighted. What's up with that?. Retrieved on 2019-04-13.
  5. The Project Gutenberg License. Project Gutenberg (2014-08-15). Retrieved on 2019-04-12.
  6. Copyright How-To. Project Gutenberg (2019-01-13). Retrieved on 2019-04-12.
  7. AVISO LEGAL Y CONDICIONES DE USO (in Spanish). Retrieved on 2019-04-13.