Commons:Project scope


This page is considered an official policy on Wikimedia Commons.

It has wide acceptance among editors and is considered a standard that everyone must follow. Except for minor edits (such as fixing typos, or bringing information up to date), please make use of the discussion page to propose changes to this policy.

Wikimedia Commons is a media file repository making available public domain and freely-licensed educational media content (images, sound and video clips) to all. It acts as a common repository for all Wikimedia projects, but the content can be used by anyone, anywhere, for any purpose.

This page is necessarily quite long. If you just need a brief overview, see Commons:Project scope/Summary.

Aim of Wikimedia Commons

The aim of Wikimedia Commons is to provide a media file repository:

  • that makes available public domain and freely-licensed educational media content to all, and
  • that acts as a common repository for the various projects of the Wikimedia Foundation.

The expression "educational" is to be understood according to its broad meaning of "providing knowledge; instructional or informative".

Scope of Commons

To be eligible for hosting on Wikimedia Commons, all files and other content must fall within the Commons scope. Anything uploaded here which falls outside this scope will be deleted as OOS (Out Of Scope).

Excluded educational content

Certain content is excluded from Commons, not because it is intrinsically non-educational, but because there are other Wikimedia Foundation projects that are more appropriate for hosting such content. This applies both to media files and to text.

Excluded educational content includes:

  • Encyclopedia articles; these may be hosted on Wikipedia.
  • News (this may be hosted on Wikinews), general weather reports, and the like.
  • Files that contain nothing educational other than raw text. Purely textual material such as plain-text versions of recipes, lists of instructions, poetry, fiction, quotations, dictionary definitions, lesson plans or classroom material, and the like are better hosted elsewhere, for example at Wikibooks, Wikiquote, Wiktionary, Wikiversity or Wikisource.

However, Commons can be used to host such material if included in a shareable media file that is of use to one of the other Wikimedia Foundation-hosted (WMF) projects, so scanned copies of existing texts that are useful to other WMF projects (e.g. to serve as the basis of a reliable, verifiable source) are in scope. Also allowed are files which embody something of value over and above raw text. For example, files consisting of scans of out-of-copyright books, newspapers and the like which preserve original font, layout, embedded images and the like are within scope.

Scope part 1: Files

Uploaded files are within scope only if they comply with all of the following conditions. Every file:

  • Must be a media file.
  • Must be of an allowable free file format.
  • Must be freely licensed or public domain.
  • Must be realistically useful for an educational purpose.
  • Must not contain only excluded educational content.

These are explained in more detail below.

Must be a media file

Wikimedia Commons hosts only media files such as photographs, scanned images, diagrams, animations, audio (e.g. music and spoken dialogue) and video clips, along with any associated metadata. Explanatory and other text is permitted on the file page only to the extent to which it advances Commons' aim and is not excluded educational content.

The following are not considered media files, and may not be hosted here:

  • Computer programs in any format including binary executable files and raw source code listings. Where relevant, source-code may form part of the file description or metadata, e.g. a graphics file may include as descriptive text the code used to create it.
  • Files which are representative merely of raw text, e.g. ASCII files, raw source code listings as mentioned above, etc.

Must be an allowable free file format

Only free file formats are allowed. Proprietary formats such as Microsoft Word and Excel documents, AAC, WMA, H.265, HEIC, Flash and the like are not permitted. More generally, any file that requires an unfree program or patent-encumbered codec in order to access its content is prohibited.

A list of currently allowed file formats can be found at Commons:Project scope/Allowable file types.

Must be freely licensed or public domain

Wikimedia Commons accepts only free content, in other words files that are either freely licensed or which are in the public domain. A file is considered public domain if either all copyright has expired or if the copyright owner(s) has voluntarily placed the content of the file into the public domain by irrevocably renouncing all copyright. A file which is ineligible for copyright protection is also considered public domain.

Any file hosted here must normally be freely licensed or public domain according to both the law of the United States and according to the law of the source country, if different: see Commons:Licensing.

Required licensing terms

To be considered freely licensed, the copyright owner has to release the file under an irrevocable licence which:

  • Permits free reuse for any purpose, including commercial.
  • Permits the creation of derivative works.

Non-allowable licence terms

The following licensing terms are not allowed:

  • Non-commercial or educational use only.
  • Restrictions on the creation of derivative works, except for copyleft.
  • A requirement for payment or for notification of use; these can be requested but not required.
  • Restrictions on where the work may be used, e.g. use allowed on Wikipedia only.

Licences with these restrictions are allowed as long as the work is dual-licensed or multi-licensed with at least one licensing option that does not include such a restriction.

"Licences" which purport to allow fair use only are not allowed. Fair use is not a right that can be licensed by a copyright owner, and is in any event never accepted on Commons.

Allowable licence terms

The following terms are allowed:

  • A requirement that the copyright owner(s) be named ("attribution").
  • A requirement that any derivative works must be licensed under the same terms as the original ("share-alike"/"copyleft").

Licensing policy is defined in detail at Commons:Licensing.


In all cases the uploader must provide appropriate evidence to demonstrate either that the file is in the public domain or that the copyright owner has released it under a suitable licence. Typically that requires at least that the source of the file be specified,[1] along with the original source where the file is a derivative work. Also, the creator or copyright owner should be identified, if known or reasonably ascertainable. If there is any question, evidence may need to be supplied that the copyright owner has indeed released the file under the given licence.

Where the file is a photograph which shows an identifiable person, the subject's consent may be required as described at Commons:Photographs of identifiable people.

In all cases, the burden of proof lies on the uploader or other person arguing for the file to be retained to demonstrate that as far as can reasonably be determined:

  • the file is in the public domain or is properly licensed, and
  • that any required consent has been obtained.

In the case of an old file, date and country of publication can help determine if the file is in the public domain due to age.

  1. Note that in the case of files found on the Web, this should not be the URL of the file, but the URL of the page containing the file, so that Commons editors can find background information when required.

Precautionary principle

Commons' users aim to build and maintain in good faith a repository of media files which to the best of our knowledge are free or freely-licensed. The precautionary principle is that where there is significant doubt about the freedom of a particular file, it should be deleted.

Also, arguments that amount to "we can get away with it", such as the following, are against Commons' aims:

  1. "The copyright owner will not bother to sue or cannot afford to."
  2. "The copyright owner will never find out."
  3. "The copyright owner will not mind/should be pleased that we have disseminated their work."
  4. "Nobody knows who the copyright owner is, so it really doesn’t matter."
  5. "The file is obviously common property. It can be found all over the internet and nobody has complained."


Must be realistically useful for an educational purpose

The expression "educational" is to be understood according to its broad meaning of "providing knowledge; instructional or informative".

In the sections below, any use that is not made in good faith does not count. For example, images that are being used on a talk page just to make a point can be discounted.

File in use in another Wikimedia project

A media file that is in use on one of the other projects of the Wikimedia Foundation is considered automatically to be useful for an educational purpose, as is a file in use for some operational reason such as within a template or the like. Such a file is not liable to deletion simply because it may be of poor quality: if it is in use, that is enough.

The uploading of small numbers of images (e.g. of yourself) for use on a personal user page of Commons or another project is allowed as long as that user is or was an active participant on that project.

It should be stressed that Commons does not overrule other projects about what is in scope. If an image is in use on another project (aside from use on talk pages or user pages), that is enough for it to be within scope.

File in use on Commons only

An otherwise non-educational file does not acquire educational purpose solely because it is in use on a gallery page or in a category on Commons, nor solely because it is in use on a user page (the "User:" namespace), but by custom the uploading of small numbers of images (e.g. of yourself) for use on a personal Commons user page is allowed if you are an active, constructive participant on Commons. Files relating to projects or events of the Wikimedia community, such as user meetings, are also allowed.

File not legitimately in use

A media file which is neither:

  • realistically useful for an educational purpose, nor
  • legitimately in use as discussed above

falls outside the scope of Wikimedia Commons.

The emphasis here is on realistic utility, either for one of the Wikimedia projects or for some other educational use. Not all images for example are realistically useful for an educational purpose. An image does not magically become useful by virtue of the argument that it could be used to illustrate a Wikipedia article on X, merely because X happens to be the subject of the photograph.

For example, the fact that an unused blurred photograph could theoretically be used to illustrate an article on "Common mistakes in photography" does not mean that we should keep all blurred photographs. The fact that an unused snapshot of your friend could theoretically be used to illustrate an article on "Photographic portraiture" does not mean that we should keep all photographs of unknown people. The fact that an unused pornographic image could theoretically be used to illustrate an article on pornography does not mean that we should keep low quality pornographic images (see also Censorship).

Excluded from this policy are files in different formats and files which are similar but not exact duplicates in cases where they are needed to keep the file history for legal reasons.


Examples of files that are not realistically useful for an educational purpose:

  • Private image collections, e.g. private party photos, photos of yourself and your friends, your collection of holiday snaps and so on. There are plenty of other projects on the Internet you can use for such a purpose, such as Flickr. Such private image collections do not become educational even if displayed as a gallery on a user page on Commons or elsewhere.
  • Artwork without obvious educational use, including non-educational artwork uploaded to showcase the artist's skills
  • Files apparently created and/or uploaded for the purpose of vandalism or attack. Preexisting designs and symbols that are or have been associated with nationalistic, religious or racist causes are not out of scope solely because they may cause offence. Provided they are legal to host and otherwise fall within Commons scope (e.g. if they could for example be used to illustrate a Wikipedia article on a hate group), they should be kept.
  • Advertising or self-promotion.
  • Files that add nothing educationally distinct to the collection of images we already hold covering the same subject, especially if they are of poor or mediocre quality.


We hold many high-quality images of species-identified birds, and there is no realistic educational use for a small, blurry, poorly composed snapshot of an unidentified and unidentifiable bird. Of course, there is always room for another educationally distinct image, for example illustrating some aspect of bird behaviour that we do not currently cover, even if the image is perhaps not of the highest quality.

There may sometimes be an argument for retaining multiple images that are quite similar from an educational point of view, for the sake of variety and availability of choice, but there is no purpose in our hosting many essentially identical poor-quality images that have no realistic educational value.

New educational files of exceptional quality are always welcome, and the later uploading of such files may in principle render earlier unused poor quality files educationally redundant. However, as indicated above, a file that is used in good faith on a Wikimedia project is always considered educational, so a poor-quality file that remains in use is not eligible for deletion even if a better-quality file covering the same subject later becomes available.

New and existing files of poor or mediocre quality may or may not be realistically useful for an educational purpose depending on what they illustrate and what other files we have of the same subject. Where a subject is rare and/or difficult to capture, even a poor-quality file may be of significant educational value, especially if Commons has very few or no similar files already. On the other hand, poor or mediocre files of common and easy-to-capture subjects may have no realistic educational value, especially if Commons already hosts many similar or better quality examples.

Image quality is just one of the factors that may limit the educational usefulness of a file. Other limiting factors may include low resolution and hard-to-remove watermarks.

PDF and DjVu formats

Although PDF and DjVu file formats are permitted, they are expected to be used only in appropriate cases. There should be some reason for the choice of format that is in line with Commons' aims. All of the above rules apply as well, of course.

An admin considering whether to delete a PDF or DjVu file may have to exercise judgement as to whether the chosen format is in line with Commons' aims, and the context and intent (if known) may be relevant. For example, while a published university thesis in PDF format may be OK, a user-created original-research article that is making use of Commons as a free web-host may not be.

Files that might realistically be useful to one or more other Wikimedia projects, e.g. Wikisource or Wikibooks, should be kept; deletions should not be based on the sole ground that the file would be better hosted on one of those other projects. Any media file that is realistically useful to or is within the scope of even one other Wikimedia Foundation project can be hosted here.

Remember that Wikisource often needs PDF or DjVu files in order to proofread or create source texts: Therefore, scans of suitable editions of notable public domain works are almost always within scope for this reason. That said, remember that editorial decisions involved in preparing a text from several sources may result in a new copyright, so the editions used must be out of copyright themselves.

Allowable reasons for PDF and DjVu formats

  • The format has been selected for convenience of printing.
  • The format has been selected to allow viewing or printing of special fonts, e.g. documents in advanced mathematics or linguistics.
  • The file would be within the scope of another project of the Wikimedia Foundation if it were to be uploaded in the same format to that project, for example:
    • A PDF or DjVu file of a published and peer-reviewed work would be in scope on Wikisource and is therefore also in scope on Commons. Examples of in-scope documents include published books (but not vanity publishing), peer-reviewed academic papers, etc., university theses and dissertations.
    • The file is a scan of a document of historic or other external significance, e.g. scans of existing copyright-free or licensed books, reports, newspapers, etc.
    • The file is usable as a fixed, verifiable source document, e.g. for Wikisource or Wikibooks (appropriate fixation of content).
    • The format selected provides technical advantages to at least one other Wikimedia Foundation project.

Non-allowable reasons for PDF and DjVu formats

  • The format has apparently been selected by the author or uploader to prevent or to discourage the creation of derivative works contrary to Commons' aims. Such inappropriate fixation of content would include a self-published vanity article or a self-created image that the author has uploaded in PDF format in an effort to discourage others from creating derivatives.
  • The content is essentially raw text; such files are not considered media files. Note that scans of existing books, reports, newspapers etc of historic or other external significance are not excluded on this ground, even if they contain no images.
  • The content would be prohibited under another section; for example, promotional material is outside Commons' scope regardless of the file format.

Scope part 2: Pages, galleries and categories

See Commons:Project scope/Pages, galleries and categories.

A word on some areas of particular concern


Files and other materials which are not lawful for Commons to host on its servers in Virginia will be deleted immediately upon being identified as unlawful (including copyright violations), even if the material otherwise falls within Commons scope, as set out above. However, Commons is not censored, and legitimately includes content which some users may consider objectionable or offensive. The policy of "Commons is not censored" means that a lawfully-hosted file, which falls within Commons' definitions of scope, will not be deleted solely on the grounds that it may not be "child-friendly" or that it may cause offence to you or others, for moral, personal, religious, social, or other reasons.

The counterpoint to this, is that the statement "Commons is not censored" is not a valid argument for keeping a file that falls outside Commons' defined scope, as set out above. Photographs of nudity including male and female genitalia are sometimes uploaded for non-educational motives, and such images are not exempt from the requirement to comply with the rules of Commons' scope. If the images are of demonstrably inferior quality, or add nothing educationally distinct to the stock of such images we hold already, they may fail the test of being realistically useful for an educational purpose.

A balance has to be struck between accepting useful media files with legitimate educational content that some may find offensive, and not allowing Commons to be used as a general-purpose media-hosting service (like Flickr, Photobucket, YouTube, etc.), without regard for the project's stated goals. The purpose of Commons is to serve as a media repository, a reliable resource of useful, freely licensed media content; organized and comprehensive in coverage (with accurate file descriptions/information), educational, and intended both for use by Wikimedia projects, and as a public service freely accessible to everyone.

"Neutral point of view"

See Commons:Project scope/Neutral point of view for more information about how Commons differs from Wikipedia projects with respect to neutral point of view and original research.

See also