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This memorial plaque is permitted as a public domain work of the U.S. Navy. It also includes a poem that is in the public domain due to age.
This image is permitted because the text is not long enough to be eligible for copyright. An image consisting solely of a small amount of text may be tagged with {{PD-text}}.

At Wikimedia Commons, our licensing policy is primarily concerned with laws related to copyright of images and videos, since most of our images fall into this category. However, some images contain textual documents as an element, and these texts may have their own copyright, separate from that of the images in question. Under copyright law such an image is considered a derivative work of the text. Examples include signs, posters, plaques, books, and so on.

For instance, if you take a bestselling book, open to a random page, and photograph it in isolation, the resulting image could not be uploaded to Commons because it would violate the copyright of the author of the book.

As a general rule, text in an image must fall into one of the following categories to be acceptable:

  1. The text is illegible due to blur, an oblique viewing angle, or low resolution. It is acceptable to deliberately obscure non-free text, where necessary.
  2. The text is in the public domain. This may be either due to age or due to law placing the work in the public domain; for example, many government works are in the public domain by law (see e.g. {{PD-USGov}}). It may also be because it is too short to be eligible for copyright, or lacks a "creative spark" (e.g. a table or list of facts or data with no significant stylistic choices).
  3. The text is released under a suitable free license by the author of the text. If this is not the uploader and evidence is not publicly available, permission should be submitted through OTRS.
  4. De minimis: The text is incidental and unimportant in the context of the overall image. For example, a photograph of a statue that happens to have a plaque attached to its base is allowed, because the focus is on the statue, not on the plaque. This is acceptable even if the text is legible.
  5. Freedom of panorama: Depending on the nation, it may be permitted to create reproductions of a work permanently located in a public place. In some cases this may allow us to host works such as plaques. Generally these allowances only apply to three-dimensional objects such as statues, and not 2D documents, but there are exceptions:
    • If the 2D document is a "work of artistic craftsmanship," it may be permitted under the laws of many countries whose laws are modelled on the United Kingdom, including Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom itself. For more information on the precise meaning of the term "work of artistic craftsmanship," see Commons:Freedom of panorama#United_Kingdom.
    • A few nations allow any permanently installed artifact, 2D or 3D, to be reproduced, including Germany, Croatia, Cuba, Montenegro, Serbia, the Czech Republic, and possibly Israel.
  6. Images where the text is used under fair use; see below.

Fair useEdit

Most Wikimedia Foundation projects, including those do not have a non-free content policy for media such as images and videos, routinely allow the reproduction of textual content under fair use, such as quotations. As such, it is logical for Commons to also allow images which reproduce text in a way permitted under U.S. fair use law (this seems to contradict "fair use material is not allowed on Commons", but applies narrowly only to textual content). Because the text is constrained to be displayed in the context of the image, the fair use argument may be stronger than if the text were displayed in isolation. Commons does not currently have clear non-free content guidelines for text in images, but a rule of thumb is that it should be the kind of text you would expect to find in a quotation - that is, a brief excerpt in context - and not a wholesale reproduction.


When an image contains text, it's always a good idea to transcribe that text in the image description field. This allows search engines to index the text, allows users to copy-and-paste the text easily, and permits accessibility software to enlarge the text or read it out loud for blind users. For an example, see File:US Air Force Wikileaks blocked screenshot.jpg (in this example, formatting was also transcribed, but this is not necessary). If part of the text is illegible, or you wish to indicate the position of a logo or other image in the text, use square brackets to indicate this (as in "[illegible text]" or "[logo]").

The templates {{Inscription}}, {{Illegible}} can be used to transcribe text from images.

Relevant deletion discussions by source countryEdit





Czech RepublicEdit













United KingdomEdit

United StatesEdit