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Screenshots are derivative works and as such subject to the copyright of the displayed content, may it be a video, television program, or a computer program.[1] Thus, screenshots must not be uploaded to Wikimedia Commons unless all content in them is under a free license or in the public domain.

A screenshot may be published under a free license only if all the content shown has a free license. If all content is in the public domain, then the screenshot is too, because there is no creative work in creating a screenshot. If a screenshot contains icons or content of non-free sites, it is not free[2] but an exception is to be made where the content is de minimis.

Thus, if the copyright holder(s) (usually the programmers, software company, producer, or broadcaster) do not agree to publish the program under a free license, and they do not explicitly license the screenshot (or all screenshots) under a free license, the screenshot is not free. This may not be true in all jurisdictions, but holds at least in the U.S. (due to Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp.), in Germany (see Bildrechte in German Wikipedia), and probably all other countries of the European Union.

Audiovisual works[edit]

Screenshots from "Elephants Dream", and even the entire film itself can be uploaded here because it is a freely licensed work.

Screenshots from audiovisual works (such as films, television broadcasts, video clips) are often the property of its producer or creator and they may not be uploaded to Commons unless the work itself is in the public domain or released under a free license or unless the copyright holder is willing to release the screenshot under a free license.


Screenshot of the Free Software program GNU IceCat licensed under the Mozilla tri-license, running on Xfce with window titlebar theme licensed under GNU GPL, and showing public domain LibriVox web page. The Creative Commons logo is trademarked but is thought to be ineligible for copyright at all.

In most cases, screenshots of computer software (which include programs, video games, operating systems) cannot be uploaded to Commons unless the software is released under a free software license that complies with the Commons licensing policy (software released under licenses that meet the OSI definition of "Open Source" will meet the requirements), or there is formal permission.

Note that free programs generally are not in the public domain. You must still conform to the licence, which usually means at least that you have to publish your derivative work under the same licence and correctly attribute the original authors.

Note, this does not prevent you from uploading works created using non-free software, it is not subject to the copyright of the software itself in most cases. This is especially true for fonts, which in some cases are considered programs.

To create a free screenshot[edit]

  1. Use a free program with a completely free skin. (A KDE Program using Crystal images is an example.) If you are using an operating system with a non-free theme (like Windows), make sure it fits something like {{PD-ineligible}}, e.g. has only flat-colored backgrounds and buttons and no complex icons. See Commons:Threshold of originality for examples of images, or image modifications or other actions considered trivial or non-trivial in different countries.
  2. Cut away all possibly non-free elements. Only show the relevant content.
  3. The content of the screenshot must be free too. Make sure the screenshot does not contain unfree text or images.
  4. If the screenshot contains photos or other works (e.g. a shot of Wikipedia's main page), be sure to mention and follow the terms of each license.
  5. Save the file as a PNG.

Please tag screenshots that show only free content with {{free screenshot}} in addition to an appropriate copyright tag. You must also indicate the free software license under which the program has been published.


Microsoft products[edit]

Microsoft's guidelines do not allow derivative works,[3] so screenshots of Microsoft products would go against Commons policy. The Windows operating system itself is a Microsoft product, and the precise appearance of standard operating system widgets in some themes may or may not be copyrightable, as they are purely geometric.

Software as art[edit]

Screenshot of a demo program that was released under CC-BY-SA by its authors

In some cases the program itself is a work of art—an example would be a demo (such as one that is illustrated with the panda). Screenshots of such works are free if and only if the program itself is free. An exception to the rule is if the copyright holder of a non-free program wishes to freely license a screenshot of it. To do this, the user must have the rights to all visible non-free objects—the interface, the graphics, the text, everything. Before doing this, please consider all that it entails. Any design elements or logos appearing in the screenshot will irrevocably be placed under a free license. Also, be sure to make it explicitly clear that the software itself is not free.

Web browsers[edit]

Common proprietary web browsers include Microsoft Internet Explorer, Safari and Opera. Screenshots of these are never permissible on Commons if they show the browser's user interface.

freely licensed GNU IceCat icon

Common free web browsers include Mozilla Firefox, Chromium, and Konqueror. Screenshots of these browsers displaying free content should be permissible, so long as they do not include copyrightable elements of a proprietary operating system, other proprietary software or non-free user interface customizations. The Firefox icon before Firefox 3.6 is non-free, so it must not be included in screenshots (internal logo files in Firefox 3.6 and later are under the Mozilla tri-license, although trademarked, so are acceptable where hard to avoid). GNU IceCat, a rebranded Firefox-based browser, is unencumbered by this problem, but may show small non-free logos under certain configurations, which should be replaced.

Screenshots of web browsers displaying web sites, images, videos or other copyrighted content which is not under a free license are not permissible.

Although Wikipedia is often a component of free screenshots, there have been issues.

  • Most Wikimedia logos were previously subject to a proprietary license, but this changed when they were freed, in 2014.
  • If the screenshot contains images or icons with free licenses with requirements, you have to honor them, such as by listing them and their authors and licenses, which may be other than Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike.


Although much of Android is open source software, this does not apply to Google software or their icons. Additionally, many smartphones do not include the "stock" Android user experience, but one specific to the company (such as Samsung Experience (previously TouchWiz)). These aspects are copyrighted by the maker of the phone, and screenshots showing portions of these interfaces (such as home screens) are not free.

Screenshots of "stock" Android can be tagged with {{Apache}} with copyright credit to "The Android Open Source Project".

See also[edit]


  1. Briefing Paper on Copyright in Screenshots (JISC Legal ARCHIVED (meaning not current) report from 2004) - memento on
  2. debian-legal: Re: Wikipedia and Commons screenshots of GNU programs
  3. Use of Microsoft Copyrighted Content