Wikipedia:Plain and simple non-free content guide

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Wikipedia's copyright guidelines are probably the most complicated part of the whole site. So here's a breakdown of what the rules are and what they mean.


Whenever an image (or indeed any creative work) is created, it automatically becomes copyrighted. There is no "fee" for this; no need to "register" or even to include a copyright symbol. Even if the work doesn't say "All rights reserved", that's still the default state of affairs. Copyright provides the author with certain exclusive rights. In particular, it allows the author to prohibit others from distributing copies of the work.

Copyright, in practice, lasts for a very long time, though the precise duration is somewhat variable by jurisdiction. Our public domain guideline provides in-depth information about how and when works fall outside of copyright. The rest of this page is about works which are copyrighted.

"Free" and "non-free"[edit]

Wikipedia distinguishes between free and non-free content. Content is, by default, not free, but the author or copyright holder can release it under a free license if they so choose. Many authors and rightsholders are reluctant to do so, and you should never assume something is free unless it's explicitly labeled as such.

Bear in mind that a random image or video you found on the internet is not free unless the author has, in fact, released it under one of those licenses, or it is in the public domain.

Furthermore, we don't accept files donated solely for use on Wikipedia, except under our non-free restrictions.

So if that's what a "free" file is, what's a "non-free" file? Well, it's simply any copyrighted file that's not free.

The criteria[edit]

You can use free images anywhere for almost anything, provided they add to the page, but there are strict rules about how and where you may use non-free works. Here's an annotated version of the list:

No free equivalent[edit]

It can't be possible to replace the non-free image with a free image, even if the free image would be of lower quality, and even if no-one's actually created the free image yet. For instance, you cannot use a non-free image of a living person because, typically, it is possible for someone to take a picture of the subject and release that image freely. You cannot use The Dark Side of the Moon's album art to illustrate an article about optics, since you could easily use a different image of a prism diffracting light. And in an article about logos, you cannot use a non-free logo since free logos do, in fact, exist (e.g. The Battle for Wesnoth).

Respect for commercial opportunities[edit]

The work's use will not interfere with the author's ability to monetize it. Use trailers instead of the actual video, and clips instead of the actual audio.

Minimal usage and Minimal extent of use[edit]

As few non-free works are used as is practical. Those works are reasonably low-quality and, if possible, cropped to only show the relevant parts. Vector images, such as File:Princeton shield.svg, may be used if otherwise appropriate, but they should be rendered at reasonably low resolutions within articles (cf. Princeton University).

Previous publication[edit]

The work is published. Note that exhibition and performance do not count as publication. Publication occurs when non-ephemeral copies are distributed to the general public.


The work is useful for educational purposes. Stock photography, for instance, wouldn't meet this requirement. Note that we do have articles about entertainment and other fun things, which should be illustrated, often with non-free content.

Media-specific policy[edit]

If the work was free, it would be permissible on Wikipedia under other policies and guidelines.

One-article minimum[edit]

In addition to being useful under the "content" criterion above, the work is actually used in at least one article.

Contextual significance[edit]

The work or its subject is discussed in the article it's used in; replacing the work with a stock photo would substantially reduce the quality of the article.

Restrictions on location[edit]

The work is only used in articles; other namespaces cannot include non-free images, except for certain administrative pages. Your user page should not have any non-free images. You may still link to non-free images using the colon trick. Linking within Wikipedia is generally unrestricted.

File description page[edit]

The file is tagged or marked up with the following:

  1. The source of the file (typically, this is the author and distributor)
  2. A copyright tag
  3. For each article which uses the file, a separate non-free content use rationale (sometimes called a fair use rationale)


When you use a non-free image in an article, you must include a rationale explaining how the image conforms to the above criteria for that particular article. Although you may write this out by hand, it's often easier to fill in the blanks in a ready-made template.

Here are the required components. Note that some of these are the same no matter what the article is; you don't need to repeat those every time.

Portion used[edit]

Has the image been cropped? Is this just a clip of the whole audio or video?

Low resolution?[edit]

Is this a lower-than-normal-resolution copy of the image or video? If not, why do you need the higher resolution?

Purpose of use[edit]

What purpose does this image serve? Is it just there to give readers something to look at, or does it actually contribute to their understanding? How?

Generally speaking, logos and other "primary means of visual identification" are allowed on their subject articles.


Why can't you use a free image instead of this image? Note that "I can't find any" isn't an excuse. "I can't find any and I don't think we'll have an opportunity to make one in the future," on the other hand, is a valid reason.