Commons:Project scope/Precautionary principle/Explanation

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This essay is intended to expand on the precautionary principle ("that where there is significant doubt about the freedom of a particular file it should be deleted"), in particular, the issue of what does and does not constitute "significant doubt".

Precautionary principle[edit]

The precautionary principle is considered an official policy on Wikimedia Commons. It has wide acceptance among editors and is considered a standard that all users should follow.

Commons' users aim to build and maintain in good faith a repository of media files which to the best of our knowledge are free or freely-licensed. The precautionary principle is that where there is significant doubt about the freedom of a particular file, it should be deleted.

Also, arguments that amount to "we can get away with it", such as the following, are against Commons' aims:

  1. "The copyright owner will not bother to sue or cannot afford to."
  2. "The copyright owner will never find out."
  3. "The copyright owner will not mind/should be pleased that we have disseminated his/her work."
  4. "Nobody knows who the copyright owner is, so it really doesn’t matter."
  5. "The file is obviously common property. It can be found all over the internet and nobody has complained."

"We can get away with it"[edit]

The precautionary principle specifically denies arguments based on "getting away with" possible copyright infringement.

Significant doubt[edit]

Many questions about this policy center on the meaning of "significant doubt". While it's obviously impossible to provide an exact measure, it's been suggested that a comparison to an Anglo-Saxon legal framework might put "significant doubt" higher than the civil court standard of the balance of evidence, but well below the criminal court standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt".

Burden of proof[edit]

The burden of proof is on the uploader or on users who seek to retain a work, to show that there is no significant doubt as to the freedom of the work. The official policy, Commons:Project scope/Evidence, which says, "In all cases the uploader must provide appropriate evidence to demonstrate either that the file is in the public domain or that the copyright owner has released it under a suitable licence." This is reiterated later in the same policy: "In all cases, the burden of proof lies on the uploader or other person arguing for the file to be retained to demonstrate that as far as can reasonably be determined".