Using images from Commons is a lot like using information from Wikipedia -
it requires due diligence and you sometimes have to apply healthy
scepticism, though this can be complicated by the varying copyright laws of
different countries. Commons is hosted in the United States, so it usually
defaults to American copyright law, which is often more liberal than
British law (Chris mentions the "sweat of brow" doctrine, for example).
For obvious cases, like a photograph of a building or a statue uploaded by
the photographer themselves, you're usually safe. (I've been writing about
war memorials lately and sometimes you get really lucky and find a
professional-quality photograph that someone has uploaded to Commons). Less
obvious cases will depend on your knowledge of copyright.
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On Thu, Mar 23, 2017 at 5:23 PM, Chris Keating <chriskeatingwiki(a)gmail.com>
You certainly could have a more nuanced policy, and use more images as a
I'd guess the reasons you might be cautious are:
- Commons has a good number of files it that are in the public domain in
the US, but may not be in the UK (assuming that public domain-UK is
sufficient for the BBC to make use of something)
- Commons also has a good number of files which we believe are public
domain (at least in the US) but where someone still asserts copyright from
"sweat of the brow" rights (this set overlapping with the previous one a
- Some images might simply have been mis-attributed by whoever uploaded
them to Commons and are actually in copyright (probably a much smaller
group than the first 2)
Of course, these kinds of issues aren't unique to Wikimedia Commons, any
open image source could have the same problems - so if you are taking PD
images from Flickr or elsewhere on the Internet, then you shouldn't have a
blanket bank on Wikimedia Commons!
Paid photography sources potentially have the opposite problem, in that
you can end up paying royalties for images that you think actually are in
the public domain.
As Charles says, it's usually possible to come to an informed judgement
based on what the Commons page for a given file says, but this needs a
reasonable level of awareness of copyright law. I'm not sure if there is
any kind of "user-friendly" summary at the minute, but there probably
should be - I'm asking around...
Hope this helps,
On Thu, Mar 23, 2017 at 3:08 PM, Steve Bowbrick <steve.bowbrick(a)bbc.co.uk>
Very occasional post from a long-time subscriber here!
I run social media for the BBC's speech and classical radio stations and
for some of the BBC's classical brands (orchestras, Proms etc.).
We have a constant need for images. We use the usual mixed bag of
sources: commercial picture libraries, the BBC archive, commissioned
photos, some public domain and cc sources.
We have a pretty cast-iron rule forbidding the use of Wikimedia Commons
images. Historically, we've felt that there was sufficient uncertainty
about the ownership of some Commons images that it would be safest for us
to steer clear all together (sometimes, for instance, we find images in
commercial libraries like Hulton Getty that are also in the Commons and
this creates the kind of doubt about ownership that stops us from using
So, in the interests of updating my knowledge (and possibly our policy),
is there any up-to-date advice for organisations like the BBC about the
safe usage of content from the Wikimedia Commons? Should we rely on Commons
images more often? Is there any guidance for how to judge the ownership of
a Commons image reliably? And what's Wikipedia's policy about the use of
these images in entries?
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