Permission grant extent

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See also: Wikipedia and copyright issues, Do fair use images violate the GFDL?, sample image copyright case

The question is, what does the Wikipedia permission grant extend to?

  1. Global: All content on Wikipedia. The lot of it.
  2. Partial: All text on Wikipedia, plus selected images, sound, etc where noted on their description page.

I'm not a lawyer (duh!)

Global grant[edit]

If we use a global grant then we can't use fair use images. Nor can we use images where permission has been granted to Wikipedia only but not third parties. Nor can we use images where permission has been granted for non-commercial use. We're limited to (A) public domain or (B) GFDL (and GFDL compatible).


  • this is a simple permission grant that everyone can understand
  • doesn't break the GFDL license of articles by modifying them with the inclusion of material that is not GFDL-licensed


  • we lose a lot of pictures

Suppose that we have a fifty page article on George Bush and we include a copyrighted photo of the guy under fair use. Now, provided nobody else uses our content, we're safe - the owner of the photo - Frank Towers - won't sue us, because we're using the photo under fair use.

But, suppose Annie Robin comes along and likes the photo. She wants to put it on her site. She checks the permissions of the site and they say "you have permission to copy all content on Wikipedia, including images, under the GFDL. So she goes through her checklist:

  1. Is it content? Check
  2. Is it on Wikipedia? Check
  3. Am I using it under the GFDL? Check

So, Annie goes ahead and uses the image. However, Annie's website is part of a commercial company. And it's non-educational. And she's not copied across the fifty page article. And she's in direct competition with the owner of the photo. There's no way in hell she can use the photo under fair use. So Frank Towers sues her, Annie loses her life savings, and looks around for someone to blame. Wikipedia made a false declaration of copyright. Best scenario, we get a heck of a lot of negative publicity. Worst scenario, someone gets sued.

One solution that doesn't work: We attach an additional condition to the GFDL, saying "you may copy images marked "fair use", but only if you may use the images under fair use anyway". Fails because the GFDL doesn't allow us to attach additional conditions. We'd have to move from the GFDL to a GFDL variant. This would make us incompatible with the GFDL, which means we can't use Nupedia/FOLDOC/... content, and they can't use ours.

A solution that partially works: rely on the DMCA. Sure, we can use that to protect ourselves, but only provided that we fulfill various conditions. Amongst these, we need to make our policy a lot clearer than it is - that means "all text" needs to change to "all content", and en:wikipedia:copyrights and en:wikipedia:image use policy need to be rewritten. Currently they suggest (at least to me) that it's a partial grant as discussed below.

The DMCA protects our network provider (Jimbo) against claims of copyright infringement if he immediately removes any claimed material upon notification from the copyright holder. For instance, if I find that a non-GFDL image has been inserted into a GFDL article that I created and therefore am the copyright holder of, I might demand that the infringing non-GFDL derivitive work be taken down, since I only allow my work to be copied and modified according to the terms of the GFDL. --Brion VIBBER 21:13 1 May 2003 (UTC)
Sure, but the DMCA also requires other stuff like (IIRC) having a clear policy that exhorts contributors not to violate copyright. And at the moment I don't think we have that... we do a fair bit of exhortation, but it isn't clear to me.
A policy may not be totally clear, usually policies are not totally clear, but if they are reasonably clear what judge would impose a stricter standard on a volunteer organization? Alex756 21:28, 6 Oct 2003 (UTC)
The DMCA doesn't require exhortation except for educational institutions and the Wikipedia doesn't fit the definition. Does require account cancellation policy. Immediate removal is not required. Expeditious (longer time) is. A takedown notice could be ignored, relying on the CDA for protection. Your text would be removed instead if the image seemed useful enough to keep - it's often or usually easier to replace text than images. See the updated DMCA article. Also see image tag thought for mixed license model below. JamesDay 04:08, 10 Oct 2003 (UTC)
For example, the upload page has a checkbox that says "I affirm that the copyright holder of this file agrees to license it under the terms of the Wikipedia copyright." So I got to the linked page and I discover that the Wikipedia copyright for images is... "Occasionally, Wikipedia articles may include images [...] with different copyright terms".
That's not as clear as it could be, which is perhaps why a lot of people, like me, have got the wrong end of the stick regarding copyrights. MyRedDice
[1] - Jimbo appears from this post to think that having fair use pictures mixed with GFDL text doesn't break the GFDL. I think he's wrong. MyRedDice 19:34 2 May 2003 (UTC)
I don't see why this is particular to images and sounds -- shouldn't Wikipedia be able to use en:fair use excerpts of books and other text works too? - AaronSw 05:54, 23 Sep 2003 (UTC)
I agree, the problem is that some people do not make it clear that something is fair use, either images or text. This creates problem for reusers under the GFDL. As long as it is clear that it is fair use then the subsequent user can check the status of copyright and determine if their use will be covered by fair use. Anything less is interfering with reuse. For text most fair use will be short quotations used to illustrate something in an article, most likely this could be used in any encyclopedic use (of course if someone takes the quote and puts it on a tee shirt and sells it, well the copyright holder will probably want a royalty, that seems fair, no?). Alex756 21:28, 6 Oct 2003 (UTC)

The suggestion about about having different standards for images: You cannot put additional conditions on the GFDL (only the Free Software Foundation can do that) but the FSF could create a successor license for Wikipedia that is a fork off the current version of the license. I also think the hypothetical above is not realistic. Any commercial publisher will be doing due diligence on copyright issues. They will not assume that just because Wikipedia says it owns the copyright and can grant it that it will. One must always check the w:chain of title. Anyway, if Annie is publishing for profit she will probably publish in the name of a corporation (it costs a few hundred dollars to create a corporation) and they will sue the corporation, not her. Her savings will be secure, only her business will lose and she will learn something about copyright law. Alex756 21:28, 6 Oct 2003 (UTC)

This is largely a meaningless question for those in the US. As analysed to death at Do fair use images violate the GFDL?, fair use images do not violate the GFDL, in the eyes of the FSF. For those not in the US, we can most readily assist by helping licensing efforts and replacing images with more free images as we find them. Jamesday 09:17, 23 Feb 2004 (UTC)

Partial grant[edit]

In a partial grant we grant permission to use all text, but we'd only grant permission to use those images that do not have different copyright conditions on the image description page.


  • We can use images!


  • We face interesting GFDL incompatibilities, sublicenses face problems

To have different permissions for images and text, we need to say that the image and the text are different works and that they are not being combined, but merely aggregated. This seems completely dodgy to me, but what do I know?

If it turns out that such a combination is legally dodgy, then every time any Wikipedian edited any article with an image on it it, they'd be breaking the copyright of every person who's ever contributed to that article, because the editing person would be using the contributions of earlier contributors in a way not permitted under the GFDL. Wikipedia as a whole is at least morally responsible for letting such a situation occur. I don't know what would happen if someone issued a takedown notice

Also, because we'll have bunches of "fair use" images that sublicensees might not to be use, we screw over the RightToFork and interesting reuses of Wikipedia content. But this is minor compared to the issue with aggregation.

As it stands, the foot of every page says that all text is available under GNU FDL. Thereby not including images. As long as we make available a way to fork text without images, I'm not seeing the problem. - Montrealais

This works provided there is a way to accurately indicate state of images - that is, are they asserted to be GFDL or asserted to be fair use in the article? It's not that hard to tag them and present filtered views to logged in users, solving the derivative work problem. GFDL is best but a good Wikipedia matters more. Minor change to image tag: ImageGFDL (maps to ImageFair9) or ImageFair1 to ImageFair8 with number indicating increasing certainty of fair use in all situations. JamesDay 04:08, 10 Oct 2003 (UTC)

I don't think that fair use can be converted into a discrete eight stage linear scale. The four factors are each quantitatively evaluated for each use. So what would be the use of giving these four factors. Any one factor can make the use very fair, it is not something that judges added up the points. The law was not written like that nor is it interpreted like that. The best thing to do is to provide a detailed analysis for every fair use like what they are trying on the Frnech Wikipedia on image description pages. Any fair use has to be evaluated for each adaptation. Anything less is a delusion about fair use. It needs to be documented so that anyone encountering it can make their own reasoned determination. Having the rationale will help with the DCMA and any user who is accusing some other user of copyright infringement. They can go and discuss it with the Mediator. Alex756 06:04, 11 Oct 2003 (UTC)

This analysis is flawed. We would not be breaking the license of previous editors. See the very extensive discussion of this question at Do fair use images violate the GFDL?, where someone tried to use this argument to prohibit such an added image. Jamesday 09:17, 23 Feb 2004 (UTC)