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Proposal to no longer consider images, audio, video and short texts licensed with the GFDL as Free Cultural Works.Edit


It is well known that the GFDL licence is incompatible with general image reuse in practice. This is because it requires the entire text of the licence to be incorporated into any work that makes use of such an image. The licence was invented for computer software documentation, not photographs. For this reason, Commons strongly discourages this licence for new images:

Note: The GFDL is not practical for photos and short texts, especially for printed media, because it requires that they be published along with the full text of the license. Thus, it is preferable to publish the work with a dual license, adding to the GFDL a license that permits use of the photo or text easily; a Creative Commons license, for example. Also, do not use the GPL and LGPL licenses as the only license for your own works if it can be avoided, as they are not really suitable for anything but software.


Please note: The GFDL is rather impractical for images and short texts, because it requires the full text of the GFDL to be published along with the image. This is prohibitive for print media: in order to use a single image in a newspaper, a full page containing the GFDL would have to be printed. To resolve this, please dual-license your work under GFDL and an equivalent Creative Commons license like CC-by-sa-3.0 (see below). This helps to make your work usable not only freely, but also easily.

Commons:Copyright tags#GNU Licenses

Wikimedia Commons also strongly disfavors content offered under licenses that impose impractical restrictions. For example, the GFDL technically requires that the complete license, a many-page document, be included with every copy of a work - even if the work is much smaller than the license! This type of restriction limits the scope of practical reuse. The Creative Commons licenses that Wikimedia Commons promotes help to balance the needs of content reusers, who want the attribution and license statement to be concise and practical, with the desires of the author, who often wish to be credited for their work.


In 2009, the WMF migrated many Commons GFDL images to (GFDL + CC-BY-SA) and encouraged uploaders whose licence could not be automatically migrated to do so manually.

The GFDL includes some potentially onerous provisions, such as the requirement to include the full license text with each copy. These requirements impede re-use of both text and multimedia (spoken or printed versions of articles, prints of images, etc.). Wikimedia is committed to the widest possible dissemination of free knowledge. While our terms of use have always allowed for lower barriers to re-use, their inconsistency with the license text leads to fear, uncertainty, and doubt about what is legal and what is not. It advantages those re-users who can afford legal advice and research over those who cannot. This is counter to Wikimedia's mission.

Commons:License Migration Task Force/Licensing change by uploader

It is also well known that the GFDL is the licence of choice for photographers who would rather donate under an non-commercial licence or who only want to donate to Wikipedia. This creates a double standard where the WMF asks organisations to donate images for use by anyone, yet our own photographers brazenly restrict their images to discourage or prevent commercial use.

For all my recent images, I use a GFDL-1.2 only license. In my opinion, this license allows me to restrict use of my images since it requires the user to include the license where the image is used. I usually waiver this requirement though if I get a request where the intended use is non-commercial. I do not mind my pictures being used by those who can not afford to buy them. What I despise is rich organizations who can afford to buy pictures being cheap and using them.

en:User talk:Ragesoss/Muhammad on Wikipedia Signpost

GFDL and the Definition of Free Cultural Works

The Wikimedia Foundation board resolution on licensing and the Commons Licensing Policy both frame the permissible licences in terms of the Definition of Free Cultural Works. This states the work must be free for anyone to reuse (so non-commercial or educational-only licenses are not free) but also that the licence must be practical: "whenever the user of a work cannot legally or practically exercise his or her basic freedoms, the work cannot be considered and should not be called "free.""

Historically the interpretation of which licenses are sufficiently free for Commons has been left up to the community, and that's where I believe it belongs. The WMF licensing policy specifies that licensing must be compliant with the Definition of Free Cultural Works, but whether specific licenses are or aren't consistent with the Definition for specific purposes is IMO a matter of such ambiguity that it requires ongoing community discussion. The GFDL and similar licenses that are being used for purposes other than the ones they were originally developed for are perfect examples of this dilemma, as they were clearly drafted to support free sharing of information, but nonetheless may not be appropriate in all circumstances.

Erik Möller, Deputy Director of the Wikimedia Foundation and original author of the Definition of Free Cultural Works.

Commons clearly considers the GFDL impractical for images, audio, video and short texts, and has done for years. The consequence of applying the Definition to this impracticality is that such GFDL-licensed media should no longer be considered Free Cultural Works.


  1. Although the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) is in general considered a Free Culture Licence, its use for media other than documentation imposes such burdensome impracticalities that such media licensed with the GFDL cannot be considered Free Cultural Works. Examples of such incompatible media include images, audio, video and short texts.
  2. This licence will no longer be considered an "acceptable free licence" for such media uploaded to Commons. It may however, like any other licence, continue to be a multi-licence option in combination with an acceptable free licence.
  3. Existing media with a GFDL licence that are not multi-licensed with an acceptable free licence shall be permitted to remain, though uploaders are encouraged to add an acceptable licence. Derivative works of and new versions of such files may be uploaded to Commons.