Wikipedia:Image use policy

This page sets out the policies towards images—including format, content, and copyright issues—applicable on the English-language Wikipedia.

For information on media in general (images, sound files, etc.), see Wikipedia:Creation and usage of media files. For information on uploading, see Wikipedia:Uploading images, or go directly to Special:Upload.For other legal and copyright policies, see Wikipedia:List of policies#Legal.

Identifying usable images

Copyright and licensing

Before you upload an image, make sure that the image falls in one of the four categories:

  • Own work: You own all rights to the image, usually meaning that you created it entirely yourself. In case of a photograph or screenshot, you must also own the copyright for all copyright-protected items (e.g. statue or app) that appear in it (example, see below for details).
  • Freely licensed: You can prove that the copyright holder has released the image under an acceptable free license. Note that images that are licensed for use only on Wikipedia, or only for non-commercial or educational use, or under a license that doesn't allow for the creation of modified/derived works, are unsuitable (example, see below for details). When in doubt, do not upload copyrighted images. IMPORTANT NOTE: just because you did not have to pay money for the image does NOT mean that it is "free content" or acceptable for use on Wikipedia. The vast majority of images on the internet are copyrighted and cannot be used here – even if there is not a copyright notice, it is automatically copyrighted from the moment of creation.
  • Public domain: You can prove that the image is in the public domain, i.e. free of all copyrights (example, see below for details).
  • Fair use/non-free: You believe that the image meets the special conditions for non-free content, which exceptionally allow the use of unlicensed material, and you can provide an explicit non-free use rationale explaining why and how you intend to use it (example, see below for details).

User-created images

Wikipedia encourages users to upload their own images. All user-created images must be licensed under a free license, such as the GFDL and/or an acceptable Creative Commons license, or released into the public domain, which removes all copyright and licensing restrictions. When licensing an image, it is common practice to multi-license under both GFDL and a Creative Commons license.

Photographs

Such images can include photographs which you yourself took. The legal rights for images generally lie with the photographer, not the subject. Simply re-tracing a copyrighted image or diagram does not necessarily create a new copyright—copyright is generated only by instances of "creativity", and not by the amount of labor which went into the creation of the work.

Photographs of two-dimensional objects such as paintings in a museum often do not create a new copyright (see the section on the public domain below), as, within the United States, these are considered "slavish copies" without any creativity (see Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp.).

Photographs of three-dimensional objects almost always generate a new copyright, though others may continue to hold copyright in items depicted in such photographs. Whether the photo carries the copyright of the object photographed depends on numerous factors. For three-dimensional art and architecture such as buildings in public spaces, each country has unique freedom of panorama allowances that consider if such photographs are treated as derivative works of the object and thus copyrighted; Commons:Freedom of panorama outlines these clauses per jurisdiction. The shape and design of utilitarian objects, such as cars, furniture, and tools, are generally considered uncopyrightable, allowing such photos to be put into the public domain or freely licensed; however this does not extend to decorative features such as artistic elements on the object's surfaces like an artistic painting on a car's hood. If you have questions in respect to this, please ask the regulars at Wikipedia talk:Copyrights.

Images with you, friends or family prominently featured in a way that distracts from the image topic are not recommended for the main namespace. These images are considered self-promotion and the Wikipedia community has repeatedly reached consensus to delete such images. Using such images on user pages is allowed.

Some images may contain trademarked logos incidentally (or purposely if the image is either freely licensed, covered under freedom of panorama, or being too simple to be copyrightable). If this is the case, please tag it with {{trademark}}. Copyrighted elements may also be present in de minimis in photographs, where the copyrighted element is visible but not the focus of the photograph. In such cases, de minimis copyrighted elements do no affect the copyright of the photograph, such such a photo may still be licensed freely. For example, a photograph of Times Square can be considered free despite the numerous advertising signs in sight, as these ads are considered to be de minimis.

Diagrams and other images

User-made images can also include the recreation of graphs, charts, drawings, and maps directly from available data, as long as the user-created format does not mimic the exact style of the original work. Technical data is uncopyrightable, lacking creativity, but the presentation of data in a graph or chart can be copyrighted, so a user-made version should be sufficiently different in presentation from the original to remain free. In such cases, it is required to include verification of the source(s) of the original data when uploading such images. See, for example File:Painted Turtle Distribution alternate.svg, File:Conventional 18-wheeler truck diagram.svg.

Additionally, user-made images may be wholly original. In such cases, the image should be primarily serving an educational purpose, and not as a means of self-promotion of the user's artistic skills. The subject to be illustrated should be clearly identifyable in context, and should not be overly stylized. See for example File:Checker_shadow_illusion.svg.

When making user-made diagrams or similar images, try not to use color alone to convey information, as it is inaccessible in many situations.

Free licenses

There are several licenses that meet the definition of "free" here. Several Creative Commons (CC) license alternatives are available, as well as the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). Licenses which restrict the use of the media to non-profit or educational purposes only (i.e. non-commercial use only), or which are given permission to appear only on Wikipedia, are not free enough for Wikipedia's usages or goals and will be deleted.[1] In short, Wikipedia media (with the exception of "fair use" media—see below) should be as "free" as Wikipedia's content—both to keep Wikipedia's own legal status secure and to allow as much re-use of Wikipedia content as possible. For example, Wikipedia can accept images under CC-BY-SA (Attribution-Share Alike) as a free license, but not CC-BY-SA-NC (Attribution-Share Alike-Non-Commercial). A list of possible licenses which are considered "free enough" for Wikipedia are listed at Wikipedia:Image copyright tags.

A list of websites that offer free images can be found at Wikipedia:Free image resources. If the place where you found the image does not declare a pre-existing free license, yet allows use of its content under terms commonly instituted by them, it must explicitly declare that commercial use and modification is permitted. If it does not so declare, you must assume that you may not use the image unless you obtain verification or permission from the copyright holder.

Public domain

Public domain images are not copyrighted, and copyright law does not restrict their use in any way. Wikipedia pages, including non-English language pages, are hosted on a server in the United States, so U.S. law governs whether a Wikipedia image is in the public domain.

Images may be placed into the public domain by their creators, or they may be public domain because they are ineligible for copyright or because their copyright expired. In the U.S. as of January 1, 2019, copyright has expired on any work published anywhere before January 1, 1924. Although U.S. copyrights have also expired for many works published since then, the rules for determining expiration are complex; see When does copyright expire? for details.

In the U.S., reproductions of two-dimensional public domain artwork do not generate a new copyright; see Bridgeman v. Corel. Scans of images alone do not generate new copyrights—they merely inherit the copyright status of the image they are reproducing. For example, a straight-on photograph of the Mona Lisa is ineligible for copyright.

Works must usually entail a minimum amount of creativity to be copyrightable. Those that fail to meet this threshold of originality and are therefore not copyrightable, fall instead into the public domain. For instance, images that consist only of simple typeface are generally public domain (though they may yet be trademarked). Editors must be aware of the origin country of the image, as the threshold of originality may vary significantly among jurisdictions. The U.S. has a high threshold, whereas the UK has a lower one, following a "sweat of the brow" standard. In such cases, an image that is copyrighted in its home country, but ineligible for copyright in the U.S. may be uploaded locally on the English Wikipedia as a public domain image using a tag such as {{PD-USonly}}. This will help to prevent copying to Commons, where media must be free both in the source country and the U.S.

If you strongly suspect an image is a copyright infringement, you should list it for deletion; see Deleting images below. For example, an image with no copyright status on its file page and published elsewhere with a copyright notice should be listed for deletion.

Fair-use/Non-free images

Some usage of copyrighted materials without permission of the copyright holder can qualify as fair use in the United States (but not in most other jurisdictions). However, since Wikipedia aims to be a free-content encyclopedia, not every image that qualifies as fair-use may be appropriate. As required by the Wikimedia Foundation to meet the goals of a free content work, the English Wikipedia has adopted a purposely-stricter standard for fair-use of copyrighted images and other works, called the non-free content criteria. In general, if the image cannot be reused (including with redistribution and modification rights) by any entity, including commercial users, then the image must be considered non-free.

Use of copyrighted material under an invalid claim of a non-free rationale constitutes copyright infringement and is illegal. Media which are mistagged as non-free or are a flagrant copyright violation can be removed on sight. Editors who notice correctable errors in non-free tags or rationales are urged to fix them, if able. Voluntarily fixing such problems is helpful to Wikipedia, though many errors may be impossible to fix, such as the original source or copyright owner. A user may be banned for repeatedly uploading material which is neither free nor follows the required for non-free images.

See also:

Watermarks, credits, titles, and distortions

Free images should not be watermarked, distorted, have any credits or titles in the image itself or anything else that would hamper their free use, unless, of course, the image is intended to demonstrate watermarking, distortion, titles, etc. and is used in the related article. Exceptions may be made for historic images when the credit or title forms an integral part of the composition. Historical images in the public domain sometimes are out of focus, display dye dropouts, dust or scratches or evidence of the printing process used. All photo credits should be in a summary on the image description page. These may be tagged {{Watermark}}.

Privacy rights

When taking pictures of identifiable people, the subject's consent is not usually needed for straightforward photographs taken in a public place, but is often needed for photographs taken in a private place. This type of consent is sometimes called a model release, and it is unrelated to the photographer's copyright.

Because of the expectation of privacy, the consent of the subject should normally be sought before uploading any photograph featuring an identifiable individual that has been taken in a private place, whether or not the subject is named. Even in countries that have no law on privacy, there is a moral obligation on us not to upload photographs which infringe the subject's reasonable expectation of privacy. If you upload a self-portrait, your consent is presumed.

Bear in mind that EXIF metadata in uploaded images – such as time data and the make, model, and location of the device capturing the image – is publicly visible.

What are public and private places?

For the purposes of this policy, a private place is a place where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy, while a public place is a place where people have no such expectation.

Legal issues

There are a variety of non-copyright laws which may affect the photographer, the uploader and/or the Wikimedia Foundation, including defamation, personality rights, trademark and privacy rights. Because of this, certain uses of such images may still be prohibited without the agreement of the depicted person, or the holder of other non-copyright related rights.

Defamation may arise not only from the content of the image itself but also from its description and title when uploaded. An image of an identified unknown individual may be unexceptional on its own, but with the title "A drug-dealer" there may be potential defamation issues in at least some countries.

Another factor to consider is the established reliability and past respect for copyright of the source of publication of a photo. Some tabloid newspapers and magazines have had legal issues with respect of original copyright for sake of getting their stories out, and images from such sources may be problematic to use on Wikipedia for both legal and moral reasons.

There are a limited number of types of images that are illegal as they are not considered protected speech within the United States' First Amendment, such as child pornography. These images are unacceptable under the Wikimedia Foundation's terms of use, and may never be uploaded to any Wikimedia server. Users who attempt to upload such images will likely be banned from use of any Wikimedia Foundation server.

Moral issues

Not all legally obtained photographs of individuals are acceptable. The following types of image are normally considered unacceptable:

  • Those that unfairly demean or ridicule the subject
  • Those that are unfairly obtained
  • Those that unreasonably intrude into the subject's private or family life

These are categories which are matters of common decency rather than law. They find a reflection in the wording of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation".

The extent to which a particular photograph is "unfair" or "intrusive" will depend on the nature of the shot, whether it was taken in a public or private place, the title/description, and on the type of subject (e.g. a celebrity, a non-famous person, etc.). This is all a matter of degree. A secretly taken shot of a celebrity caught in an embarrassing position in a public place may well be acceptable to the community; a similar shot of an anonymous member of the public may or may not be acceptable, depending on what is shown and how it is presented.

Examples

Normally do not require consent of the subject
  • A street performer during a performance
  • An anonymous person in a public place, especially as part of a larger crowd
  • Partygoers at a large private party where photography is expected
  • A basketball player competing in a match open to the public
Normally do require consent
  • An identifiable child, titled "An obese girl" (potentially derogatory or demeaning)
  • Partygoers at a private party where photography is not permitted or is not expected (unreasonable intrusion without consent)
  • Nudes, underwear or swimsuit shots, unless obviously taken in a public place (unreasonable intrusion without consent)
  • Long-lens images, taken from afar, of an individual in a private place (unreasonable intrusion)

Alternatives

If an image requires consent, but consent cannot be obtained, there are several options. For example, identifying features can be blurred, pixelated, or obscured so that the person is no longer identifiable. Also, the picture may be re-taken at a different angle, perhaps so that the subject's face is not visible.