Wikipedia's goal is to be a free content encyclopedia, with free content defined as content that does not bear copyright restrictions on the right to redistribute, study, modify and improve, or otherwise use works for any purpose in any medium, even commercially. Any content not satisfying these criteria is said to be non-free. This includes all content (including images) that is fully copyrighted, or which is made available subject to restrictions such as "non-commercial use only" or "for use on Wikipedia only". (Many images that are generally available free of charge may thus still be "non-free" for Wikipedia's purposes.) The Foundation uses the definition of "free" as described .
The licensing policy of the Wikimedia Foundation expects all content hosted on Wikimedia projects to be free content; however, there are exceptions. The policy allows projects (with the exception of Wikimedia Commons) to adopt an exemption doctrine policy allowing the use of non-free content. Their use should be minimal and confined (with limited exceptions) to illustrating historically significant events, to include identifying protected works such as logos, or to complement (within narrow limits) articles about copyrighted contemporary works. Non-free content should not be used when a freely licensed file that serves the same purpose can reasonably be expected to be uploaded, as is the case for almost all portraits of living people. Non-free content should be replaced by free content should such emerge.
The Non-free content criteria policy currently serves as the exemption doctrine policy of the English Wikipedia, while this document serves to provide guidance associated with this policy. Non-free content can be used on Wikipedia in certain cases (for example, in some situations where acquiring a freely licensed image for a particular subject is not possible), but only within the United States legal doctrine of fair use, and in accordance with Wikipedia's own non-free content criteria as set out below. The use of non-free content on Wikipedia is therefore subject to purposely stricter standards than those laid down in U.S. copyright law.
Transcluded from Wikipedia:Non-free content criteria; this is the part of the current page that is official policy As per the , this document serves as the Exemption Doctrine Policy for the English Wikipedia.
Deletion criteria for non-free content are specified in Wikipedia:Criteria for speedy deletion § Files.
The implementation of the non-free content criteria is done by having two specific elements on the non-free media's description page:
Both the license and the rationale need to be included on the non-free media description page. The standard upload tool for Wikipedia will ask you enough questions during the process to fill in both the license and rationale for you, thus simplifying the process. If they are added manually, with or without the help of a template, it is recommended to put the rationale and license under separate sections "Rationale" and "Licensing" respectively.
Failure to include a licensing template, or a rationale that clearly identifies each article the media file is used in, will lead to the media file being deleted within 7 days after being tagged with warning messages.
Non-free content cannot be used in cases where a free content equivalent, with an acceptable quality sufficient to serve the encyclopedic purpose, is available or could be created. As a quick test, before adding non-free content, ask yourself:
If the answer to either is yes, the non-free content probably does not meet this criterion.
Another consideration for "no free equivalent" are "freer" versions of non-free media, typically which include derivative works. For example, a photograph of a copyrighted 3D work of art will also carry the copyright of the photographer in addition to the copyright of the artist that created the work. We would use a photograph where the photographer has licensed their photograph under a free license, retaining the copyright of the derivative work, instead of a photograph that has non-free licenses for both the photograph and work of art.
For a vector image (i.e. SVG) of a non-free logo or other design, US law is not clear as to whether the vectorisation of the logo has its own copyright which exists in addition to any copyright on the actual logo. To avoid this uncertainty, editors who upload vector images of non-free logos should use a vector image that was produced by the copyright holder of the logo and should not use a vector image from a site such as or Brands of the World where the vectorisation of a logo may have been done without authorization from the logo's copyright holder. If an editor bases a vectorisation they did by themself from a free image, they should indicate the source image so that freeness can be confirmed, and release their contribution (the labour of converting to vectors) under a free license to help with the aforementioned ambiguity.
Very often, such as for most non-free content emanating from the news and entertainment industries, meeting this criterion is not in question. In rare cases however, non-free content may have been originally "leaked" and never subsequently published with the copyright holder's permission—such content must not be included in Wikipedia.
Usually, an accompanying copyright notice is considered sufficient evidence that a publication in the media has been made with appropriate permission.
If, in this regard, an item of non-free content is questioned or is likely to be questioned, then details of an instance of prior publication with permission must be determined and recorded at the non-free media's description page.
Two of the most common circumstances in which an item of non-free content can meet the contextual significance criterion are:
To identify a subject of discussion, depiction of a prominent aspect of the subject generally suffices, thus only a single item of non-free content meets the criterion. For example, to allow identification of music albums, books, etc., only an image of the front cover art of the object is normally used; for identification of specific coins and currency, images of the front and back are normally used.
While there is no specific requirement in the non-free content policy to identify the source from which a non-free file was obtained, editors are strongly encouraged to make note of the source on the media's description page; many of the non-free rationale templates already include a field for this information. This can aid in the cases of disputed media files, or evaluating the non-free or free nature of the image. Lacking a source is not grounds for media removal, but if the nature of the media file is disputed, the lack of a source may prevent the file from being retained. Non-free media must be from a published source; the unpublished non-free media is forbidden. Identification of the source will aid in validating the previous publication of the material.
The source information should be sufficiently complete to allow any editor to validate that material. While completeness is not required, editors are encouraged to provide as much source information as they can. Some ways to source media files include:
Articles are structured and worded, where reasonable to do so, to minimize the total number of times items of non-free content are included within the encyclopedia.
For example, an excerpt of a significant artistic work, notable for both its production and performance, is usually included only in an article about the work, which is then referenced in those about its performer and its producer (where these are notable enough for their own articles).
An item of non-free content that conveys multiple points of significant understanding within a topic, is used in preference to multiple non-free items where each conveys fewer such points. This is independent of whether the topic is covered by a single article, or is split across several.
For example, an article about an ensemble may warrant inclusion of a non-free image identifying the ensemble: this is preferable to including non-free images for each member of the ensemble, even if the article has been split with sub-articles for each member's part in the overall topic. Note however, that an article covering an ensemble member's notable activities outside those of the ensemble, is usually treated as being a separate topic.
There is no firm guideline on allowable resolutions for non-free content; images should be rescaled as small as possible to still be useful as identified by their rationale, and no larger. This metric is very qualitative, and thus difficult to enforce. Some legal proceedings have discussed the issue, but are inconclusive here.
At the low pixel count end of the range, most common pictorial needs can be met with an image containing no more than about 100,000 pixels (0.1 megapixels), obtained by multiplying the horizontal and vertical pixel dimensions of an image. This allows, for example, images with a 4:3 aspect ratio to be shown at 320 × 240 pixels (common for screenshots from TV, films, and videogames), while allowing common cover art to be shown at 250 × 400 pixels. To scale an image down to a specific number of pixels, use this formula:
An original, high resolution image (that can be reasonably scaled down to maintain overall artistic and critical details) may lose some text detail. In such cases, that text should be duplicated on the image description page. Care should be given to the recreation of copyrighted text: for example, while it is appropriate for credits from a movie poster as factual data, such duplication would not be appropriate for an original poem embedded within an image.
If a small area of a large image needs high resolution to see details that are discussed in the article text, it may be better to crop the section to show the critical portion at a higher resolution, than to try to reduce the full image. If cropping is performed, editors should indicate the original source of the image and what modifications were made.
Note that these guidelines apply to the resolution as stored on the image file page; the reuse of these images in mainspace should follow the Manual of Style for image use, such as deferring to default thumbnail size to allow the end-user control of the image display.
Both non-free audio and video files have more explicit metrics for low resolution, which can be found at Creation and usage of media files.
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:Media copyright questions. It may also be useful to ask at Wikipedia talk:Copyrights, Wikipedia talk:Copyright problems, and Wikipedia talk:Non-free content; these are places where those who understand copyright law and Wikipedia policy are likely to be watching.
The following cases are a non-exhaustive list of established examples of acceptable use of non-free media on Wikipedia. Note that the use of such media must still comply with the Non-free content criteria and provide rationales and licensing information.
Brief quotations of copyrighted text may be used to illustrate a point, establish context, or attribute a point of view or idea. In all cases, an inline citation following the quote or the sentence where it is used is required. Copyrighted text that is used verbatim must be attributed with quotation marks or other standard notation, such as block quotes. Any alterations must be clearly marked, i.e., [brackets] for added text, an ellipsis (e.g.
(...)) for removed text, and emphasis noted after the quotation as "(emphasis added)" or "(emphasis in the original)". Extensive quotation of copyrighted text is prohibited. Please see both WP:QUOTE for use and formatting issues in using quotations, and WP:MOSQUOTE for style guidelines related to quoting.
All non-free audio files must meet each of the non-free content criteria; failure to meet those overrides any acceptable allowance here. Advice for preparing non-free audio files for Wikipedia can be found at Wikipedia:Music samples. The following list is non-inclusive but contains the most common cases where non-free audio samples may be used.
Some non-free 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. Non-free images that reasonably could be replaced by free content images are not suitable for Wikipedia. All non-free images must meet each non-free content criterion; failure to meet those overrides any acceptable allowance here. The following list is not exhaustive but contains the most common cases where non-free images may be used and is subject to the restrictions listed below at unacceptable use of images, notably §7 which forbids the use of press agency or photo agency (e.g., AP, Corbis or Getty Images) images when the image itself is not the subject of commentary.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of examples where non-free content may not be used outside of the noted exceptions.
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).
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:
The use of non-free images arranged in a gallery or tabular format is usually unacceptable, but should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Exceptions should be very well-justified and alternate forms of presentation (including with fewer images) strongly considered.
In categories that include non-free content, MediaWiki's __NOGALLERY__ code should be used to disable the display of the content while still listing it.
User-created montages containing non-free images should be avoided for similar reasons. Within the scope of NFCC#3a, such montages are considered as multiple non-free images based on each non-free image that contributes towards the montage. If a montage is determined to be appropriate, each contributing non-free item should have its source described (such as File:Versions of the Doctor.jpg). A montage created by the copyright holder of the images used to create the montage is considered a single non-free item and not separate items.
Certain non-article pages are exempt from the non-free content policy. These uses are necessary for creating or managing the encyclopedia, such as special pages and categories that are used to review questionable non-free content uses. Categories that are exempt are listed in . Due to software limitations, TimedText pages for non-free video files will automatically include the video file, and as such, pages in the TimedText namespace are presumed to be exempted from NFCC#9. Fair use rationales are not required for such pages. Article images may appear in article preview popups.
"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 supports Wikipedia servers and software, 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 U.S. 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 meets 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 1925 are in the public domain. Some creative works published in the United States between 1925 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 1925, work published before 1978 without a copyright notice, with an expired copyright term, or produced by the U.S. federal government 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.
Never use materials that infringe the copyrights of others. This could create legal liabilities and seriously hurt the project.
Uploading an image, 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 (CC BY-SA) or a CC BY-SA-compatible license (dual-licensing under a GFDL license is also possible). 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 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 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.
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. A list of some of the 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.