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Image taken in a private place and requiring level 2 consent since the subject may be unaware of the photographer (here, provided)



This page sets out the policy for the way in which Commons deals with photographs of identifiable living people. The policy does not apply to photographs where the subject is unidentifiable, nor to obvious self-portraits.

As explained in more detail below, the subject's consent is not usually needed for a straightforward photograph of an identifiable individual taken in a public place, but is needed for such a photograph taken in a private place

What does “identifiable” mean?Edit

The subject of a photograph is “identifiable” when he or she might be recognised in public by a stranger on the basis of the photograph. Normally, that will require that the face be visible, but occasionally there may be other identifying characteristics (unusual tattoos, one arm missing etc). It is not enough that the subject is able to recognise him or herself, nor that an intimate partner might be able to do so (eg on the basis of some characteristic such as a mole which would normally be hidden).

Photographs taken in a public placeEdit

In the United States (where the Commons servers are located), consent is not as a rule required to photograph people in public places. Hence, unless there are specific local laws to the contrary, overriding legal concerns (e.g., defamation) or moral concerns (e.g., picture unfairly obtained), Commons does not normally require that an identifiable subject of a photograph taken in a public place has consented to the image being taken or uploaded. This is so whether the image is of a famous personality or of an unknown individual.

Photographs taken in a private placeEdit

Because of the expectation of privacy, the consent of the subject should be sought before uploading any photograph featuring an identifiable individual that has been taken in a private place, whether or not the subject is named. Even in countries that have no law of privacy, there is a moral obligation on us not to upload photographs which infringe the subject's reasonable expectation of privacy.

What are 'public' and 'private' places?Edit

For our purposes, a private place is considered a place where the subject has a reasonable expectation of privacy - ie the freedom not to be photographed by unapproved photographers. A public place is a place where the subject has no such expectation. Note that the definition of public place depends on reasonable expectation and not on any personal wish of the subject to avoid being photographed. There may be private places on public land (e.g., a tent on the beach) as well as public places on private land (e.g., a large private party or concert where many people are openly taking photographs).

Does the photographer's presence make a difference? What about a photographer's studio?Edit

A photographer's studio is a private place where the subject can reasonably expect privacy since there should be no photographers present other than the one the subject knows about. The presence of the photographer who takes the image is dealt with as a matter of consent and does not turn what would otherwise be a private place into a public place. It follows that a posed studio shot always requires the subject's consent even though sometimes that consent may be assumed (see below).

What if it is not clear where the photograph was taken?Edit

Some photographs have indistinct or nondescript backgrounds that give no clue as to the type of location in which it was taken. In such cases, additional information provided by the photographer or the uploader can be taken into account provided the information appears trustworthy. Where no information at all as to the location is available (eg a portrait by an obscure photographer found on the internet, with foliage in the background), it should be assumed that the location is private. Even then, the image may still be allowed if it is permissible to assume that consent has been given.

What is meant by “consent”?Edit

Where consent is required under this policy, that implies that the identifiable subject has agreed to the taking of the photograph and has stated no objections to the photograph being uploaded to Commons.

Does the subject have to waive all Personality rights?Edit

This featured picture taken in France is considered allowable even in the absence of consent as it was taken in a public place.

No. Personality rights are legal rights which are available to the subject in some countries to control the way in which the subject’s image is used, especially commercially. Consent, as used on this page, is not a legal issue but a practical device whereby Commons can exclude images that the community considers unfair or intrusive in some way, while still allowing us to retain uncontroversial portraits.

Some countries such as France have strong Personality rights laws which allow an individual significant control over his/her own likeness, even when the photograph was taken in a public place. It has sometimes been argued that such images are "not allowed" under local law and should not be hosted here. However, consensus to date is that such images may be kept in the absence of any indication that the subject wishes to rely on those Personality rights to have the image removed.

The fact that the photograph was taken in a country which grants individuals Personality rights is not in itself enough to make the image unacceptable to Commons.

Does the subject explicitly have to agree to commercial use of the image?Edit

An allowable image where the subject can be presumed to have given level 1 consent, but where unauthorised commercial use would still be prohibited in the US due to non-copyright restrictions.

No. It is enough that the subject has no objections to the photograph being uploaded to Commons. Of course, the photographer always has to release the copyright under a free licence which allows commercial use, but there is no need for the subject pre-emptively to sign away his or her rights. There are many images on Commons which cannot be freely used commercially, eg images of copyright-free registered trademarks, and images of identifiable individuals having Personality rights are treated in a similar way. Re-use of any image is always at the re-user’s risk, and Commons gives no guarantee that the image is free of non-copyright legal restrictions on re-use, including Personality rights.

Who has to give consent, when required?Edit

Consent normally has to be given by the identifiable subject, except where the subject is a minor when consent has to be given by the parent or guardian.

Where consent is required, what evidence is needed?Edit

That will depend on the circumstances. The more potentially damaging unauthorised release of the image would be to the depicted individual, the greater the efforts we need to make to ensure that the individual has truly consented.

The various levels 0 to 3 are set out below. The lists of examples are intended to exemplify and illustrate the levels, and not to define them. The examples are of course non-exhaustive. Depending on the risk of harm to the subject, some images showing medical conditions may warrant a higher level than would otherwise be the case, as may the manner in which a minor is depicted. If there is consensus that an image that has been nominated for deletion has specific features that make it more or less harmful than a typical example of its type, then the rules of a higher or a lower level may be applied.

Level 0: Public place - Consent is not normally requiredEdit

Low risk of harm. Photographs at this level do not require consent as they have been taken in a public place where the subject cannot reasonably expect privacy. The image may still be unacceptable if there are relevant moral issues.

Level 1: Private place - Consent can normally be assumedEdit

Low risk of harm. Photographs in this section are uncontroversial, and their hosting on Commons could not realistically be expected to cause the subject any more than minimal harm, distress or embarrassment. If it later becomes evident that the subject did not in fact consent at the time the photograph was taken, the image should be deleted. Typical examples include:

  • Straightforward uncontroversial shots of an identifiable adult in a private place, such as whole-person, face or head and shoulder images, where it is clear that the subject was aware of and appears to consent to the taking of the photograph (eg by posing).
  • High-quality posed photographs by a professional photographer of an identifiable unclothed or partly unclothed adult professional model in a private place, or such a model with underwear or swimwear. Both the professional nature of the photographer and that of the model must be clear.

Level 2: Private place - Photographer must explicitly state that consent has been obtainedEdit

Medium risk of harm. The hosting on Commons of images at this level – without consent - might realistically be expected to cause the subject harm, distress or embarrassment. Typical examples include:

  • Unposed photographs where an identifiable adult in a private place does not appear to be aware of the presence of the photographer.
  • Straightforward posed or unposed shots of an identifiable minor in a private place, such as whole-person, face or head and shoulder images.
  • High-quality posed photographs by a professional photographer of an identifiable unclothed or partly unclothed subject (not a professional model) in a private place, or such a subject with underwear or swimwear. The professional nature of the photographer must be clear.

A statement that consent has been provided can be included in the image text. An OTRS consent would also be fine, but OTRS should not be required at this level. Second-hand information (eg where the uploader asserts that the photographer has told him/her that … ) is sufficient for level 2 consents only where the information appears trustworthy.

Level 3: Private place - The subject or parent/guardian must provide explicit consentEdit

High risk of harm. The hosting on Commons of images at this level might be realistically – without consent - be expected to cause the subject significant harm, distress or embarrassment. Typical examples include:

  • Photographs of an identifiable minor in any type of sexual pose in a private place. (Clearly, this applies only where the image is legal.)
  • Unposed photographs where an identifiable unclothed or partly unclothed adult in a private place does not appear to be aware of the presence of the photographer, including underwear and swimwear shots.
  • Intimate photographs (visible anus or genitalia) of an identifiable subject in a private place.

Level 3 consents must be sent to OTRS. Statements of consent that are recorded elsewhere are not sufficient. Given the potential risk of harm to the subject, it is expected that OTRS permission should be available on upload. An image with missing level 3 consent may be speedy deleted pending receipt and checking of the permission.

Legal issuesEdit

There are a variety of non-copyright laws which may impact on the photographer, the uploader and/or the Wikimedia Foundation, including Personality rights, as discussed above, defamation and rights to privacy. In consequence, the commercial use of these pictures may still be problematic if the depicted person does not agree. Even if the Creative Commons License (under which the content is usually published) allows for commercial use, the permission of the photographed person may still be needed in some countries.

You should bear in mind that defamation may arise not only from the content of the image itself but also from its description and title when uploaded. An image of an unknown but identifiable individual may be unexceptional on its own, but with the title "A drug-dealer" there may be potential defamation issues.

Moral issuesEdit

Not all legally-obtained photographs of individuals are acceptable to Commons even if they otherwise fall within the project's scope. The following types of image are normally considered unacceptable:

  • Those that unfairly demean or ridicule the subject
  • Those that are unfairly obtained
  • Those that unreasonably intrude into the subject's private or family life

These are categories which are matters of common decency rather than law. They find a reflection in the wording of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12: (No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation).

The extent to which a particular photograph is "unfair" or "intrusive" will depend on the nature of the shot, whether it was taken in a public or private place, the title/description, and on the type of subject (e.g., a celebrity, a non-famous person, etc).

This is all a matter of degree. A snatched shot of a celebrity caught in an embarrassing position in a public place may well be acceptable to the community; a similar shot of an anonymous member of the public may or may not be acceptable, depending on what is shown and how it is presented.

Can an image be made allowable by adding the {{Personality rights}} template?Edit

No. The {{Personality rights}} template has nothing to do with the allowability or otherwise of an image under these rules. Its purpose is simply to warn re-users of Commons’ content that local laws may impose additional requirements on re-use, over and above those that we enforce here. If a photograph fails the rules on this page it must be deleted, and it is never a valid argument that adding a {{Personality rights}} template will allow it to be kept.

Re-use of the imageEdit

Commons images are released under wide licences, but without any guarantee that they are free of non-copyright legal restrictions on re-use, including Personality rights. Someone re-using in a derogatory manner an unexceptional Commons image of an identifiable subject might run the risk of the subject suing for defamation or for breach of Personality rights. But since neither the photographer, the uploader nor the Foundation have encouraged such use, the image itself is still perfectly acceptable to Commons. The fact that a photograph is capable of being misused does not mean, in itself, that it is objectionable here.


No consent was required for this shot as it was taken in a public place

In each case, of an identifiable individual in with no consent given, and assuming no defamation or other legal issues:

Probably OKEdit

  • An anonymous street performer (public place)
  • An anonymous person in a street scene, especially as part of a larger crowd (public place)
  • Partygoers at a large private party where photography is expected (public place)
  • A basketball player competing in a match which is open to the public (public place)

Probably not OKEdit

This image is acceptable, even without consent, since this policy applies only to identifiable individuals. A non-pixellated version entitled "An obese girl" was deleted as potentially derogatory
  • A man and woman talking, entitled "Thief and handler of stolen goods" (possible defamation)
  • A child in a fast-food restaurant, entitled "An obese girl" (potentially derogatory/demeaning, possibly not a public place)
  • Long-lens images, taken from afar, of a woman sunbathing on a yacht (unreasonable intrusion, possibly not a public place)
  • A child in a school classroom (probably not a public place)

Removal at the request of the subject, photographer or uploaderEdit

Sometimes the subject, photographer or uploader of an image requests that it be removed from Commons, for example because it may cause embarrassment. Images are not removed merely because the subject does not like them, but administrators are normally sympathetic to removal requests where good reasons can be given.

An image of an individual in a private place should normally be deleted if evidence comes to light that the subject did not consent at the time of taking the photograph. An image of an individual in a public place should be deleted if the subject (not the photographer/uploader unless also the subject) states a wish to rely on legally-binding Personality rights that are available under local law (such rights are available only in some countries).

Avoiding problemsEdit

It may sometimes be possible to avoid the issues mentioned here, for example by:

  • Anonymizing the image (e.g., by pixellating the subject's face or by cropping it out)
  • Careful choice of title and description
  • Obtaining and recording the consent of the subject
  • Re-taking the picture (e.g., from another angle) so that the subject cannot be identified.

What should I do if I find an image on Commons which breaches these rules?Edit