Non-free content that meets all of the policy criteria above but does not fall under one of the designated categories below may or may not be allowable, depending on what the material is and how it is used. These examples are not meant to be exhaustive, and depending on the situation there are exceptions. When in doubt as to whether non-free content may be included, please make a judgement based on the spirit of the policy, not necessarily the exact wording. If you want help in assessing whether a use is acceptable, please ask at Wikipedia:Requested copyright examinations or Wikipedia:Media copyright questions. Wikipedia talk:Copyrights, Wikipedia talk:Copyright problems, and Wikipedia talk:Non-free content may also be useful. These are places where those who understand copyright law and Wikipedia policy are likely to be watching.
Brief quotations of copyrighted text may be used to illustrate a point, establish context, or attribute a point of view or idea. Copyrighted text must be attributed and used verbatim. Any alterations must be clearly marked, i.e. [brackets] for added text, an ellipsis (...) for removed text, and emphasis noted after the quotation as "(emphasis added)" or "(emphasis in the original)". Extensive quotation of copyrighted text is prohibited.
- Music clips may be used to identify a musical style, group, or iconic piece of music when accompanied by appropriate sourced commentary and attributed to the copyright holder. Samples should generally not be longer than 30 seconds or 10% of the length of the original song, whichever is shorter (see Wikipedia:Music samples).
- Spoken word clips of historical events, such as speeches by public figures, may be used when accompanied by appropriate sourced commentary and attributed to the speaker/author.
- For further information, see Wikipedia:Music samples.
Some copyrighted images may be used on Wikipedia, providing they meet both the legal criteria for fair use, and Wikipedia's own guidelines for non-free content. Copyrighted images that reasonably can be replaced by free/libre images are not suitable for Wikipedia.
- Cover art: Cover art from various items, for identification only in the context of critical commentary of that item (not for identification without critical commentary).
- Team and corporate logos: For identification. See Wikipedia:Logos.
- Stamps and currency: For identification of the stamp or currency, not its subject.
- Other promotional material: Posters, programs, billboards, ads. For critical commentary.
- Film and television screen shots: For critical commentary and discussion of the cinema and television.
- Screenshots from software products: For critical commentary.
- Paintings and other works of visual art: For critical commentary, including images illustrative of a particular technique or school.
- Images with iconic status or historical importance: As subjects of commentary.
- Unattributed pieces of text from a copyrighted source.
- Excessively long copyrighted excerpts.
- An image of a newspaper article or other publication that contains long legible sections of copyrighted text. If the text is important as a source or quotation, it should be worked into the article in text form with the article cited as a source.
- All copyrighted text poses legal problems when making spoken word audio files from Wikipedia articles, and should be avoided in such files, because the resulting audio file cannot be licensed under the GFDL.
- Excessive quantities of short audio clips in a single article. A smaller number may be appropriate if each is accompanied by commentary in the accompanying text.
- A long audio excerpt, to illustrate a stylistic feature of a contemporary band; see above for acceptable limits.
- A short video excerpt from a contemporary film, without sourced commentary in the accompanying text.
The use of non-free media (whether images, audio or video clips) in galleries, discographies, and navigational and user-interface elements generally fails the test for significance (criterion #8). Given below are further examples of images that, if non-free, may fail to satisfy the policy:
- An album cover as part of a discography, as per the above.
- A rose, cropped from a record album, to illustrate an article on roses.
- A map, scanned or traced from an atlas, to illustrate the region depicted. Use may be appropriate if the map itself is a proper subject for commentary in the article: for example, a controversial map of a disputed territory, if the controversy is discussed in the article.
- An image whose subject happens to be a war, to illustrate an article on the war, unless the image has achieved iconic status as a representation of the war or is historically important in the context of the war (e.g. Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima).
- An image to illustrate an article passage about the image, if the image has its own article (in which case the image may be described and a link provided to the article about the image)
- A photo from a press agency (e.g. AP), unless the photo itself is the subject of sourced commentary in the article. This applies mostly to contemporary press photos and not necessarily to historical archives of press photos (some of which are later donated into the public domain: example).
- A Barry Bonds baseball card, to illustrate the article on Barry Bonds. The use may be appropriate to illustrate a passage on the card itself; see the Billy Ripken article.
- A magazine cover, to illustrate the article on the person whose photograph is on the cover. However, if the cover itself is the subject of sourced discussion in the article, and if the cover does not have its own article, it may be appropriate.
- An image with an unknown or unverifiable origin. This does not apply to historical images, where sometimes only secondary sources are known, as the ultimate source of some historical images may never be known with certainty.
- A chart or graph. These can almost always be recreated from the original data.
- A commercial photograph reproduced in high enough resolution to potentially undermine the ability of the copyright holder to profit from the work.
- Pictures of people still alive, groups still active, and buildings still standing; provided that taking a new free picture as a replacement (which is almost always considered possible) would serve the same encyclopedic purpose as the non-free image. However, for some retired or disbanded groups, or retired individuals whose notability rests in large part on their earlier visual appearance, a new picture may not serve the same purpose as an image taken during their career.
Non-free image use in list articles
In articles and sections of articles that consist of several small sections of information for a series of elements common to a topic, such as a list of characters in a fictional work, non-free images should be used judiciously to present the key visual aspects of the topic. It is inadvisable to provide a non-free image for each entry in such an article or section. The following considerations should be made to reduce the number of new non-free images associated with such lists:
- Images that show multiple elements of the list at the same time, such as a cast shot or montage for a television show, are strongly preferred over individual images. Such an image should be provided by the copyright holder or scanned/captured directly from the copyrighted work, instead of being created from multiple non-free images by the user directly.
- Images which are discussed in detail in the context of the article body, such as a discussion of the art style, or a contentious element of the work, are preferable to those that simply provide visual identification of the elements.
- An image that provides a representative visual reference for other elements in the article, such as what an alien race may look like on a science-fiction television show, is preferred over providing a picture of each element discussed.
- If another non-free image of an element of an article is used elsewhere within Wikipedia, either referring to its other use or, more preferably, repeating its use on the list are strongly preferred over including a new, separate, non-free image. If duplicating the use of a non-free image, please be aware that a separate non-free fair use rationale must be supplied for the image for the new use.
- For media that involves live actors, do not supply an image of the actor in their role if an appropriate free image of the actor exists on their page (as per WP:BLP and above), if there is little difference in appearance between actor and role. However, if there is a significant difference due to age or makeup and costuming, then, when needed, it may be appropriate to include a non-free image to demonstrate the role of the actor in that media.
- Barring the above, images that are used only to visually identify elements in the article should be used as sparingly as possible. Consider restricting such uses to major characters and elements or those that cannot be described easily in text, as agreed to by editor consensus.
- In general, using zero, one, or two images of major characters is likely acceptable, while using more than five is likely unacceptable. Editors must also recall that every image must satisfy all of the non-free content criteria and no images that fail any of these criteria should be used.[disputed ]
Implementation and enforcement
Non-free images need a copyright tag, source information, and use rationales. We have various copyright tag templates. Be sure to describe the source from which the image was obtained. A separate use rationale must be written each time the image is used in an article, specific to that particular use. All of these go in the image description page at the time the image file is uploaded.
Explanation of policy and guidelines
"Free" content is defined as that which meets the "Definition of Free Cultural Works".
Material that is not free is permitted only if it meets the restrictions of this policy. This has been explicitly declared since May 2005. The stated mission of the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, is "to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally." These concerns are embodied in the above requirements that all non-free content must meet, and our policy of deleting non-compliant content. Being generous to the world sometimes means being hard on ourselves. Please understand that these rules are not arbitrary; they are central to our mission.
Wikipedia distributes content throughout the world with no restrictions on how people use it. Legally, we could use any copyrighted material for ourselves that is either licensed to us by the owner, or that fits the definition of "fair use" under US copyright law. However, we favor content that everyone can use, not just Wikipedia. We want them to be free to use, redistribute, or modify the content, for any purpose, without significant legal restrictions, particularly those of copyright.
To honor its mission, Wikipedia accepts incoming copyright licenses only if they meet Wikipedia's definition of "free" use. This is a higher standard than we would need just for our own use. But our ability to use a work does not guarantee that others may use it. We reject licenses that limit use exclusively to Wikipedia or for non-commercial purposes. Commercial use is a complex issue that goes well beyond a company's for-profit status, another reason to be careful. In fact, we reject any licenses with significant limitations. That is not free enough.
Similarly, Wikipedia imposes higher fair-use standards on itself than US copyright law. There are some works, such as important photographs, significant modern artworks, that we cannot realistically expect to be released under a free content license, but that are hard to discuss in an educational context without including examples from the media itself. In other cases such as cover art / product packaging, a non-free work is needed to discuss a related subject. This policy allows such material to be used if it meet U.S. legal tests for fair use, but we impose additional limitations. Just because something is "fair use" on a Wikipedia article in the US does not mean it is fair use in another context. A downstream user's commercial use of content in a commercial setting may be illegal even if our noncommercial use is legal. Use in another country with different fair use and fair dealing laws may be illegal as well. That would fail our mission. We therefore limit the media content we offer, to make sure what we do offer has the widest possible legal distribution.
We do not want downstream re-users to rely solely on our assurances. They are liable for their own actions, no matter what we tell them. We therefore show them and let them make their own decision. To that end we require a copyright tag describing the nature of a copyrighted work, sourcing material saying exactly where any non-free content comes from, and a detailed non-free media rationale for every use of copyrighted content in every article, justifying why use in that article is permitted.
A further goal of minimizing licensed and fair-use material is to encourage creation of original new content, rather than relying on borrowed content that comes with restrictions.
Under United States copyright law, creative works published in the United States prior to 1923 are in the public domain. Some creative works published in the United States between 1923 and 1963 are still copyrighted. It is illegal (among other things) to reproduce or make derivative works of copyrighted works without legal justification. Unless a thorough search is conducted to determine that a copyright has expired or not been renewed, it should be regarded as copyrighted.
Certain works have no copyright at all. Most material published in the United States before 1923, works published before 1978 without a copyright notice, with an expired copyright term, or produced by the US federal government, among others, is public domain, i.e. has no copyright. Some such as photos and scans of 2-dimensional objects and other "slavish reproductions", short text phrases, typographic logos, and product designs, do not have a sufficient degree of creativity apart from their functional aspects to have a copyright.
Copyright law only governs creative expressions that are "fixed in a tangible medium of expression," not the ideas or information behind the works. It is legal to reformulate ideas based on written texts, or create images or recordings inspired by others, as long as there is no copying (see plagiarism for how much reformulation is necessary).
If material does have a copyright, it may only be copied or distributed under a license (permission) from the copyright holder, or under the doctrine of fair use. If there is a valid license, the user must stay within the scope of the license (which may include limitations on amount of use, geographic or business territory, time period, nature of use, etc.). Fair use, by contrast, is a limited right to use copyrighted works without permission, highly dependent on the specific circumstances of the work and the use in question. It is a doctrine incorporated as a clause in United States copyright code, arising out of a concern that strict application of copyright law would limit criticism, commentary, scholarship, and other important free speech rights. A comparable concept of fair dealing exists in some other countries, where standards may vary.
Any materials that were published in other nations, and which are copyrighted under the laws of that nation, should be considered to be copyrighted in the United States under the URAA.
Applied to Wikipedia
Never use materials that infringe the copyrights of others. This could create legal liabilities and seriously hurt the project.
Uploading an image file, audio or video file, or text quotation into Wikipedia, and adding that file to a project page, both raise copyright concerns. Editors who do either must make sure their contributions are legal. If there is any doubt as to legality, ask others for help, try to find a free equivalent, or use your own words to make the same point. Also, consider asking the copyright holder to release the work under an appropriate GFDL license. See Wikipedia:Boilerplate request for permission for a sample form letter.
If a work has no copyright or is licensed to Wikipedia under an acceptable "free" license, it is a free work and may be used on Wikipedia without copyright concerns. See public domain, copyright, and Cornell University's guide to copyright terms for discussion of works that are not covered by copyright. Also see free license regarding free licenses and Wikipedia:Image copyright tags/Free licenses for a list of copyright tags for these works. Restricted licenses to these works offer some legal rights, but Wikipedia ignores them because they are not free enough for its purposes. Instead, works covered by inadequate licenses are treated the same on Wikipedia as works with no licenses at all.
If a work is not free, Wikipedia requires that it comply with Wikipedia's non-free use policy. As explained above, this policy is more restrictive than US law requires. Logically, material that satisfies the policy should also satisfy legal requirements as well. However, to be more certain of avoiding legal liability, and to understand the meaning of Wikipedia policy, editors should consider the legal rules as well. See fair use for further information, and the Stanford University summary of relevant cases, on the subject of fair use.
Non-free material is used only if, in addition to other restrictions, we firmly believe that the use would be deemed fair use if we were taken to court. The Wikimedia Foundation reserves the right to remove unfree copyrighted content at any time. Note that citation sources and external links raise other copyright concerns that are addressed in other policies.
Other Wikimedia projects
This policy is specific to the English language Wikipedia. Other Wikimedia projects, including Wikipedias in other languages, may have different policies on non-free content. Some of them do not allow any fair use. A list of projects and their policies on fair use can be read at Wikimedia Meta-wiki. Specific information about different language versions of Wikipedia and their rules on fair use can also been seen at Meta.
- Wikipedia:Copyright FAQ
- Wikipedia:Copyright problems
- Wikipedia:WikiProject Fair use
- Fair use and comics
- Wikipedia:Basic copyright issues — An essay explaining the rationale behind the fair use policy
- Wikipedia:Removal of fair use images — An essay regarding the removal of images from user and template spaces
- Wikipedia:Deletion of all fair use images of living people
- Wikipedia:Non-free content criteria exemptions
- Wikipedia:Example requests for permission: how to ask a rights holder for free use of existing materials
- Foundation:Resolution:Licensing policy
- Requesting a free photo — "How-To" guide for acquiring free images (5 steps). More useful for novice editors still gaining experience with copyright licenses and uploading free images.
- May 19, 2005 statement by Jimbo Wales
- "A 1961 Copyright Office study found that fewer than 15% of all registered copyrights were renewed. For books, the figure was even lower: 7%. Barbara Ringer, "Study No. 31: Renewal of Copyright" (1960) "Study No. 31: Renewal of Copyright" (1960), reprinted in Library of Congress Copyright Office. Copyright law revision: Studies prepared for the Subcommittee on Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, Eighty-sixth Congress, first [-second] session. (Washington: U. S. Govt. Print. Off, 1961), p. 220. ... A good guide to investigating the copyright and renewal status of published work is Samuel Demas and Jennie L. Brogdon, "Determining Copyright Status for Preservation and Access: Defining Reasonable Effort," Library Resources and Technical Services 41:4 (October, 1997): 323-334." , Hirtle, Peter (2007) Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States footnote 7. Of the total US material first published between 1923 and 1963, the percentage of renewed copyrights is far lower, because most published material was never registered at all.
- To find out how to search for copyright registrations and renewals, see, e.g., How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work, Stanford's Copyright Renewal Database, Project Gutenberg and INFORMATION ABOUT The Catalog of Copyright Entries.