Permission to edit or submit to Wikimedia projects

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Noto Emoji Pie 1f4c4.svg (English) This is an essay. It expresses the opinions and ideas of some Wikimedians but may not have wide support. This is not policy on Meta, but it may be a policy or guideline on other Wikimedia projects. Feel free to update this page as needed, or use the discussion page to propose major changes.
This page in a nutshell: While the Wikimedia Foundation generally does not require you to have anyone else's permission for you to edit, you might be bound by other parties to get that permission.

The Wikimedia Foundation liberally grants permission to submit content. You can create and post a huge range of material without asking, as far as Wikimedia is concerned. This is true for all Wikimedia projects, including Wikipedia.

But if you're bound by another party and they restrict you, Wikimedia Foundation's permission is probably not enough. You may need the other party's permission, too. That is generally beyond the Wikimedia Foundation's responsibility, and this essay is only for your information.

This is about U.S. law, Federal and non-Federal, and the original author of this essay is not a lawyer. For advice about facts and law in your case or someone else's, consult a lawyer or other legal expert (not at the Foundation's expense and not arranged by the Foundation).

Law governing[edit]

The principal law in the U.S. affecting you is likely to be a contract or other binding agreement. Not all binding agreements are contracts. Whether a promise made by one party without any consideration in exchange is binding is less clear, but in some cases a unilateral promise may bind the party who makes it. If it's enforceable in a government court, it's law between the parties.

Other law, such as in statute, regulation, and some manuals, may affect you, such as law on classified secrets (often military and foreign affairs), personal privacy of other people, libel or defamation, intellectual property (such as trade secrets, secret patents,[1] and work under copyright), government information (such as submitted patent applications until approval or denial), court matters (lawyers and police may know but be unable to say), and privileged information (spouses, lawyers, doctors, ministers, and social workers may be bound to secrecy). Staff, agents, and other individuals may be bound by these and other laws if anyone over them is so bound.


For purposes of this essay, the word agreement will be used for any binding agreement, binding promise, or contract (a contract is always binding unless legally void).

An agreement is often made in the course of employment, government relations, and business. It may exist in almost any relationship, including with some minors and some people adjudged incompetent. Not having a copy or not ever having read it is often irrelevant; it can still be binding. Clicking "OK" on a computer or phone screen is often fully legally equivalent to signing by hand with a pen and ink even if you never scrolled through all the gobbledygook.

Permission needed[edit]

Following are some cases where you may need permission under an agreement.


If an agreement restricts you every day and at all times, you may need permission, even if it's for what you do during your sleeptime.

On duty[edit]

If an agreement restricts you when you're on duty, perhaps even if you're only supposed to be available when asked and have nothing else to do otherwise (often called being on standby or on call), you may need permission while you're on duty or when you're just supposed to be available. Having nothing to do is not the same as having permission, depending on the terms of your agreement. Presumably, however, off-duty times are free for you.

On premises or using facilities or property[edit]

Using someone else's (including an institution's) computer, telephone, office space, consultation with a coworker or a manager, pencil, scrap paper, intellectual property, or whatever may bring restrictions into play, even if at the moment you're off duty. You may need permission.


If an agreement restricts you respecting a subject, you may need permission for that subject. This often is the case for proprietary information or if you've contracted to write on a subject exclusively for one publisher other than the Wikimedia Foundation.

Getting permission[edit]

Even an agreement with an absolute bar to publication may be amendable. If not, an exception may be granted. If an agreement was written (and online click agreements usually are written somewhere), the amendment or exception should be written, too. Your boss saying "sure" when you ask may not be enough.

For specified media only[edit]

When you get permission to publish someone else's content in one place, often that permission is limited to the one place you agreed on. Thus, you may have agreed not to publish anywhere else. However, Wikimedia doesn't honor that restriction and you may become financially liable when another editor republishes your content elsewhere even if you never knew about it. The reason is that you get someone's permission to publish only in Wikimedia and then you post the content into Wikimedia.[2] When you make that posting, you generally, legally, and implicitly agree with the Wikimedia Foundation that you have the right to permit further republication everywhere else. It's generally impossible to post into Wikimedia without agreeing to the Foundation's terms, even if you didn't notice it and never read the terms. But you don't really have any right to make that agreement with the Foundation, because you are posting someone else's content and that party restricts what you can do with it. So, when you post the other person's content into Wikimedia, you go beyond what you have legal permission to do and therefore you break the law. Even if you delete it from Wikimedia, anyone else generally can get it back. Then, when someone else copies what you post and publishes it somewhere else, the damage to the first person's interest is complete and, because you broke the law in the chain of events, you're liable. This can be costly. It doesn't matter that thousands of Wikimedia editors are deliriously happy with your submission and the Foundation thinks it's the best ever seen. It also doesn't save you that no one knows who copies from Wikimedia or where they republish it. That's your problem and you have no tool to fix it. You can prevent it, but only by not posting it in the first place.

The Foundation generally discourages editors from submitting someone else's content requiring permission. It's preferred that you rewrite the content in your own words. Fair use is a legal principle that applies to some content, generally pictures, but you have to provide a justification for fair use and fair-use content is subject to deletion when free content is available to replace it, even if it's different.

A solution is that when you seek written permission to submit to Wikimedia you explicitly explain that submitting to Wikimedia includes subsequent modification rights, including making derivatives and adaptation, and world republication rights, including online and print, without notice (there's no list of who copies from Wikimedia), and without payment. The best way to be explicit is to copy from the applicable license (it's linked to at the bottoms of Wikimedia pages) and share the terms so whoever may give you permission is fully informed beforehand, without their looking anything up. Make sure your agreement states the lack of limit on modification, derivation, adaptation, and republication and otherwise conforms to the licensing used for Wikimedia.

Against derivatives[edit]

Derivative works are within the right of the copyright owner to create or deny. But when you post into Wikimedia, you grant permission to create derivatives. If you don't have permission to do that, don't post the original into Wikimedia. If you prefer, write your own original content because, by posting that, you allow derivatives of your original work without affecting rights to the work that's not yours.

After you get the permission[edit]

What you do after you get the written permission is keep it. If the permission is personally for you, keep it with your personal property, in other words, often at home and generally not at your employer's offices, where files may be taken away. Usually, the Wikimedia Foundation does not need a copy of the permission or notice about it or want it. Your submitting content generally indicates you have whatever permission you need, your agreements being your affair. If a question, doubt, or disagreement arises, you can generally respond at that time.

Other law[edit]

A copyright situation: You may work for a company that gives away its newsletter to the public. Copyright may apply to the newsletter even if no copyright notice is to be seen. You may need permission to copy from it or to derive from it. The chief executive telling you that you work there so of course you can copy it is irrelevant; permission cannot be implicit but must be explicit, and is most provable if it's in writing.

See also[edit]


This essay's initial author, a nonlawyer, preferred that selecting the best references be left to a lawyer.

  1. Decker, Susan, & Eric Engleman, Widening Secret Patents Seen as Costing Inventors' Rights, in Bloomberg ([§] Sustainability), May 30, 2012, 12:00 a.m., E.T., or 4:00 a.m. G.M.T., as accessed September 17, 2012, & January 12, 2013.
  2. This essay does not determine whether the Foundation is by law a publisher, a host, or both.

External links[edit]

  • Conflict of interest: when you have permission or don't need it, but you may have a conflict of interest to be disclosed
  • Username policy: picking a username for yourself that suggests you represent someone or some organization