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✓[OK] = Acceptable
✘ = Not acceptable
✘ = Discouraged

A watermark is content embedded in a creative work that is not part of the creative work itself and is used by the creator and/or copyright holder of the work to assert authorship and/or copyright and to support the identification of unauthorised copying of their work.

For the purposes of Wikimedia Commons, watermarks are classified as

  1. ✘ Destructive watermarks, which significantly obstruct use of a work.
  2. ✘ Promotional watermarks, which go significantly beyond asserting authorship/copyright, for example, to promote a website.
  3. ? Visible watermarks, which are neither destructive nor promotional.
  4. ✓[OK] Invisible watermarks, which are forms of digital watermarking that do not affect use.

Legal issues with the removal of watermarks[edit]

Opinion from the Wikimedia Foundation legal staff indicates that the removal of watermarks may place the remover at legal risk given the provisions of the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act regarding "copyright management information" (such as the title, author's name, copyright notice, etc.). The DMCA makes it illegal to "intentionally remove or alter any copyright management information [...] having reasonable grounds to know, that it will induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal an infringement of any right under this title", without permission from the copyright holder. Commons is subject to the DMCA because it is hosted in the United States. It is unclear whether these provisions of the DMCA apply only to the information itself, or the information and how it is presented. This conflicts with Creative Commons licenses where they specify the display of attribution can be "implemented in any reasonable manner". However, there are competing elements of these licenses that could be construed as to restrict the removal of copyright notices. According to WMF, due to this lack of clarity, individual editors who are considering removing watermarks "should seriously consider the legal issues involved and consider consulting an attorney before doing so" (see Wikilegal/Removal of watermarks from Commons images).

In 2014, a 3rd-level court in Germany ruled that the removal of a watermark, which contained copyright information, violated the provision "You must keep intact all copyright notices for the Work" of the CC license (in this case CC BY-NC-2.0).

Acceptable watermarks[edit]

  • ✓[OK] Invisible watermarks are acceptable and should not be intentionally removed.

Invisible watermarks and Exif data are the two main ways contributors can use to embed identifying information in media uploaded to Commons. See this page for more details.

Unacceptable watermarks[edit]

  • ✘ Destructive watermarks, which significantly obstruct use of a work.
  • ✘ Promotional watermarks, which go significantly beyond asserting authorship/copyright, for example, to promote a website.

Neither of these forms of watermarking is acceptable for uploads to Commons, and continuing to upload media with these watermarks after warnings may be treated as a form of spam, which may lead to contributors being blocked from editing.

Images with unacceptable and discouraged watermarks may be tagged with {{Watermark}}. If an unacceptable watermark is removed, the information it contains shall be transferred to the file description page.[1]

Discouraged watermarks[edit]

  • ? Visible watermarks

Visible watermarks are discouraged, as they detract from the usability of a work. Authors are encouraged to use the guide at Commons:Enforcing license terms#Tools for identifying your work. However, uploading of files with visible but relatively unobtrusive watermarks is merely discouraged, not prohibited.

What are not watermarks[edit]

  • Artists' signatures on paintings, captions and signatures on historic plates, etc. are not considered watermarks. In some cases it may be useful to provide a version of the file with such details cropped out or otherwise removed, but this should be uploaded as a separate file. To avoid deletion, one may append with {{signature}}.
  • Timestamps added by digital cameras as visible details within a file are not considered watermarks. They are, however, discouraged – such details are often also added to metadata and therefore redundant, and in any case detract from the quality of the file – and their removal can be requested by tagging them with {{watermark|timestamp}}.

See also[edit]


  1. Do licenses like CC BY, GFDL and FAL compel Wikimedia Commons to retain watermarks?
    See Wikimedia Foundation’s preliminary perspective on this legal issue: Wikilegal/Removal of watermarks from Commons images. See Commons:Deletion requests/Template:CC-Dont-Remove Watermark too.