Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2006-08-07/Publicity photos

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The Wikipedia Signpost


Guidance on publicity photos called dangerous

By Michael Snow, 7 August 2006

Wikipedia practice with respect to claiming fair use for images became the subject of discussion again last week, this time focusing on publicity photos of celebrities. Jimbo Wales discouraged the use of such photos when they are not freely licensed and said the Wikipedia:Publicity photos page is "dangerous".

Although designated an "essay", rather than a policy or guideline, the page is linked from such places as the Wikipedia:Fair use guideline and the {{promophoto}} template, which is fairly heavily used. It purports to be limited to photos that are distributed in press kits, although it seems clear that not all photos given this tag were actually part of such kits. Jkelly called the category in which they are listed, Category:Promotional images, "one of the top five most problematic image categories by any measure I can think of."

For most celebrities, Wales said Wikipedia is better off having no photo at all than a fair use image. Not all those joining the discussion were fully prepared to agree, arguing that any image that improves an article helps Wikipedia's mission to spread knowledge, and should be used if not legally problematic. The point was also raised that freely licensed images tend to be of arguably poorer quality compared to the publicity shots of celebrities typically seen elsewhere.

Current practice on the English Wikipedia (but not for many other languages) allows images with a claim to fair use under United States copyright law. However, not all images covered by this are given equal leeway. Existing policy calls for the replacement of fair use images when a freely licensed alternative is provided.

Wales indicated his view that fair use should be even more limited, except for "a very narrow class of images that are of unique historical importance." He cited as examples album covers (when used to illustrate the article about the album) or movie screenshots, along with irreplaceable historic images such as that of Elián González being taken into the custody of federal agents. He admitted that formal Wikipedia policy does not yet require this conclusion in every case.

As part of the emphasis on freely licensed images, in May 2005 Wales prohibited images that were restricted to noncommercial use or Wikipedia-only permission (see archived story). Work to clean up the existing base of images has been ongoing for some time, with those participating in the effort occasionally voicing frustration at the pace of progress. Some have pointed to anecdotal accounts of freely licensed images being replaced with fair use images, saying this discourages photographers who go to the effort of providing free content.


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