Legal/CC BY-SA licenses and social media
Note: This page shares the Wikimedia Foundation’s preliminary perspective on a legal issue. This page is not final - if you have additional information, or want to provide a different perspective, please feel free to expand or add to it.
Please Remember - This Is Not Legal Advice!
- This page may not be accurate, and may fall out of date over time.
- The purpose of these pages is to present the Wikimedia Foundation's perspective on an issue. However, because these pages may be edited and updated by the community, they may not continue to represent the viewpoints of the Wikimedia Foundation.
- The legal team can only represent the Wikimedia Foundation on legal matters, so if you feel you need personal legal advice, please contact a lawyer.
- Because the legal team represents the Foundation, we cannot provide consultations with community members. Contacting the legal team does not create an attorney-client relationship, or any of the duties that come with such a relationship, such as confidentiality.
For more information on this disclaimer, see here.
This article details appropriate use and attribution requirements for sharing CC-licensed materials from Wikimedia projects on social media.
When sharing content to social media, one should first distinguish whether they are the creator of the work being shared or not.
The creator has broad rights to share in any manner and to relicense the work with or without attribution or a free culture license.
If one is not the creator, the questions are how, given the means and medium of sharing, the required attribution from the CC license can be provided and whether there are any restrictions directly prohibiting sharing of content under certain licenses. In general, if good attribution is provided in a way that will accompany a work, such as in the same post or through embedding from another site, the reuse does not violate a license such as CC BY-SA.
The Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license (CC BY-SA) and anything licensed under copyright can be broken down into two categories: Works you have produced and licensed yourself, and works that someone else (a third party) produced and licensed for you to use.
Works you’ve created yourself
This is the easiest category. For works such as photographs or short text that have a single author, that author can use the work however they please under copyright law. This means they may license it for use on Wikipedia, then post it elsewhere with or without attribution or under any other license as they please. In particular, licensing a work under any Creative Commons license does not prevent the author from relicensing to others under different terms.
Works created by third parties
When posting something made by a third party to social media, there are two primary considerations to keep in mind. First, is it possible to comply with the terms of the license when posting? Second, are there other considerations or limitations that might prevent sharing certain licensed content?
For the first, there are a few ways to comply with a CC BY-SA license. The standard practice for attribution is to provide the author, license, and source. Section 4(c) (of BY-SA 3.0) allows for attribution under the licenses to be provided as appropriate to the means or medium where the work is being reused. In the case of most social media, the typical way to provide attribution would be to provide the attribution information as part of the same post where the image is shared, ideally with a link back to the source. For example, in a Facebook post, including the attribution directly before or after a CC licensed image is used would cause it to appear when the post is shared or embedded elsewhere. The attribution should provide author and the license itself (e.g., [Author Name] CC BY-SA 3.0]) and, where practical, a link back to the source for original work. If the source includes all the relevant information, such as a Commons image page, that typically satisfies all requirements.
While this post refers to the 3.0 license version (as it is one of the more common in use and covers both images and text from Wikipedia), similar language is present in both earlier and later versions, such that this type of attribution will suffice in any normal situation.
It is also possible to watermark an image with its attribution as a derivative work. This ensures that the attribution information will not be lost even if the image is extracted or directly linked from a post. This is generally discouraged (see Commons:Watermarks and CreativeCommons' page), however, as watermarks can detract from the aesthetics of the original. If one is in a situation where an image is expected to be extracted and linked separately, watermarking may provide a simple way to nevertheless retain the attribution as required by the license.
It is also worth noting that rich embedding, in which a link posted to social media displays an image and short blurb from the originating website, typically complies with the attribution required by a CC BY-SA license of any version. Since the image and the link are functionally inseparable in this kind of post, the attribution information from the original website automatically accompanies the social media posting regardless of how the link is reshared.
Some examples of effective sharing on social media are:
- Link (from Creative Commons showing attribution in a Facebook post)
- Link (showing an embedded medium article with a CC licensed image displaying on Twitter)
- Link (Good attribution without a link-back from Wiki Loves Monuments Twitter. Note the gray text included bottom left as part of the image so the attribution travels with it).
- Link (History website with Wiki Loves Monuments photo and photo credit information watermarked at the base of the image. Note that the link back to the Commons page, which includes all relevant information, meets the attribution requirement)
Some examples of not doing things right:
- Link (A winning image from Wiki Loves Monuments linked on Reddit with an incorrect URL and no other information. No information and no link (or a wrong link) fails to meet attribution requirements)
- Link 1, Link 2, Link 3 (All of these use a freely licensed image without crediting the author, license, or source URL. Credits like "from Wikimedia Commons" or "from Wikipedia" are not usually sufficient without a link.)
Creative Commons has posted a blog entry discussing the topic with some attribution recommendations.
No, it does not violate the CC license.
A social media website's Terms of Service do not override a license or the requirements of copyright law. Some users have expressed concern with a clause found in Facebook and Twitter's Terms of Service that give these platforms a broad license to use your content when you upload it. However, if you are not the author of this work, you cannot grant permissions that you do not yourself have. While this situation creates an ambiguity for users, it does not change or conflict with the copyright license of the works in question.