Commons:Verifying permissions

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It is important for Commons to verify permissions related to licensing and other rights issues. All file description pages on Commons must indicate clearly under which license the materials were published, and must contain the information required by the license (author, etc.) and should also contain information sufficient for others to verify the license status even when not required by the license itself or by copyright laws. See Commons:L#License_information. Information should also be provided about any non-copyright restrictions that apply - for example, where the file is a photograph which shows an identifiable person, the subject's consent may be required as described at Commons:Photographs of identifiable people.

Evidence required[edit]

Commons:Project scope/Evidence

In all cases, the burden of proof lies on the uploader or other person arguing for the file to be retained on Commons to demonstrate that as far as can reasonably be determined:

  • the file satisfies Commons' licensing policy, in that the file (and any creative works the file is derived from)
    • have been published by the copyright holder under a compatible free license, or
    • are in the public domain in both the source country and in the United States[1]
  • that any required consent has been obtained.

Licensing[edit]

Commons:Licensing policy

All description pages on Commons must indicate clearly under which license the materials were published, and must contain the information required by the license (author, etc.) and should also contain information sufficient for others to verify the license status even when not required by the license itself or by copyright laws.

Specifically, the following information must be given on the description page, regardless if the license requires it or not:

  • The License that applies to the work. This should be done using a copyright tag. Note that the work can only be published by the copyright holder(s), and that the creator or uploader of the digital file is not always the copyright holder.
    • In some cases, a document (media file) may have multiple aspects that can and have to be licensed and documented. Every person that contributed a critical part of the work has rights to the results, and all have to make their contribution available under a free license — see derivative work. However, the distinctions are unclear and may differ from country to country. Typical examples include pictures of artworks and buildings - here, evidence of compatible licensing may be needed from the creator of the artwork or building, in addition to permission from the photographer, but this depends on context and on local laws. See Commons:Licensing policy#Scope of licensing.
  • The Source of the material. If the uploader is the author, this should be stated explicitly. (e.g. "Created by uploader", "Self-made", "Own work", etc.) Otherwise, please include a web link or a complete citation if possible.[2] Note: Things like "Transferred from Wikipedia" are generally not considered a valid source unless that is where it was originally published. The primary source should be provided.
    • Exceptionally, if a license tag can be shown to be valid without knowing the source of the digital file ({{PD-Art}} cases, for example, where the artwork details are known), the source field may be filled with {{unknown|source}}.[3]
  • The Author/Creator of the image or media file. For media that are considered to be in the public domain because the copyright has expired, the date of death of the author may also be crucial (see Commons:Licensing policy#Material in the public domain). A generic license template which implies that the uploader is the copyright holder (e.g. {{PD-self}}) is no substitution for this requirement. The only exceptions to this is if the author wishes to remain anonymous or in certain cases where the author is unknown but enough information exists to show the work is truly in the public domain (such as the date of creation/publication).

Of less importance, but should always be provided if possible:

  • The Description of the image or media file. What is it of? How was it created?
  • The Date and place of creation. For media that are considered to be in the public domain because the copyright has expired, the date of creation may be crucial (see the Commons:Licensing policy#Material in the public domain).

These points of the description can be done at best using the Information template. For usage of this template see Commons:First steps/Quality and description.

Other rights issues[edit]

Non-copyright restrictions may also apply. These should be documented appropriately. For example, where the file is a photograph which shows an identifiable person, the subject's consent may be required as described at Commons:Photographs of identifiable people.

Precautionary principle[edit]

Commons:Project scope/Precautionary principle

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, run counter to 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.

Verifying permissions[edit]

Of files uploaded from other websites[edit]

Commons:License review

Some files on Commons are uploaded from external websites. Some of these allow their users to select the license of their choice and to change it at any time, without any logs of the prior copyright status of the image - even though publication under a free license is usually irrevocable. This means there is no easy way to check whether an image currently marked as non-free was previously published under a free license. Wikimedia Commons therefore has a review process for verifying the copyright status of images uploaded from these external sites, which allows for the verification of freely licensed images by a bot or trusted user (admins and community approved users) and identification of images where the Commons license is different. See Commons:License review.

Of files uploaded from other sources[edit]

OTRS[edit]

It is a general practice on Wikimedia Commons that were there is insufficient proof of permissions, that permissions should be verified by the relevant party (usually the author) sending an e-mail to the OTRS team. Files that were uploaded before the OTRS system was created in 2006 may have emailed permission from the author documented by the Commons uploader on the file description page (see Commons:Grandfathered old files).

Rights for corporate/institutional media[edit]

You need a release certified by the person who is legally mandated to release the rights of the copyright holder. If the copyright holder is the organization, then you must find the person or board to whom the organization has officially delegated the power to take that type of legally binding decisions in the name of the organization. Once you found that person or board, and assuming they take the decision to release the rights, have the authorized representative send a confirmation by OTRS. The confirmation can be for a closed list of specified files, or it can be for all files uploaded by a specified account, if they officially mandate that account to upload the files they release.

Case studies[edit]

Sometimes things can go wrong.

  • Educational publishing company
    • Donated: A couple thousand non-digitized original illustrations, in a box.
    • Situation: Three years after the donation, their lawyers sent us a DMCA request to remove all the images. Luckily, we saved the original letter that accompanied the box. The letter included a statement that the donation was authorized by the President. We faxed the letter to their lawyers and they withdrew the DMCA request.
    • Outcome: Images kept
  • Association
    • Donated: All the images from their website (including advertizing materials featuring celebrities)
    • Situation: A community member contacted them asking for permission to license certain materials. The representative who answered the email stated (incorrectly) that everything on the website was free for use without restriction (i.e. public domain). The email was stored in OTRS and dozens of images from the website were then transferred to commons. Due to the high commercial value of some of the images (esp. featuring celebrities) someone else contacted them asking for clarification on the licensing terms. The 2nd representative talked to the legal department and determined that they didn't own most of the images in question.
    • Outcome: Images deleted
  • A magazine
    • Donated: Dozens of images of celebrities by posting to Flickr under a free license
    • Situation: A couple community members imported the images from Flickr and had them Flickr-reviewed. A year or so later a representative from the magazine asked to have them deleted. After much discussion it was established that the magazine didn't own the images, but only licensed them for publication. The copyrights were actually held by various photographers and agencies.
    • Outcome: Images deleted

References[edit]

  1. Files must be in the public domain in the United States because Commons is hosted in the United States and subject to US law. It is Commons' policy that files must additionally be in the public domain in the source country.
  2. Note that in the case of files found on the Web, this should not be the URL of the file, but the URL of the page containing the file, so that Commons editors can find background information when required.
  3. Commons:Village_pump#PD-Art_files_without_a_source

See also[edit]