Wikipedia:Removal of non-free images

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The ninth item of Wikipedia’s policy for non-free content states that non-free images should only be used in the article namespace (not disambiguation pages), and goes further into the underlying reasons for the policy.

This issue is important because copyright complaints are a very direct way in which Wikipedia could be financially harmed. Wikipedia operates on donations only. To have to respond to copyright complaints, Wikipedia ultimately needs to pay for legal counsel to help respond to these issues. Violating most policies on Wikipedia does not constitute a financial threat to Wikipedia. In the case of copyright infringement, violation of policy most definitely does constitute a very large potential threat if for no other reason than the cost of Wikipedia representing itself against plaintiffs in court cases.

Fair use images on userpages[edit]

Many users take the time and effort to decorate their userpages with a variety of images. The desire to do this is understandable. Pure text based userpages are often dull and boring. It's easy to spruce up a page using a variety of images showing your interests, likes, dislikes, etc. and/or using such images as navigation icons. However, such use of fair use images is not permitted under copyright law in the United States, where Wikipedia hosts the vast majority of its servers. Therefore, such use on your userpage is not permitted. While there may be a limited range of circumstances where such use might be allowed under copyright law, the Wikipedia Board of Trustees has decided to err on the side of caution in regards to this issue and restrict the use of fair use.

Fair use images on lists of contributions[edit]

Many people like to create an area where they display the various images they have uploaded for use on Wikipedia. You have every right to be proud of your contributions, and you should in no way be chastised for that pride. However, it is still against policy to actually display the images in question. Instead, you can list the image without actually displaying it. For example, let's say this image was a fair use image:
If it were a fair use image (it isn't, it is in the public domain as a work of the U.S. government), then displaying it on one's userspace (or here in the Wikipedia project space) would be against policy. So, alternatively one could still list the image here without actually displaying it. The code for this is [[:Image:DD963crest.gif]], and if prefixed with an asterisk looks like this:

That is an acceptable use, since the image is not actually displayed, but rather referenced.

Fair use images on userboxes[edit]

Beginning in January 2006, there was a very rapid rise in the creation and use of userboxes. This created quite a stir on the project (see Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2006-01-02/News_and_notes, Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2006-02-13/Userbox warring for some more information on this), and resulted in a great deal of tension. One of the problems that arose from this was the rather rampant use of fair use images in userboxes. As per the fair use policy, this usage is not allowed. A number of editors have undertaken efforts to ensure that userboxes do not include fair use images in order to protect Wikipedia against copyright violation claims.

Thus, any action taken to remove fair use images should not be interpreted as a personal statement against userboxes. Rather, it should be interpreted as enforcement of policy regarding fair use.

Manually coded userboxes, as opposed to templates[edit]

As a result of a number of userboxes being deleted, a number of users have manually coded userboxes on their userpages that result in the display of something similar to the more standard userboxes. The use of fair use images in these cases is every bit the same as in regular userboxes, and is still against policy.

Fair use images in non-userbox templates[edit]

The use of fair use images on templates is also not permitted. At first glance, this might seem improper. After all, these templates are often intended to be used only on articles that portray the subject in question. The problem comes in the "intended use" area; it is entirely possible (and does happen) that templates intended for use only in main article namespace are used in other namespaces. This potentially creates a copyright issue if there is a fair use image on the template. Thus, the policy has been written to forbid uses of fair use images in templates of any kind.

Possible questions and responses to these actions[edit]

Why weren't the images replaced with something usable?[edit]

There's a dizzying array of interests, dislikes, likes, etc. of users on Wikipedia. There's no possible way that I can know what might look best or not in the cases of all of those interests.

Early on, an attempt was made to replace a fair use image by creating a logo to replace the removed image. You can see the result of this effort at Image:Oalogo2.jpg. As of this writing, that image is still in use on the userbox in question, which you can see at Wikipedia:WikiProject Scouting/Userboxes/Arrowman. Reaction to this image was mixed; some liked it, some did not. So, this may have been ultimately wasted effort. It is probably best to have this effort made by parties with a vested interest in having an image to replace the fair use image.

Additionally, if the few editors involved in efforts to adhere to this fair use policy were to undertake an effort to create images to replace every instance of a policy violating use of fair use images, it would take forever to make progress on the removal of such images in uses outside of the main article namespace.

My userpage is mine. Nobody else has the right to edit it![edit]

Wikipedia offers considerable latitude on the editor's 'control' over their userspace. However, this does not in any way mean that your userspace is yours and yours only. Others can and should edit your userspace as needed in the interests of the project, which outweigh the desire of any one user to violate copyright law by the use of fair use images in their userspace. Users who raise issue with my removal of fair use images from their userspace might wish to review Wikipedia:User page. Please note that on that guideline page it states Non-free images found on a user page (including user talk pages) may be removed (preferably by replacing it with a link to the image) from that page without warning (and, if not used in a Wikipedia article, deleted entirely).

The prescribed actions should not be interpreted as an attempt to thwart attempts to contribute to Wikipedia. In fact, rather the opposite; these actions are intended to protect Wikipedia against copyright infringement claims so that you can continue contributing to this wonderful resource.

Someone could have at least asked me before doing this![edit]

Yes, permission could be requested prior to the removal of the image. However, many editors don't make requests of users to remove such images because to do so would require the crafting of individual, unique messages in every case where an image is removed. This would be time consuming to say the least. Additionally, this would require that someone monitor these pages over time to ensure that each of these violations was seen to by the editor in question. This would require multiple reviews of each page where there was a violation until such time as the user performed the requested removal, with the possibility of having to place additional warnings on the user's talk page. The table below illustrates the very large increase in work load that would result in the "ask first" model of performing this work:

Ask first model Remove directly model
  1. Determine if the user is still active. If not, then delete right away. If yes, then proceed to the next step.
  2. Place a unique message on the user's talk page.
  3. Monitor user's contributions, talk page, and userpage in question to see if the user has made the changes, responded to the request on talk, or continued editing while ignoring the request. Keep monitoring until the user shows editing activity proving lack of compliance with the request.
  4. If the user has ignored the request or responded to the message without performing the removal(s), place another uniquely crafted message on their talk page explaining why the removals must be done.
  5. Again, monitor user's contributions, talk page, and userpage in question to see if the user has made the changes, responded to the request on talk, or continued editing while ignoring the request. Keep monitoring until the user shows editing activity proving lack of compliance with the request.
  6. If the user has still not performed the removal, perform the removal.
  7. Monitor the next edits to the userpage in question to ensure the image removal is not reverted or replaced with another fair use image.
  1. Remove the fair use image, leaving a highly descriptive edit summary of what was done and why.
  2. Monitor the next edits to the userpage in question to ensure the image removal is not reverted or replaced with another fair use image.

The net outcome of these two models is essentially the same; the images will be removed, one way or another. The remove directly model requires considerably less effort to perform.

My use of these images is a fair use under copyright law![edit]

While it might be legal for you to use fair use images in this way, the servers are the private property of the Wikimedia Foundation, which has established a policy that proscribes their use in this way. In particular, the policy states All other uses, even if legal under the fair use clauses of copyright law, should be avoided to keep the use of unfree images to a minimum. Thus, even if your use of a fair use tagged image would be legal under copyright law, it is not allowed under Wikipedia policy.

See also[edit]