Not about everything

November 18, 2008

Wikipedia: how my copyrighted photo got into the public domain

My copyrighted photo is now spreading around the world tagged as “Public Domain”, with no reference to me as photographer. Thanks to wikipedia. However the photo is still copyrighted by me, I did never change the license.

I have a flickr account with many photos, all are published there as “all rights reserved”. Out of curiosity I sometimes following links that are provided in the flickr statistics. On one such occasion, there was a referer to a Google images search. When I followed that, I saw to my surprise that it not only showed the photo on flickr, but also on wikipedia. A closer look revealed that my photo had been hosted on (the media storage for wikipedia) since March 2007. A bit by bit comparison showed that wikimedia hosted exactly the same photo as the medium size (500 x 333 px) version that was created by flickr after I uploaded the full size version. Wikimedia hosted the photo as “Public Domain”.


A further search on internet revealed a number of other places where this photo was in use. Apparently people had believed the public domain tag that was given to the photo by wikimedia, and thought it was free to use.

I was angry. My first step was to notify wikimedia of the situation. The problem was however not only that wikimedia was hosting the image illegally, but that a number of sites had copied the photo with the wrong license and that it will be very hard to stop further spread of the photo. It would have been a lot better if wikimedia would not use such free licenses, but would use a “wikimedia-only” license.

On, the photo got a “speedy deletion”. But people there immediately said that Commons (as they like to call it) is not responsible for the uploads. The uploader is responsible. Interestingly enough the accounts on wikimedia are basically anonymous. All you need to create an account is an email address, which is invisible to others. Wikimedia will only release this email address (and IP-number) when required by law. People can also use a temporary email address to create a wikimedia account.

On the other hand, sometimes the identity of a person can be found from bits and pieces. With some help of people on wikimedia, I was able to identify the uploader (name, address, email) with a high certainty. I have no doubts about the identity of the uploader, but I am not sure if what I have is evidence in a legal sense.

The question is who is guilty. Wikimedia claims to be not (never) responsible and says the uploader is. The uploader clearly did something wrong. But wikimedia has hosted the photo illegally for about 20 months, and worse even offered it for download as “public domain” during that period. To me – but I am no lawyer – that seems reason enough to be guilty of a violation of copyrights.

When I talked about sending a bill to wikimedia for this, some people started giving funny responses. One claimed that wikimedia would block my account there for that reason (I have had an account since a couple of years – I even have been an admin on nl.wikipedia for a while). As if that would invalidate a bill. Also it was questioned if I could prove that I never offered the photo with a free license. The photo has always been on flickr with “all rights reserved” – all my photos on flickr are, but I don’t know if it is possible to prove that. I know the photo was taken from my flickr account, and flickr does not provide an option to publish photos as Public Domain. It does offer several variants of the Creative Commons license, but not Public Domain.

Anyway, I decided to start to formulate a message to the uploader, explaining what exactly he had done wrong. I wanted to write how he had agreed that he in person is responsible for his uploads to Commons. For the exact formulation I opened the upload form of Commons. To my surprise there was nothing in that form that states that the uploader is responsible. There are only instructions. Indeed also instructions about copyrighted files which would be deleted without further notice. The text of the upload form suggests that all uploads are being reviewed.

In practice, uploaded files are being reviewed by volunteers who themselves say that they are not gods. Sometimes copyrighted files are being uploaded to Commons and removed. But some slip through. One person said that about 2% of the uploads to Commons are copyright violations.

In the case of this photo, the history of the file on Commons makes clear how this one slipped through. The history of the file is now invisible on Commons, but I have saved every iteration. In short: the uploader at first said it was a file from flickr (with no specified url) with a CC-license. Because a specified url was missing a bot on commons indicated that a human should check the status. The uploader was notified of insufficient information. The uploader then changed the file information to “own work” and the license to “public domain”. That change was accepted by an admin. But it would have been very easy to find the file on flickr. The name of the image on Commons was “HEMA_Utrecht.jpg”. A search on flickr for “Hema Utrecht” shows the photo as first result.

My suggestions to wikimedia:

  • Use a “wikimedia-only” license to prevent spread of copyright violations beyond wikimedia.
  • If you want the uploader to be responsible, only accept accounts that contain full contact information, make sure that it information is correct.
  • Change the upload form, so it is explicitly clear to the uploader that he is responsible for copyright violations.

The wikipedia is a large project with a big impact. Commons is a well-known and much-used source for free content. The organization behind these projects can or should no longer hide behind anonymous uploaders.



  1. While you were legitimately wronged by the uploader in question, you are also making some unreasonable demands. Under the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, if a site removes copyright violations committed by users upon notification (as they seem to have done with regard to your picture), the site is not liable, so your demands that they pay a bill to you are not supported by law. As for your insisting they switch to a “Wikimedia only” license, that would defeat the purpose of Wikimedia Commons, which is intended to be a repository of free material that can be reused by anybody. You would hamstring the reuse of genuinely free media just to try to avoid misuse of things that are improperly uploaded and tagged.

    Comment by Dan T. — April 4, 2009 @ 18:15 | Reply

  2. I hope that you will visit our non-profit website ( dedicated to just these kinds of unethical practices on the Internet.

    I wanted to correct you about one thing — a Wikipedia editor need not even have an e-mail address to begin illegally uploading copyrighted images and text to Wikimedia properties. Indeed, I could walk into a public library today, create an account named “Copyright This You Big Ape”, with no e-mail verification, and the only “evidence” either you or the Wikimedia Foundation would have against me (even with a subpoena) would be the library’s IP address.

    Anonymity of wrongdoers is quite an escalating problem on the Internet, and the Wikimedia Foundation is not only failing to do anything to resolve the problem, they are adding to it with their careless “free culture” agenda.

    Comment by Gregory Kohs — April 4, 2009 @ 18:30 | Reply

  3. @Gregory Kohs: Now my account User:Copyright This You Big Ape will be blocked as your sockpuppet! Thanks a lot!

    @Takaita: I’m sure this happens all the time. I’m glad you caught it and managed to limit the damage.

    Comment by the long memory of the internet — April 4, 2009 @ 21:09 | Reply

  4. @Dan T.: Takaita’s suggestion that Wikimedia switch to a “Wikimedia only” license seems to be sensible in that it would prevent these types of things from happening. To dismiss it because the purpose of the Wikimedia Commons is “to be a repository of free material that can be reused by anybody” simply ignores the problem, much as Wikipedia ignores the problem of biographies that attract libellous comments and vandalism. There is endless discussion and argument about image use on Wikipedia and very few editors (or admins) seem to have a solid grasp of the rules. Personally, I’m sure much of what has been uploaded is improperly classified, either due to ignorance or to wilful mislabelling by the uploader.

    Comment by the long memory of the internet — April 4, 2009 @ 21:17 | Reply

  5. It is misleading and unhelpful to blame this on Wikimedia Commons. Many websites allow uploading of photos and many don’t even insist on the level of assurances that Wikimedia projects demand. It is easy to see that photos of all sorts are copied without permission all over the internet.

    The problem here has little do with Wikipedia per se. The problem is people who knowingly upload crap.

    Comment by Joshua Zelinsky — April 4, 2009 @ 22:49 | Reply

  6. Once again, another Wikipedia cultist (this time, Zelinsky) fails to see the larger point as he tries to deflect attention elsewhere. “Many websites” may allow uploading of photos. How many of them have the nerve and hubris to make the relicensing of said images part and parcel of its everyday illegitimate practice?

    Comment by Gregory Kohs — April 5, 2009 @ 01:41 | Reply

    • Flickr immediately comes to mind as a website that has “the nerve and hubris to make the relicensing of said images part and parcel of its everyday illegitimate practice”. Anyone can get an account on flickr, upload a public domain photo and mark it as “All rights Reserved”, or even take an “All rights reserved” one from another flickr user, upload it and claim it as their own and put it under whatever license they want.

      Comment by Edward — April 24, 2009 @ 14:43 | Reply

  7. In my experience on Commons one of the most frequent sources of fake copyright information is Flickr itself. Wikimedia Commons has a term for it ‘Flickr washing’ and even maintains a list of flickr accounts which are full of copyright violations (, unfortunately flickr won’t respond to good-samaritan copyright violation reports and removed even the most obvious violators. (Kohs, duh… Flickr (and many other sites) allow users to specify that the image is freely licensed)

    Not only does Wikimedia commons take good samaritan reports but its community pro-actively patrols images and removes a great many violations quickly and on their own initiative without needing any involvement of the copyright holder. New uploads are automatically compared against previously deleted works, so the reuploading tricks which are 100% effective on sites like flickr have diminished effectiveness on Wikimedia commons.

    Of course— things do slip through, and that a lot of effort is already taken is no excuse. The system might be 98% effective, but 98% isn’t good enough and a lot of harm can be caused by the remainder. At the same time your recommendation regarding licensing is unrealistic. Part of the fundamental purpose of these projects is to collect and produce materially which is freely redistributable. So the suggestion to use wikipedia only licenses is rather naive. The upload form has been more explicit in the past, I don’t think that one is unrealistic. There have been proposals to require a confirmed email address, but they were held up by the lack of unified login between the Wikimedia sites… a unified login system was turned up earlier this year, so perhaps its time to revisit that subject.

    I suppose we could add to your list: A better review process for licenses which change. There was almost certainly no human review of that particular license change. The software that detects bogus looking licensing could flag every change away from bogus looking licensing for human review.

    One enormous improvement would be if flickr offered some kind of ‘content search’, if we could provide flickr with an MD5 hash or some perceptual fuzzy hash and search its database commons would use it, and it would be highly effective at catching this kind of thing. (English Wikipedia uses all of the popular text search engines to search for newly added articles). Wikimedia Commons could also run a registration services for non-free images where people could submit images that they don’t want to show up on commons into a private repository which would be used to detect bad uploads, unfortunately the people who need this the most wouldn’t be participating. … so it would be best to demand that your photo hosting services offer some interface that anyone could use to locate specific images automatically.

    If your image is being illegally distributed you’re free to go demand payment from anyone who continues to use it, copyright is an economic right after all. The horse can be put back in the barn in this case, although somewhat painfully. Since the mission of commons is to produce a repository which is freely redistributable when an image that isn’t free slips through it hurts the project too. Commons would like to be trust-worthily free, so even a few bad images are a big problem. Since there is a way to ‘fix’ the damage, and because the project clearly has a common interest with you this failure is categorically different from some other problems that the Wikimedia projects have and is a lot more likely to be improved upon in the short term…

    Comment by Gregory Maxwell — April 5, 2009 @ 04:54 | Reply

  8. Actually, you don’t even need an e-mail address to create accounts.

    Comment by HAGGER? — April 5, 2009 @ 06:40 | Reply

  9. Somehow this blog entree was ‘discovered’ recently and a couple of responses have been added. That is good. I take the opportunity to react on some responses.

    @Dan T. (Daniel R. Tobias),
    Actually, I am not making unreasonable demands. I am not making any demands at all. I am doing a couple of suggestions.

    Your statements of wikimedia not having to pay a bill together with the purpose of wikimedia intending to be a repository of free material give me a very bitter taste. I am not a lawyer, as I said. The issue is namely that wikimedia has not just been using my image, but had it added to a ‘repository’ with the full intention of spreading it around. The matter is also that wikimedia refuses to do any steps to find and contact those who actually took my photo from your repository (as intended). Wikimedia is – because of its intention – to blame for this further spreading om my copyrighted material. It is probably food for lawyers where the responsibility of wikimedia starts and end. In human terms however – and that is what counts for me – wikimedia is playing a dirty game by both intentionally spreading material around and refusing any responsibility if things go wrong.

    As for a wikimedia-only license, my suggestion (again, I am not making any demands) is based on a very practical reasoning. The wikipedia functions mainly as an online resource. That functionality would not be harmed in any way by a wikimedia-only license. Concerning licensing: everything beyond offering a platform for an “encyclopedia that anyone can edit” is useless ideology. Interestingly I read on your site a warning against monoculture ( I’d say that also the free license of the wikipedia contributes to monoculture. The list of wikipedia clones is almost endless.

    @Gregory Maxwell.

    Why is there a need for wikimedia to take photos from flickr? Except when an image is actually going to be used in an article, copying photos from flickr to commons is a useless exercise. Commons is full of third-quality ‘artwork’ which isn’t even good enough to be used in wikipedia articles (the quality threshold for that is already quite low). Distributing worthless stuff just because it has a license that allows such distribution is crazy. And don’t tell me that there is no one who could have made a better illustration of the HEMA shops than my photo above.

    Comment by takaita — April 5, 2009 @ 12:15 | Reply

  10. @takaita You may find it enlightening to acquaint yourself with the mission of the Wikimedia Foundation:

    If a user too the time to move an image over then presumably they had a reason to consider is useful, it isn’t as though there exists an automated process exhaustively pulling every single license eligible image from flickr over.

    I’m curious as to exactly what you’d consider to be “taking responsibility” considering that, by your own admission, the image was removed promptly when you raised an alarm over it. I’m somewhat doubtful that you availed yourself of the formal notice and takedown procedure, so that removal was likely above and beyond what would have been required by law, and certainly above and beyond what many other sites provide. Can you explain specifically how you see Wikimedia Commons to be weaker than Flickr’s (or any other site that allows anyone with a computer to upload an image and tag it as liberally licensed)?

    Comment by Gregory Maxwell — April 5, 2009 @ 12:29 | Reply

  11. The mission of wikimedia talks about “educational content”, not about rubbish. In practice wikimedia only looks at the license, not at quality. I point that out, because wikimedia seems more driven by “free” and “distribution” than by “useful” and “quality”.

    There is at least one automated process to copy images from flickr to commons: FlickrLickr ( ).

    Lastly, it is nice that wikimedia removed my photo after I notified wikimedia. What you overlook is the problem that wikimedia has been distributing (not just ‘displaying’) my photo for 20 months and even though that is by intention, it refuses to take responsibility for that.

    edit: By ‘taking responsibility’ I mean that Wikimedia can actively search for copies taken from its distribution center to other sites and note those other sites of the wrong license. A mistake had been made, a mistake should be repaired in all its consequences.

    Comment by takaita — April 5, 2009 @ 12:53 | Reply

  12. The selection of images for FlickrLickr isn’t automated. Users select the images, write descriptions, etc. FlickrLickr then copies the images over. Only users with some experience have even been permitted to use it. There simply is no blind automatic copying, you can trust me on this.

    Finding images on other sites is a hard problem, were it not this problem would not have existed in the first place (as an automated process would have found your original image when the upload happened). In the past when I’ve removed images on commons I’ve sought reusers and advised them of the problem, but unfortunately only the copyright holder has the legal standing required to formally demand that a copyright violation be taken down. Not only to most sites not respond to informal requests, I’ve even had an idiotic copyright ignoring webmaster threaten me with legal action when I told them I was alerting the copyright holders of their illicit copying!

    You are best off sending (US based) sites with copies of your work a formal DMCA take down complaint. There are many examples of these on the internet ( ). This notice will create a legal obligation to remove the material.

    I’ve found in my many years of cooperating with people online that if you are helpful and kind to people that they will tend to be helpful and kind in return; while if you yell, make demands, and lob accusations you will, at best, get the minimum treatment you are obligated to receive and often worse. When it comes down to it, the users of the Wikimedia projects are under no legal obligation to help you get the images taken down, even though another user of their site was the wrongdoer. In any case, without your assistance they would be rather handicapped in that effort. You might think that the wikimedia users have an ethical obligation to help you, but their response here has already already gone above and beyond what other sites would provide and in your frustration you have treated people who had no personal culpability in the original misdeed with hostility and now still expect these people to bend over backwards for you? Over an image which you yourself have called worthless on several occasions now? I think your expectations are unrealistic.

    Comment by Gregory Maxwell — April 5, 2009 @ 14:17 | Reply

  13. Gregory,

    Please explain why I should be nice to an organization which violates the copyright of my image? Is there a special reason why I have to get on my knees to have that image removed from the repository? I know that you will argue that the wikimedia organization is different from the wikimedia users. You have to understand that it is not different. On flickr it is clear that users are responsible for their own stream. On wikimedia everything blurs into something common, something not owned by anyone. Wikimedia presents itself as a project with a mission. Wikimedia users are just the tools to reach that mission.

    You should also know that wikimedia users were not very nice to begin with. It was openly doubted that I could prove the photo was mine or that I had published it with a free license for a while. I was threatened by being blocked from wikipedia. Some wikimedia users were nice though, and some also understood that I had a problem with the situation. I haven’t seen any understanding from you. You only seem to make clear that flickr is worse than wikimedia. But flickr is so totally different from wikimedia, that I do not know why you want to compare them.

    What you also do not understand that wikimedia is not just using a photo illegally, but has been actively distributing it with a wrong license. Remember the ‘mission’ of wikimedia? Wikimedia does not want to undo the damage of that distribution. I know, it is hard to undistribute a photo. But it is only reasonable that if you can not undo a damage, that the damage is compensated. And if even that is not possible, an apology is the least. I have not seen anything remotely like an apology from you.

    By the way, I have not said that my photo is worthless. This photo seems to me quite unfit for encyclopedic purposes and in that respect a more encyclopedic photo is easily made. I have said that commons is full of rubbish. Also because FlickrLickr was used to import for example 18 images of the same Renault racing car from flickr. Why? Why 6 images of Collioure while none of them seems in use?

    Anyway, when treated with respect, I respond nicely. From what you are saying I sense that your ideology is more important to you than respect of people. That does not provide me with a reason to be nice to you. Actually, I do not think you learned the lesson that you say you have learned.

    Comment by takaita — April 5, 2009 @ 19:05 | Reply

  14. @takaita: your blog post is being discussed on Wikipedia Review–a popular forum which is often critical of Wikipedia’s “culture”.

    As a result, you’re being piled on by Wikipedia nerds who still believe in the glorious project and its stupid/smart philosophy that “all information wants to be free, and we need to make that happen”. Yes, Gregory Maxwell is a Wikimedia Foundation employee, and Josh Zelinsky is one of Wikipedia’s most notorious “inclusionists”. He’s so notorious, Wikipedia Review has a special subforum dedicated to him.

    This is not the first time copyrighted material has been posted on Commons without permission, and it won’t be the last. By a long shot. Copyright violation on Wikimedia is a large and little-acknowledged problem, in spite of the whitewashing going on in this comment area. And this is only the tip of the iceberg of Wikipedia’s problems.

    You can file a DMCA complaint. I should warn you that there is an excellent chance the Wikimedia Foundation will ignore it. (Their address is P.O. Box 78350, San Francisco, CA 94107-8350. Legal papers can be physically served at their office, 39 Stillman Street, San Francisco, CA 94107. Good luck.)

    The upshot is: Wikipedia is a SICK SOCIETY. You can learn more at Wikipedia Review (WR), which is a good neutral place to discuss Wikipedia’s problems, and has a huge archive of discussions about Wikipedia scandals, large and small. Plus, some Wikipedia admins participate on WR, so you can get the crap right from the horse’s mouth, as it were.

    Comment by metasonix — April 5, 2009 @ 20:08 | Reply

  15. Crap comes from the other end of the horse, doesn’t it?

    I’m active on WR myself, and it sometimes has good, perceptive criticism of the antics of the personalities and cliques of Wikipedia, but I still support the basic (libertarian, nerdy) philosophical objectives behind Wikipedia / Wikimedia, unlike many on WR, and find the critics to often degenerate into unreasonable, whiny petulance where because they think they’ve been wronged, they feel they can insist that others change their basic philosophy to suit them.

    A DMCA complaint against Wikimedia will be totally useless now that the image has been deleted; it would be better served against any other site that still hosts the image now.

    Some of you guys seem to be insisting that a reusable freely-licensed repository of images must not be allowed to exist if there’s the slightest possibility that a tiny fraction of it might be pirated. This sort of flips the rationale of various legal cases such as that of Napster on its head; in those cases, liability was found because, while there were possible non-infringing uses of the service, they were in the minority compared to the massive amount of piracy that was being committed with the knowledge and tacit consent of the site operator. On the other hand, with Wikimedia Commons, the legitimate uses are the vast majority and the infringements are the tiny minority and are not given any consent or support by Commons policy. You want to cut off their nose to spite the face.

    Comment by Dan T. — April 5, 2009 @ 21:28 | Reply

  16. Metasonix, if you were paying attention and had read Takaita’s original post, or if you had skimmed the comments thread, you would know that the pictures had already been taken down.

    Of course, it isn’t that surprising that you aren’t bothering to pay minimal attention before commenting since the subforum you refer to is full of a mix of lies, innuendo, sloppiness, whining and a handful of things that might actually be true. My favorite parts as of right now are a) the thread speculating about my sex life and b) the recent thread which blames me for problematic content in the Denis Rancourt article where the content in question was added by a different user and where I had never edited the article after that content was added. Of course, never let a few facts stand in the way of a good round of ad hominem attacks. (And incidentally, I’m really a bit puzzled by why what you think my stance on inclusionism has to do with this at all…)

    Comment by Joshua Zelinsky — April 5, 2009 @ 21:44 | Reply

  17. I would like to propose that the Wikimedia Foundation start a repository of unloaded firearms. It would be the responsibility of the person contributing the firearm to ensure that the weapon is not loaded, since Wikimedia admins will not check. Anyone is allowed to borrow a firearm, since whatever they do with that weapon is their problem and it is not the mandate of the Wikimedia Foundation to control other’s actions. Of course, if the firearm is used on Wikimedia property, a discussion will be opened in the appropriate place and gunshot victims will be expected not to engage in “personal attacks” against the people who uploaded or used the firearm.

    Children will be allowed to borrow firearms since firearms are a “normal” part of everyday life and shielding children from firearms is akin to censorship. Essays such as WP:NOTGUNCONTROL will be written and turned into slogans. Some admins may also write essays about how children should be introduced to weapons at an early age, claiming that this was common in ancient Greece, and that Europeans have a much more relaxed attitude toward these kinds of things. Those admins may get themselves elected to board positions.

    If authorities approach the Foundation about lending a firearm used in the commission of crimes, it will be disposed of and that will be considered the end of the matter. In the event of a civil suit, the Foundation will blame the admins, who will in turn blame the users who contributed the firearm, who will in turn blame the person who borrowed the firearm, who will ultimately assert that since the firearm was not dangerous until it was loaded, it was the fault of the store who sold them the bullets.

    Comment by the long memory of the internet — April 5, 2009 @ 22:04 | Reply

  18. I’d like to propose suing Home Depot for selling chainsaws and other dangerous items that could be used in the commission of a murder. Before they sell anybody a chainsaw, they should conduct a careful investigation to determine that the person has no thoughts in mind of using it for anything other than cutting wood; subpoenaing the customer’s video rental history to see if he’s ever rented “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” would be a good idea, for instance.

    Comment by Dan T. — April 5, 2009 @ 22:30 | Reply

  19. “In my experience on Commons one of the most frequent sources of fake copyright information is Flickr itself.” – Gregory Maxwell

    Greg, you are a moron. This person did not mis-label their image as ‘public domain’. The image was simple stolen. You entered into this discussion with an attempt to derail and deflect – in your very first sentence. Please go away, you obnoxious jackass.

    P.S. wasn’t your woman on the board of the wikimedia foundation at one time?

    Comment by tungstencarbide — April 5, 2009 @ 23:27 | Reply

  20. Tungsten, and your point regarding Greg’s point is what exactly? He wasn’t addressing in that sentence the specific problem with this image necessarily, he was addressing the general phenomenon.

    Comment by Joshua Zelinsky — April 5, 2009 @ 23:35 | Reply

  21. I am not, not have a I ever been a Wikimedia Foundation employee.

    I can’t speak for the others but certainly was not endeared by your very first message on this subject:

    Of course, you have absolutely no obligation to be nice— I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. You were wronged, so at least some irritation is completely natural and expected. The people who responded to you were obviously aware of this, as they didn’t just delete the image and tell you to go away, they deleted the image and continued to communicate with you. I think they were fairly nice, if perhaps a quick to lecture you on what your rights are and aren’t, but you are complaining here that they didn’t comply with your demands that they remove the image from third part websites— something none of them had the authority to do. They could have been nicer, they could have walked you through the DMCA complaint process for use against the other sites duplicating your images, they could have offered to help you track down copies. But honestly it looked, and still looks, like you’re demanding these people pay you out of your pocket, rather than help you. So, yes, you are under no obligation to be nice but neither were the people responding to you. … and you have the situation we have here today.

    I’m a bit confused by “why I have to get on my knees to have that image removed from the repository” and “It was openly doubted that I could prove the photo was mine”… The image was deleted promptly by the very first person who replied to you.

    As far as I can tell the entire discussion is located at . I don’t see any example of people demanding that you prove the photo was yours, nor do I see anyone suggesting blocking you. I am a bit slow sometimes, so I may be missing it. Can you help me find the messages you are talking about?

    For whatever it’s worth: I apologise that I didn’t personally catch Fbcnl’s incorrect claim. When I saw your message here I began by searching the internet for other copies of the image and I was unable to find any. I am honestly sorry that there is nothing more I am able to do to undo the problems caused by this sequence of events. I apologise that when I responded in that thread I confined my response to your demands that Commons change its licensing policies— coming late to the thread I mistaking assumed that the all other matters were resolved and I missed an opportunity to offer to help you achieve satisfaction to those ends.

    No commons user wants to violate your copyright. I apologise that I let you walk away from that discussion with the impression that people didn’t care.

    As far as ideology goes— If ideology were the primary goal to the exclusion of all others the site could have just as easily told you to pound sand and refused to remove the image unless you went through the formal process of establishing your claim, making you fill out paperwork and wait weeks while you hope that some judgement proof minor in Uganda doesn’t falsely counter-notice on your claim, as would have been the situation if your complaint had been with Flickr. Fortunately, Wikimedia commons does care about more than just copying whatever it can legally get away with. … I regret that this isn’t enough to satisfy you.

    Comment by Gregory Maxwell — April 6, 2009 @ 00:23 | Reply

  22. @tungstencarbide, @Joshua Zelinsky I began by addressing the post directly above mine (post 6 by Kohs).

    Comment by Gregory Maxwell — April 6, 2009 @ 00:26 | Reply

  23. >What you also do not understand that wikimedia is not just using a photo >illegally, but has been actively distributing it with a wrong license.

    Under the DMCA it has been doing no such thing. Since the DMCA is part of US copyright law there is no logicaly consistant way you can accuse the foundation of doing the above under US law.

    This is important since its only because commons goes above and beyond what the DMCA requires that resulted in your image being taken down when it was.

    Wikimedia commons already puts far more effort into traceing copyvios than pretty much any other site going. If you are going to suggest that even what is does is completely unacceptable then you’d better start advocateing the shutdown of every site that allows user submissions. Includeing wordpress.

    Comment by gallium — April 6, 2009 @ 01:06 | Reply

  24. There seems to be an unfortunate extremeness which is going on here. It is possible to discuss what Commons can do to help prevent situations like this without thinking that Commons is automatically evil. By the same token, arguing that in this case the system more or less worked isn’t the same as saying that there aren’t problems. If we look at the English Wikipedia there’s been a very good job at dealing with serious copyright problems using bots which automatically look for copied text. For obvious reasons that’s much easier from a technical perspective than with images. Greg Maxwell did outline above some things that could improve the situation for images and they certainly are ideas that should be investigated.

    There’s also an interesting element that is sort of in the background but might be good to be made explicit: Unlike many of the images uploaded to Commons and to Flicker, Takaita’s images are of a very high quality. The damage that occurs to someone like Takaita from having images described as PD is more severe than errors about images from many other people such as myself (I’m more or less just beyond the “don’t put thumb in picture” stage). I think it is fair to say that the higher quality an image is the more likely people are going to be to violate its copyright. Thus, the image copyright violations even if they are rare will generally occur in ways that cause real damage.

    Comment by Joshua Zelinsky — April 6, 2009 @ 01:16 | Reply

  25. @takaita: Have you seen this: ?

    Comment by the long memory of the internet — April 6, 2009 @ 19:44 | Reply

  26. Gregory, part of the discussion was on the Dutch wikipedia:

    Comment by takaita — April 6, 2009 @ 20:07 | Reply

  27. Relevant link: If you authorize me to act as your agent for the purpose of enforcing the copyright image, I’ll send the notice to freebase. Although it’s not hard for you to do yourself if you wish…

    Comment by Gregory Maxwell — April 6, 2009 @ 20:09 | Reply

  28. Let’s go through an example, so that we can better understand how this works.

    Someone, say, uh, this person, uploads an image, um, how about this one, claiming that it’s in the public domain.

    How is this verified? It isn’t. The user is trusted to be telling the truth, despite the fact that their talk page is littered with notices about improper image copyright and fair use claims. Now the image is identified on Wikipedia as public domain and available for anyone to download and use as they please.

    Does that sound about right, or am I missing something?

    Comment by the long memory of the internet — April 7, 2009 @ 15:26 | Reply

  29. Well, it seems the storm is a bit over. I have to apologize (just a bit), but because I have a job and a family (and some other things I like to do in my life), it is sometimes hard to find the time to discuss about these issues.

    Thanks to Gregory for notifying about the status of my image there. That was friendly.

    Thanks to Joshua for saying that my images are of very high quality. It is a bit too much to say that – there are many much better photographers. But it might be interesting to tell that after I started taking photography a bit more seriously, I also got more attached to my photos. There are enough good photographers who will still publish there work under a free license, but the majority does not and is easily angered by unauthorized reuse of their photos. It has happened however that someone asked me to donate a certain photo to the wikipedia, and I did so.

    As for my suggestions: I still think that a wikimedia-only license would be a good thing. Wikipedia is mainly an online happening and I often like wikipedia as a source of quick information. Also I think (it needs to be proven though) that most contributors to the wikipedia do not care about the license. People help creating an encyclopedia because they like to do just that. People like to share their knowledge – which they got from elsewhere anyway. Knowledge is not personal.

    With photos that is different. From the moment that a person wants his photos to be more than just snapshots (no matter at what level it is from there), it becomes something personal. People want their name attached to it. Many people seek praise (look around at flickr to see how that works). It can be a strategy to publish the photos with a Creative Commons license – your name is mentioned on reuse. But would you do that with a random nick name? Many people also hope to get some money back from their investment in gear.

    Comment by takaita — April 7, 2009 @ 21:48 | Reply

  30. Commons, however, is not actually part of Wikipedia; it’s a sister project of Wikipedia in the Wikimedia family, and one of its uses is as a source of images for Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects, but it’s an independent project from each of them and has independent purposes and uses, which include being a source of freely licensed images for anybody else to use. They do take the “freely licensed” part very seriously, and have no desire to have anything that isn’t free there; unlike Wikipedia itself, they don’t even allow claims of fair use; all images must be free and clear. Anything found to be otherwise will be promptly removed, as was your picture when you notified them about it. Unlike the old Napster, no part of their purpose is to facilitate piracy; it’s to make truly free stuff available, with the consent of its authors (unless it’s public domain because it’s old enough or a government work, etc.). Being run by humans, they make mistakes sometimes, however. But abolishing the concept of a repository of freely reusable material would be a much bigger mistake.

    Comment by Dan T. — April 8, 2009 @ 02:10 | Reply

  31. > But abolishing the concept of a repository of freely reusable material would be a much bigger mistake.

    It should include a mechanism to compensate those who have suffer damage as result of mistakes. It is not good enough to promptly remove a copyrighted photo when it is announced. It is the least that can be done, and nothing to be very proud of. When a newspaper uses my photo on their site without my permission (which does happen occasionally), I can send a bill and it gets paid promptly and without discussion. The photo is removed also promptly.

    I do not see why wikimedia would act otherwise. Wikimedia is, according to your words, a publishing agency aimed to distribute ‘free’ material. That makes it responsible for damages done by mistakenly distributing material which is not free. As the past distribution can not be made undone, Wikimedia should compensate the author financially for damages.

    Comment by takaita — April 9, 2009 @ 20:13 | Reply

  32. Ignoring for a moment a huge mountain of complexity before such a scheme could be deployed— What happens when a bad actor realizes that he can upload non-free images to flickr, then pay a few cents to some russian bot masters to first copy them to commons and then from commons to a zillion other websites, then he comes demanding payment?

    …And I hate to repeat this point, but I feel you still haven’t addressed this at all— Why are you singling out Wikimedia Commons and not rallying against every other site that allows the user submission of freely licensed materials? (Such as Flickr, where your image was originally hosted).

    FWIW— Freebase has refused to remove your image without a formal DMCA takedown request. At least they replied rather than saying absolutely nothing at all, as is the norm for the internet. My hands are now tied. You can follow the instructions on the page I linked to previously. I’m interested in what your success has been in getting paid promptly by all the websites who have used your image sourced from commons.

    Comment by Gregory Maxwell — April 9, 2009 @ 20:58 | Reply

  33. @Gregory Maxwell: I think you know very well what success Takaita will have in getting paid – none. A large part of this is that the unwitting abusers will point to the source — Wikimedia — and say, sorry, they assured us it was ok to use it, and then take it down. That’s the issue here – people are being told that these images are ok to use.

    As for your unlikely “bad actors” lawsuit-bait idea, the fact that they were uploaded to Flickr with incorrect licensing would seem to be a defense for Wikimedia. This all, however, misses the point that Takaita’s image wasn’t uploaded to Flickr with incorrect licensing – it was uploaded to Wikimedia with incorrect claims about its license and not verified.

    I’m sure you can come up with all sorts of other hypotheticals, but why not take a look at the actual, real-world example I posted in comment 28? I’m interested in your opinions,and that of Dan Tobias if he’s willing.

    Comment by the long memory of the internet — April 10, 2009 @ 15:37 | Reply

  34. Re-read my scenario— it doesn’t matter how they were uploaded to wherever. I upload to flickr as all rights reserved. My minions upload to commons as “I created this”. There is simply no way that commons can find the images on flickr, unless my minions forget to rename them.

    Any outcome that provides for payment by well-intention hosting sites is a potential money machine for the ill intentioned. There simply is no way to verify, — no central registry of copyrighted works, thanks to the Berne convention, etc. You can verify *harder*, but never be sure. I’ll assert here that Wikimedia Commons has the most aggressive and robust verification process of any user-contributed site on the Internet, at least of any that I’ve seen. Sadly, this statement is only true because everyone else sucks, not so much because commons is fantastic. This bag of pain is precisely why US law provides for a procedure which provides absolute protection for service providers. Without this protection it is unlikely that a great many things (like Flickr, for example) could exist at all.

    As far as your specific query above, the “fair use” notices are not predictive about the validity of the user’s uploads. The wiki-nomic rule makers of English Wikipedia periodically heighten the bar for uploading non-freely licensed images. When this happens they send a bot to go blindly give notices to everyone whos old uploads don’t comply with the new rule. The rules can be quite esoteric to the point that full compliance with the rules is probably a better indicator of someone who is up to no good than someone who is simply trying to make a legitimate contribution. But this is a total tangent from commons and the issue and hand, I just wanted to make it clear that the “fair use” notices are not telling you anything.

    On commons when I’ve found a user who appeared to be *dishonest* about the licensing on one of their uploads I have almost always mass deleted all of their uploads (and, in fact wrote software to assist with this activity) even ones which do not themselves look suspect. I also check for sockpuppet accounts and address those if I find any. There are other commons administrators who also mass deleted on apparent dishonesty, though it’s probably a practice which could be done more widely. English Wikipedia isn’t quite as good on this regard— people who take decisive bold action there are often labelled as “rogue admins” and driven off the project by the local drama queens. Commons is still a bit more culturally healthy. If I knew how to fix that bag of social ills…

    Comment by Gregory Maxwell — April 10, 2009 @ 18:55 | Reply

  35. Boo-hoo.

    Copyright is enforced by violence; I’m always glad to see it violated.

    Comment by fdgdfgfdg — May 17, 2009 @ 06:22 | Reply

  36. The magical and tyrannical copyright control you dream of having over the world and well-wishing, charitable organizations would basically destroy the entire internet and have a chilling effect on speech.

    Wikimedia did not do anything legally wrong. Moreover, I bet you did not officially copyright the photo anyway, meaning you have no legal recourse other than sending letters asking them to stop using your boring photo. That’s it. As long as they take down your photo, they’re cleared. Go ask a lawyer.

    And just because a newspaper paid a bill you sent doesn’t mean they have any legal obligation to do so.

    Comment by Ted Rawls — July 3, 2011 @ 18:56 | Reply

    • Ted, it sounds like you like the present Section 230 protections for “interactive computer services” such as the Wikimedia Foundation, don’t you? This enables them to collect all those wonderful donation dollars, spend only 43% of them on the program services that people think they’re contributing to, then wash their hands of all responsibility for any copyright theft taking place — regularly — on their site. You sound like a real gem of guy.

      Comment by Gregory Kohs — July 5, 2011 @ 15:26 | Reply

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