- The anecdote below is several years old. But the problems described in it are still present, and new ones have been added.
I recently came across a good photograph which I wanted to use in an article about a living person. It was copyright; I contacted the photographer, who replied "I am more than happy for you to use the picture as long as I'm acknowledged." So I referred her to the Special Upload page, and, for help in selecting a license, to the Acceptable licenses section of Commons:Licensing. She did not upload the photograph, and I never heard from her again.
This prompted me to look more carefully at the two pages I had referred her to. I have used Special:Upload myself, but had never been much bothered about what license to use, selecting one more or less at random; there seems little point in worrying about it when other editors can alter the license on one's uploads, as happened to me here. But looking carefully at the form, I realised what a nightmare it is.
The first puzzle is the panel of grey buttons. You might think these are for adding things to the edit box immediately above, or maybe below, the panel; but no, they add things to the fourth edit box above. You soon find that out by trying them, so it does little harm.
The real problem is the list box where you specify a license, as seen to the right. This has several obstacles for the user.
- The default option, conveniently pre-selected for the user, is one that will cause the upload to fail.
- The options are divided into three categories, the first two being "Allow non-commercial use, commercial use, and modifications so long as users credit author and share alike", and "Allow non-commercial use, commercial use, and modifications so long as users credit you". This seems to be drawing a distinction between "credit author" and "credit you". But for a user of this form, "you" should be the same as "author". I can't figure out what is going on there.
- The list of sensible options, excluding the traps for careless users, is
- Multi-license with CC-BY SA-3.0 and GFDL
- Multi-license with CC-BY SA-3.0 and older and GFDL
- Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0
- Creative Commons Attribution 3.0
- There is a ? button, which ought to explain what these options mean. Here are the options that it explains:
- Creative Commons Attribution
- Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike
- GNU Free Documentation License
- Free Art License
- Maybe the Commons:Licensing is more relevant? No, it lists these licenses, giving links:
- Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike licenses
- GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL)
- GNU General Public License (GPL) / GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL)
- Free Art License
- Open Data Commons
- So the list that the user is expected to choose from, and the two lists which purport to explain it, are all different.
A sensible user might give up at this point. But if she persists, and reads Commons:Licensing hoping for an explanation, she will find this cartoon whose point seems to be that it's not good enough to specify a license, even children know they ought to specify two licenses. An adult who is struggling to find out how to specify one license will find this unhelpful and patronising.
I am no longer surprised that the photographer in question gave up on her wish to let Wikipedia use her photograph.