Commons:Ownership of pages and files

Shortcut: COM:OWN

There are two separate sides to the question of ownership of Wikimedia content: Control and legal ownership.

Control of Wikimedia content edit

First, there's control of the content. Some contributors feel very possessive about material (be it categories, templates, articles, images or portals) they have donated to this project. Some go so far as to defend them against all intruders.

It's one thing to take an interest in an article that you maintain on your watchlist. Maybe you really are an expert or you just care about the topic a lot. But when this watchfulness crosses a certain line, then you're overdoing it.

You can't stop everyone in the world from editing "your" stuff, once you've posted it to a Wikimedia project.

If you find yourself warring with other contributors over deletions, reversions and so on, why not take some time off from the editing process? Taking yourself out of the equation can cool things off considerably. Take a fresh look a week or two later.

Or if someone else is claiming "ownership" of a page, you can bring it up on the associated talk page. Appeal to other contributors, or consider the dispute resolution process.

Believing that a category or gallery has an owner of this sort is a common mistake that people make on Wikimedia projects.

Although working on a page or image does not entitle one to "own" it, it is still important to respect the work of your fellow contributors. When making large scale removals of content, particularly content contributed by one editor, it is important to consider whether a desirable result could be obtained by working with the editor, instead of against — regardless of whether they "own" the article or not. See also Wikipedia:Civility, Wikipedia:Etiquette and Wikipedia:Assume good faith.

Legal ownership edit

Second, there's the question of legal ownership, which is where copyright law applies.

Contrary to popular belief, pages on Wikimedia projects are copyrighted. However, this does not mean that they are illegal to copy. The author — legally called the "copyright holder" — of a page (or any other creative work) can grant rights over the text to other people. These rights are codified in a license. By submitting a photograph (or indeed a page, a category, a drawing, a diagram or other material) to Wikimedia Commons, a contributor agrees to licensing their work under CC BY-SA 3.0 or another free licence, which grants everyone else on the planet the right to copy and modify the text provided they fulfill certain requirements (such as author attribution). Submitting an article does not surrender the author's copyright, but at the same time, the author cannot prohibit modifications to it because the author has granted the rights codified in the license.

When someone makes an edit to a page, that someone has created what is called a "derivative work". They are the copyright holder of the new version, but since the new version is based on the old version, which was licensed to them, they are bound to the requirements of the licence, and thus they cannot act as if they were the sole author of the new version. This carries on indefinitely: no matter how many edits are made to a page or image, even the hundredth revision is still subject to the requirements determined by the licence of the first revision.

In summary, the author(s) of a piece of material are legally the "copyright holders" and could thus be regarded as the "owners", but since they cannot prohibit modifications, it could also be said that everyone "owns" every article in the sense that everyone has the right to use them in accordance with the licence.

It should be mentioned at this point that the copyright holder of a creative work retains full rights to it and is not subject to any requirements even if they license their work under Creative Commons (for example, the author does not need to attribute themselves as the author if they are the only one). The author can license the same work again under certain other licences (this area has not been legally tested, but releasing work under two mutually contradictory licences would be problematic) – and indeed many contributors agree to licensing their work under one or more further licences in addition to the Creative Commons. When a text has no copyright attached to it (because the author surrendered it or it expired), the text becomes "public domain", which means that anyone can do with it whatever they like. Any published material will pass into the public domain when its copyright expires.

Text versus files edit

All text on Commons is automatically and obligatorily released under the CC BY-SA 3.0.

All files (which are mostly images) on Commons must be either in the Public Domain or released under some sort of free license such as a compatible Creative Commons license or Free Art License.

For further information, see Commons:Licensing.

Guidelines edit

Don't sign what you don't own. Do include full source information. edit

Pages and categories edit

Since no one "owns" any part of any article, if you create or edit a page, you should not sign it, for aside from distracting readers, such a practice would likely exacerbate 'edit wars' or possibly inhibit others from editing 'your' work. As for credit, the exact contributions of all editors are seen with their names on the "History" pages.

On the other hand, when adding comments, questions, or votes to backend pages, like "Talk" pages, it is good to "own" your text, so the best practice is to sign it by suffixing your entry with —~~~~. For more editing "do"s and "don't"s, you might want to go through the brief Tutorial. At least with existing pages, you can get an idea of where it's appropriate to add your signature by noting what previous contributors have done.

Since pages on Commons consist mainly of image galleries, with just a little descriptive text, the whole issue of ownership of text is less of a big deal than on Wikipedia, but it is still important.

Images and other files edit

One place where we do and must add authorship information is on file description pages, for copyright reasons. These must always give all details of where the image or other media was found. If you created it yourself, it is enough to add a tag such as {{GFDL-self}} or {{PD-self}}. There is usually no need to say anything about subsequent versions uploaded over the top of a file as long as it's under the same as the original licence and the file history at the bottom of the page fully identifies all those who have worked on the file.

Please do not sign the images themselves with watermarks or copyright notices. For example directly visible personal tags like "Mr. Foobar, May 2005, CC-BY-SA" inside an image created by yourself are strongly discouraged. However, you may embed information about the file directly in metadata tags, see Commons:Exif. Keep in mind, other users may remove or modify this just like the image itself. If you see an image with a watermark or visible tag, please add {{Watermark}} to the image description page.

Don't allow possessiveness to lead to the creation of redundant files edit

The procedure for improving content on Wikimedia Commons is much the same as on Wikipedia. If there is something that you feel you can improve on a page, then be bold and edit it. It will be noted in the page history that you made that improvement. If there is any disagreement, never go away and create your own personal version of the page under a different title. Instead, discuss the issue on the talk page and co-operate in order to create the best possible version together.

With images and other files too, be bold and make improvements. For example, if you spot a mistake in a diagram, download the image, correct it, and then re-upload it under the same title as before. This will replace the old image. Don't worry though: the old image is still available in the history at the bottom of the page. If at any time someone decides that the old version was better after all, they can revert to it in one click. If there is some disagreement about which version is more correct, never just upload your own personal version of the file under a different name for your own satisfaction. Instead, please discuss the issue with the other person and co-operate in order to come up with the best version possible. Very often, such discussion actually leads to a new version being created which is superior to both of the original proposed versions. Co-operation is encouraged and possessiveness is discouraged here on Wikimedia Commons.

Sometimes, such discussion leads to the realisation that there is a need for two separate versions. For example, one person may want to make a given image green and the other person may want to make it red. After talking about it and attempting to reach a consensus, they may realise that there might be a need for both a green and a red image. In that case, the sensible solution is of course to upload two or more separate files, e.g. Image:Star of David.svg (blue), Image:Magen David Adom.svg (red), and Image:Black Star of David.svg. Remember, however, that this must never be done just to satisfy a possessive person who will not tolerate modification of a file. Such a person should be invited to read this policy.

Taste may differ edit

Remember that taste between users may differ (de gustibus non est disputandum). What some users consider an improvement to an image may be considered by some a mutilation. It may therefore sometimes be advisable to upload improvements as separate files instead of overwriting the original and link to the modified version in the other versions field of the description template.

While the creator of a freely-licensed image cannot control how it is used or modified once published, all Creative Commons licenses allow the creator to waive the attribution requirement or request the removal of attribution from modified versions (4.0 licenses also allow this for unmodified versions). In this manner, the creator may distance themselves from a derivative or usage they don't approve of or want to be associated with.

Deletion edit

A common misapprehension is that being the author of a file gives you special rights over whether it is deleted or not. In reality, you gave up that right when you released the file under a free licence.


  • If an image uploaded by you is renamed and deleted (e.g. from DSC123456.jpg to Paris_by_night.jpg) you have no special right to protest about this.
  • If an image uploaded by you is listed for deletion at Commons:Deletion requests, you have the right to be notified, and a right to put forward reasons to keep the image, but if the consensus is to delete, and an admin carries out the deletion, you have no special right to protest about this.
  • If you upload an image but then decide that you don't want it to be on Commons any more, then you have the right to list it at Commons:Deletion requests, and the other users there may sympathise with you as the uploader and support a courtesy deletion. However, if the consensus is to keep the image, it will be kept, and you have no special right to protest about this.

External links edit