Help:Wikipedia: The Missing Manual/Formatting and illustrating articles/Adding images

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Wikipedia: The Missing Manual (Discuss)

One of the most striking features of Wikipedia articles is that most articles include at least one image. Editors have added those images, one by one, and now an article without at least one illustration seems incomplete.

This chapter shows you how to upload an image for use in a Wikipedia article. Until you get an image off your computer and onto a server that Wikipedia uses, you can't use that image in an article. This chapter also shows you how to place an image in an article, after you or someone else has uploaded it.

In Wikipedia (and in this chapter), the word "image" doesn't just mean a photo; it can be a map, a drawing, a chart, or even an animated gif. "Photo" refers only to an image taken by a camera.

Uploading images

When it comes to images, less is usually more. A glut of images in an article may make it worse, not better. Don't overwhelm a medium-sized or small article by adding lots of images to it. Focus on uploading images that can support and illustrate the text of an article, not replace that text.

If you do have a bunch of images that you could use for an article, but that you don't intend to use unless the article becomes much larger, you can still upload them. Instead of uploading them to the English Wikipedia (where every uploaded image needs to have a home in an article), you'll upload such images to the Wikimedia Commons, the place where all the 250-plus different language Wikipedias can use it. In fact, this chapter recommends uploading all your images to Commons, whether you immediately put them into articles or not.

Wikimedia Commons holds uploaded media files like photos, diagrams, animations, music, spoken text, video clips and PDFs. You can think of it as a stock media site for Wikipedia and other Wikimedia Foundation projects.

Commons is also a place where you can find millions of photos and other images for your personal use outside Wikipedia at no cost. All you need to do is follow the licensing terms—for example, attributing a photo to the person who took it, if you send the photo to someone else.

Before you upload

Before getting to the tutorial on uploading, you need to go through a short checklist. While this list talks about photos, a similar policy applies to other types of images.

  • Is the photo you want to upload something you took and thus own? Is it in the public domain, or already licensed as free content by its owner? If it's not any of the above, you can't upload it to Commons. For details, see "Uploading a non-free image".
A screenshot—a snapshot of a computer screen—doesn't count as something you own, even if you took it yourself. The image belongs to the owner of the software or other material you're capturing. It might be fair use on Wikipedia, but it's not free content, so it's not allowed in Commons.
  • Are you willing to give up certain rights for a photo you took yourself, when you upload it? You must agree that, once you upload the photo, anyone can use it for any purpose, including commercially, and you won't get paid. Basically, you must agree to license your photo for use by anyone. All you can ask is that they attribute the photo to you.
  • Is the photo of acceptable quality? Is it a file type that Wikipedia can use? (See the box about image formats.)
  • Do you have a user account at Commons? If not, get one as described in the next section.

Once the answer to all four questions is "yes," you're ready to upload your image, following the steps in the section about uploading an image to Commons.

Acceptable types of photos

Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Commons aren't file-sharing storage sites. If you upload a photo, it must be of the quality and type that would be suitable in an encyclopedia. That means no tiny photos, no blurry photos, and no sets of 47 poses by your dog.

The recommended format for photos is JPEG. Other acceptable formats are SVG, PNG, JPEG, XCF (GIMP), SXD ( 1.x), and (since March 2009) TIFF files.

Most images on Wikipedia are JPEGs, which is the default setting on most digital cameras.

Creating a user account at Commons

Images at Wikimedia Commons are available to all Wikipedias, not just the English one. Images at Commons don't have to actually be used in an article. They are there because they could be used in an article. You can take useful photos, upload them, and come back later to use them. Or not—they're still available to every other editor at the different language Wikipedias.

To upload images to Commons, you need to log in. Commons uses the same accounts as Wikipedia. Hence, if you are already logged in to Wikipedia, to get started on Commons just go to You are logged in as soon as the page loads.

Although you use the same username, password and e-mail address across all Wikimedia Foundation wikis, the rest of your preferences are stored separately for each wiki. If you have set any other preferences in Wikipedia, you should probably go to Special:Preferences on Commons to set the same preferences there.

As with the English Wikipedia, you have the option of creating user pages. If you have an account only for the purpose of uploading images, you probably won't want to bother. But if you do want to, the process is exactly the same as at Wikipedia; Commons runs on the same MediaWiki software.

The standard setting in your user preferences at Commons is "E-mail me when my user talk page is changed" (Figure 15-1). Keep it turned on. That way, you don't have to log in periodically to check for notifications—for example, that there was a problem with an image you uploaded. Instead, you can just assume that no news in your email inbox is good news. If you use your watchlist on Commons, you might also want to turn on the "E-mail me when a page on my watchlist is changed" option.

Figure 15-1. The standard email settings in the "User profile" tab of your user account's preferences let Commons contact you when something changes.
Quality counts

Always upload the highest resolution version of your image, keeping within Commons' 100MB limit. A high-resolution image makes it easier for other editors to crop a photo, if needed. (Or, if you have the tools and time, you can do so before uploading.) Plus, as computer screens continue to increase in size, viewing larger images is becoming more common. Don't worry about the space your photo will take up in the article—that's controlled by displaying a smaller, thumbnail version and letting readers choose their preferred image sizes.

Images should be free from distortion, watermarks, credits, and anything else that would hamper their free use. If you create an image that contains text that you added, you should also upload a version without any text, so projects in other languages can use the image.

For a number of specific suggestions about image quality, see the page Wikipedia:How to improve image quality (shortcut: WP:HIIQ). You'll also find JPEG tips in a section of the guideline Wikipedia:Preparing images for upload (shortcut: WP:PIFU).

Uploading an image to Commons

Once you've gone through the checklist in the section about pre-upload checks to determine whether you can use an image in Wikipedia, and you've got your Commons user account, you're ready to upload an image.

These steps assume that you're uploading for the first time, and that it's a photo you took yourself. After you have more experience, you can skip to the upload form (see the bottom of Figure 15-2). Here's the step-by-step process.

1. Once you've logged into your Commons account, click the "Upload file" link on the left side of the screen.

It's the first link in the "participate" set of links. You'll see the initial screen in the upload process (Figure 15-2).
Figure 15-2. The two critical components, for copyright purposes, are the source of an image, and the license for that image. When you start the upload process to Commons, the first page is concerned with the source. Which link you click determines which page you'll see next, a page that either helps you figure out the source or moves you to the question of the license.
That Flickr link is there because so many people post photos at Flickr and release them as free content. That means you can copy those photos to Commons.

2. Click the link on the line, "It is entirely my own work".

The page you see has a number of sections at the top (steps 1 to 3, and "Other tips"). You're welcome to read them, but it's also okay to start at the bottom of the page (Figure 15-3), where you fill out the required information for the upload.
For copyrights, only two things count: the source and the license. You've already specified a source (you took the photo); next, you need to specify the second. Figure 15-4 shows your choices.
Figure 15-3. Here's what you need to fill out in order to upload an image to Commons. The text in the Summary section is preloaded for you, including your user name.
Figure 15-4. Once you've specified that what you're uploading is your own work, you have a choice of six different licenses. If you were uploading someone else's work (with their permission), you'd have a different choice of licenses. For your own work, the top three licenses are categorized as "Best practices," the next two as "Better practices (multi-licensing)," and the last one is in the category "Good practices (single license)." When you select one, you'll see more information about it.

3. Select "Own work, all rights released (Public domain)."

Whatever you pick, you'll see an explanation immediately below the box with the license choice (Figure 15-5). This explanation will also appear on the image page after completing the upload, so anyone wanting to re-use your image knows the rules that apply. The license you choose doesn't affect the rest of the upload process.
"Public domain" means that anyone can use the image however they like without restriction. If you want re-users of your image to attribute it to you, pick one of the other five options. If you're unsure about licensing, just click each one and read the explanations.
Note that the available license options are different depending on what you selected at step 2. For your own work, you only see the options that are relevant to your own work.
Figure 15-5. When you select the public domain license, the page changes to show what the license actually is. If you decide you don't like what you see, you can choose another license. To get further information about the license you've tentatively selected, you can follow the links in the box that states what the license is.
You're doing what Wikipedia calls adding a copyright tag. For more information on these tags, including the seven licenses that image creators can choose from, see the page Wikipedia:Image copyright tags (shortcut: WP:ICT).

4. Click the "Choose" button to the right of the "Source filename" field.

Up pops a file selection dialog box for you to navigate to the image on your computer.

5. Double-click the file name.

The text field displays the full path to the file on your computer. Figure 15-6 shows an example.
Figure 15-6. When you've selected a file, the "Source filename" field has the full path for that file. The destination filename is automatically given the same name as the source filename, but you can change that.

6. Change the "Destination filename" from whatever was put automatically into the field (see Figure 15-6) to something that describes the image.

7. The name you type becomes the name of the image page after you've finished uploading your photo. Make sure it ends with the correct suffix, such as ".jpg," to match the actual file type. (See the box about image types for what file types are acceptable, if you're not uploading a JPEG file.)

Get the name right the first time, because you can't rename an image file once it's been uploaded. If you don't get the name right, you'll have to request an administrator to rename it for you. For more information, see the page Commons:File renaming on Wikimedia Commons (shortcut: COM:FR).
Getting the name right

Short or cryptic names for images make them a lot harder to find and use. If you use a short name, or the default filename from your camera (like DSC123456.jpg), it's much more likely that someone else will later upload an image with exactly the same name, and that will overwrite what you uploaded. Or, if you're uploading to Commons with the intent to add an image to the English Wikipedia, you'll discover that an image file with the name you picked already exists on Wikipedia, so you can't use the one at Commons.

The best image name is a fairly long description. A bonus of using such a name is that you can copy and paste it into the Description field for the image, saving yourself some typing. (The maximum file name length is around 250 characters, but you won't need a name that long.)

Finally, the image name you use has to have a three-letter extension, such as .jpg or .svg. The extension must match the actual file type, or the photo won't display correctly. That makes image pages different from regular pages (articles, talk pages, portals, categories, and so on), which don't have a suffix. If you forget the extension, you're going to have to upload the photo again. Lowercase extensions, such as .jpg, are preferred over uppercase, like .JPG, though both work. Note that Commons (and other MediaWiki websites) considers them two totally different files.

8. Next is the large Summary field, which has already been partially filled out to indicate what is needed. You just add information to two parts. The information you enter here will appear on the image page.

For Description, copy what you put into the Destination filename field, since that should have been descriptive, and then elaborate on that a bit, if you want to. You're creating some searchable text here, so don't be reluctant to go into detail. For example, if the photo was taken from another building, or if there is something unusual in the photo, mention that in the description.
For Date, type the date the photo was actually taken. (The Permission information is for licensing; since you've selected a license using the pull-down menu, leave this field blank.)
At this point, the page should look something like Figure 15-7.
Figure 15-7. Upload information is complete, with a descriptive filename, and the Summary field filled out. Leave the Permission parameter blank, since you specified a license using the pull-down menu in the Licensing box.
Attribution and the author field

If you chose a license that requires re-users of the image to give attribution to its creator, then the Author field is important: it tells people who they should credit for the image. For your own work, Author is already filled in with your user name, so you don't need to change it. If someone else has given you permission to upload their work, you'll need to put their name here instead.

9. Below the licensing information (scroll down as needed) you'll see the "Upload file" button. Click that.

You'll see something like Figure 15-8.
Figure 15-8. After you click "Upload file," you'll go to the image page for the image you've just uploaded. This figure shows the top and bottom of the page; the image is in the middle. The information you entered in step 6 appears on this page.

At this point, you're done uploading. But it's very helpful to add some categories to the photo, so others can find it more easily. To do so, see the next section.

Uploading someone else's work

The process of uploading someone else's work (with their permission, of course) is similar to uploading your own work. There is one important extra step, though: After uploading, you must e-mail a statement to Wikimedia Commons from the image's author, where the author states the license they want to use. Though you selected the license during the upload, for legal reasons Wikimedia need a message from the image's creator to confirm the license.

For information on this process, see the page Commons:OTRS on Wikimedia Commons.

Adding categories to an image page at Commons

At Commons, you can add categories to an image page to help other editors find the page (for example, for a different language Wikipedia). These steps continue with the same image from the previous tutorial:

1. Click the "find categories" tab at the top of the image page.

You arrive at a page labeled CommonSense, which is a search tool. It's preloaded with the image page name, and it's already done an initial search on that name. That initial search failed. So you'll want to enter some keywords, as shown in Figure 15-9.
Figure 15-9. The CommonSense tool searches for possible categories. If the initial search fails to find any (as is the case here), try adding keywords and searching again. The results appear at the bottom of the page.

2. With keywords entered, click the Find Categories button.

The search results appear at the bottom of the page, with text ready to be copied and pasted into an image page to the right of the categories, at the bottom. (Figure 15-10.)
After expanding categories as needed, and looking for the most applicable subcategories, you're ready to add categories. (For more on finding good categories, see the section about finding categories.)
Figure 15-10. The search results, at the bottom of the CommonSense page, consist of two parts. On the left are categories that can be expanded (for looking at subcategories) by clicking the "[+]" symbol. On the right is some text that's ready to be copied and pasted to the image page.

3. Back at the image page (Figure 15-8), click the "edit" tab, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and copy or type the category or categories you've decided fit the photo.

See Figure 15-11 for an example.
Figure 15-11. Two categories are being added to the wikitext for the image page: Entrance to the Noilly Pratt cellars and tasting room in Marseillan.jpg. The edit toolbar—the row of icons you can click to add text—is different in Commons. That's because the toolbar is customizable on a project-by-project basis. So, for example, the toolbar for the Spanish Wikipedia is different too.

4. Once you've entered the category you want, add an edit summary, like Adding categories.

5. Click the "Show preview" button.

Go down to the very bottom of the screen to make sure all the category links are blue, not red (if any are red, you mistyped something).

6. When all looks well, click the "Publish changes" button to make your change take effect.

Renaming, replacing, or moving an image

Renaming an image

Only Commons administrators can change the name of an image page. If you get it wrong—for example, you forgot the extension (like ".jpg"), or you used a non-descriptive name that already existed on Wikipedia (blocking you from using the image you uploaded to Commons)—then you need to request that the file be renamed.

Non-administrators can also rename files if an administrator gives them the file mover permission. Experienced users can apply for this permission on Wikipedia using the Wikipedia:Requests for permissions process (shortcut: WP:RFPE). Applying for this permission on Commons is pretty similar, but the process is called Commons:Requests for rights (shortcut: COM:RFR).

Images on Commons can be freely reused by anyone, including websites not owned by Wikimedia. Hence, renaming an image that has been around for a while can break links on other websites, as well as on Wikipedia and its sister projects. Because of this, images can only be renamed for one of the few reasons listed in the Commons:File renaming guideline (shortcut: COM:FR). Renames requested by the person who uploaded the file are allowed by this guideline, but read through the other reasons in the guideline if you want an image uploaded by someone else to be renamed.

Once you've checked that your rename is for an allowed reason, you can turn to the next step: nominating the image to be renamed. Here's the process:

  1. Edit the image page, adding the following template at the top of the edit box: {{rename|newname.ext|reason}}, where newname.ext is the new name you want for the image, and reason explains why you want it renamed.
  2. Add an edit summary, being sure to mention "rename" and a summary of your reason for the rename. For example, you could enter "Request rename to something more meaningful" if you are renaming a file that previously had a default meaningless name like "DSC_1234.jpg".
Preview the page, and then save it.
Your rename request will appear in a message box beneath the image on the image page. The image itself isn't shown when previewing however, so the rename message box will be at the top on the preview.

Once you complete these steps, you're done. Check back in a day or so, to see if the image has been renamed. If not, check the talk page and the page history to see if the editor who declined the request gave a reason. They might also have put an explanation on your own talk page.

Replacing an image

If you want to replace an image (you just found another photo of the same thing that's much better than the one you uploaded, for example), simply upload it with the same name as the original image. The system asks if you're sure you want to overwrite the old image; confirm that you do.

The ability to upload a new image on top of an old one is restricted a bit: you have to wait until four days after creating an account at Commons before you can do so.

Moving an image from Wikipedia to Commons

There's no automatic way to move an image from Wikipedia to Commons. The standard way is to download the image to your computer (often right-clicking the image gives you this option), and then upload it to Commons. This procedure gives you a chance to give the image a better (longer, more descriptive) name. If you do change the name, remember to change all links to that image in Wikipedia articles to point to the new image at Commons, not to the old image.

For a full description of the process for this type of move, including a link to the "Move-to-commons assistant" tool, see the page Wikipedia:Moving files to Commons (shortcut: WP:MTC).

Finding images

If you want an image for an article and aren't in a position to take a photo to create that image, you have a number of options:

  • Look through the more than two million images and other media files at Wikimedia Commons. Since Commons is simply a repository for images for various Wikimedia Foundation projects, including Wikipedia, it's not surprising that its category system is displayed on its main page.
  • Search the Web, including Commons, Flickr, and other language Wikipedias, using the Free Image Search Tool (FIST), at This tool was specifically developed to look for free images for Wikipedia articles. It also lets you replace non-free and placeholder images.
  • Review the lists of places that have free or public domain images, to see if one seems like a good candidate for what you're looking for. See the pages Wikipedia:Free image resources (shortcut: WP:FIR) and Wikipedia:Public domain image resources (shortcut: WP:PDIR).
  • Place a request for an image in the article itself. For details, see the page Wikipedia:Image placeholders (shortcut WP:UPPI). This method adds a generic image of a male or female person to the article.
  • You can post a request at Wikipedia:Requested pictures (shortcut: WP:RP).

For even more information, see the page Wikipedia:Finding images tutorial (shortcut: WP:FIT).

Placing an image in an article

Once you've uploaded an image to Commons, adding it to a Wikipedia article is very simple. You just go to the article, click "edit this page," decide where you want the image to be, and type a link to the image page. It'll look something like this: [[File:Nameofimage.ext|some other optional stuff]]. (More on the "other optional stuff" in a moment.) Add an edit summary, do a quick preview, and save the page.

The software assumes that the image name you add to an article refers to one at the English Wikipedia, if one exists there. If the English Wikipedia doesn't have an image with that name, the software looks at Commons. That's another good reason to name an image at Commons in such detail that it's unlikely you'll accidentally choose one that already exists at the English Wikipedia. (No, the software won't warn you.)

Forgot the name of that image that you uploaded to Commons? Don't worry. Just sign in, click the "my contributions" link in the upper-right, and look at the names of the image files you've created. You can do the same at the English Wikipedia. Filter out everything except the images you have uploaded by clicking the small "uploads" link just under the page heading. Clicking this link also shows you thumbnails of the images you have uploaded.
What about attribution?

Image licenses often require that the author of the image is attributed whenever the image is used. Though this is an important consideration for people that re-use the images outside of Wikipedia, you don't need to worry about this in articles. The software that runs Wikipedia automatically links an image to its image page, allowing any reader to click the image to see its author and license. This satisfies the attribution requirements of image licenses allowed on Wikipedia.


When there is more than one image in an article, spread the images evenly within that article. Each image should be relevant to the section it is in, and normally there should be only one image per section.

For accessibility and other reasons, you should put an image inside the section it belongs to, after any "Main" or "See also" template at the top of the section. The more general rule is to put an image immediately above the paragraph of text to which it most closely belongs. It's certainly okay to have text following the image, within the section where it's placed.

Multiple images within a single section, while not forbidden, can cause problems, particularly if the section is short. In particular, don't place an image on the left side of a section and a second image directly opposite, on the right side. For some readers, this squeezes text into a tiny column between the two images. On some computer screens the images may even overlap. (Even if you know how to use special parameters in the image links to force blank space between the images to avoid squeezing the text, don't do it. The blank text looks terrible on larger computer screens.)

What you see on your screen isn't the same as what other readers see: Both screen sizes and resolutions (dots per inch) vary widely. Wikipedia is intended for readers everywhere in the world, many who have older computers with smaller screens. So, if you've got a wide, high-resolution screen, enjoy it, but don't fall into the trap of thinking that what looks fine on your screen will look fine on everyone else's.

Some editors prefer to put all images on the right side of an article, aligned with any info boxes. Other editors prefer them to be evenly alternated between left and right (for example, one image on the left in one section, and the next image, in a following section, on the right). Either approach is acceptable, but don't get into ownership issues over the arrangement of images—aesthetic judgments are inherently subjective, and not worth fighting about.

One place that's bad for an image is left-aligned immediately under a subheading. The heading ends up directly above the image (making it look somewhat like a label) and puts the subsection text to the right of the image, disconnecting it from the heading. If you want an image left-aligned in a subsection, make sure there is at least a paragraph of text between the image and the subheading. If you absolutely want the image to follow directly after a subsection heading, right-align it.

You control the alignment of images by typing instructions into the wikitext for the link. The next section tells all.

Size, alignment, and caption

Once you decide in what section you want an image to appear, and where within that section, you simply place a link to the image within the wikitext. At its simplest, this would be [[File:Nameofimage.ext]]. But you almost never find such a simple image link in an article, because it plops the image, at full size, wherever the image link appears in the wikitext, even if that's in the middle of the screen. Nor, with this simple link, will text flow around the image. So don't create image links like this one, and if you see one, fix it.

The way that you control how an image appears is to specify various options. Here's a common specification: [[File:Nameofimage.ext | thumb | 200px | right | caption text]]. Here's what the details of the options mean:

  • thumb. Displays the image as a small thumbnail. The image isn't shown full size (the reader can click the image to get to a full-size version). The image has a gray frame around it and a caption (if you specify one as described in the fourth bullet).
These options are case-sensitive, so don't type Thumb, Right, and so on.
  • 200px. Determines the width of the thumbnail image in pixels. On a screen with 600 by 800 pixel resolution, 200px means that the photo takes up one-quarter of the width of the screen. If you don't specify a size, the default is 220 pixels (prior to April 2010, it was 180 pixels). Wikipedia:Extended image syntax (shortcut WP:EIS) recommends not specifying a size, so that the reader's preferences determine whether the displayed size is 180 pixels or something larger or smaller.
If you've got a particularly big or particularly small screen, you can tell Wikipedia how you personally want to see thumbnails displayed on your screen. Click My Preferences, then the Files tab, and then select from one of the six sizes (120px to 300px). After you click Save, all thumbnails you see in Wikipedia will be that size, except where an editor has specified an exact size.
  • right, left. The image appears all the way to the right (left) of the screen. Right is the default setting, so you don't have to type it if you don't want to.
  • caption text. The caption should provide useful information. In an article about New York City, for example, an image with the caption "New York City" isn't helpful, while something like "Panorama from the top of the Empire State Building" is much more useful. (You'll find great advice about writing captions at the guideline Wikipedia:Captions; the shortcut is WP:CAP.)
  • Caption text always comes last in an image link. All the other options (thumb or no, size, align right or left) can be in any sequence. And the caption must start with a capital letter.

For more image syntax, see the pages Help:Images and other uploaded files (shortcut: H:IOUF) and Wikipedia:Picture tutorial (shortcut: WP:PIC).


In some articles, a lot of images are useful—for example, the article Great Wall of China. But you don't want to put images into sections where they don't really belong just because that's the only place you can think of. Instead, you can put a gallery at the end of an article, with lots of images for the reader to see. That way, the images don't get in the way of the content of the article, but they're available to the reader.

The wikicode for creating a standard gallery is very simple; here's an example with three images (and made-up image filenames):

File:Secondphoto.jpg | Caption for second image

You can have captions on all images, of course, and aren't limited to JPEG images. The page Wikipedia:Gallery tag (shortcut: WP:GALLERY) has full details.

Questions or problems with images

Sometimes you want to mention an image on an article talk page, or at a discussion page such as the Village Pump. If you type [[File:imagename.jpg]], you insert the image itself onto that talk page, not a link to the image page, as you wanted. Displayed images don't belong on talk pages. To create a link to the image page instead, type a colon just after the first two square brackets, so the link looks like this: [[:File:imagename.jpg]]. Then those interested in actually seeing the image can click the link.

Using a leading colon works also for links to category pages, when you want to point to them rather than actually add categories to a page. It also works for links to Wikipedia in other languages, when you want the link to appear where you put it instead of in the "Languages" box on the left of the page.

If you find an image that you think has copyright problems, you should:

  • Remove all links to the image from articles, making sure your edit summary mentions copyright issues. (You can find all uses of the image by going to the image page and clicking, in the left margin, "What links here.")
  • Post a note at the user talk page of the editor who uploaded the image, mentioning your concerns. You may be able to resolve the issue at that point.
  • If the editor who uploaded the image disagrees with your assessment, and you remain convinced there is a copyright problem, list the image at the page Wikipedia:Copyright problems (shortcut: WP:CP).
  • If you get no response from the editor in a reasonable amount of time (say, a week), post the {{ifd}} template on the image page, save the change, and then follow the link "How to list a file for deletion" in order to list the file for deletion.

Uploading a non-free image

In March 2007, the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation passed a policy (see banning future uploads of any media unless the media is licensed as free content. Free content is any work that doesn't require permission or payment for any use, including commercial. At most, free content requires attribution: crediting the person who created the image. Free content also has no restrictions on redistribution of the image by others.

The Foundation's resolution allows exceptions only as provided by a project-specific exemption policy. That policy for the English Wikipedia is Wikipedia:Non-free content criteria (shortcut: WP:NFCC). It sets out a list of 10 criteria for copyrighted images and other media files that lack a free content license (see Figure 15-12). You may use such media only where all ten of the criteria are met. Otherwise, as explained in the section about pre-upload checks, the images you upload must be your own work, or in the public domain, or licensed as free content by their owner.

Figure 15-12. Wikipedia doesn't like non-free content. It can be used only if it meets every one of the ten criteria in the policy Wikipedia:Non-free content criteria (shortcut: WP:NFCC). Most of all, note number 8, which specifies that the non-free material must contribute significantly to understanding the article.

The Foundation's policy is especially strict about images of living people: An exemption policy must not allow non-free material when freely licensed pictures are readily available, as is almost always the case for celebrities, politicians, and other notable people.

Wikipedia takes copyright issues seriously. Almost every day, at least 1500 images are deleted (see Figure 15-13). Some are deleted because they're orphans—Wikipedia isn't a file-sharing service. Some are deleted because the image was uploaded to Commons and now isn't needed at Wikipedia. Many, if not the majority, have copyright issues.

Figure 15-13. While image uploads have been relatively steady at around 2,500 per day throughout the last half of 2006 and well into 2007, deletions have been all over the place, ranging from 1,000 to 4,000 per day. The wide swings are probably due to occasional concentrated efforts to work off backlogs. [This graph is courtesy of editor Dragons Flight (Robert A. Rohde). It's based on a log analysis he did. Points on the graph are plotted weekly, not daily.]

The graph shows that beginning in the second half of 2007 there has been essentially no net addition of images to Wikipedia. In other words, as many photos are being removed as added. That's certainly due to Commons: Either images are being uploaded directly there, or images that were at Wikipedia are being uploaded to Commons and then deleted at Wikipedia.

Implementation of the Wikipedia policy on non-free content criteria is discussed in the guideline Wikipedia:Non-free content (shortcut: WP:NFC). If you're thinking about uploading a "fair use" image (one you didn't create, isn't in the public domain, and hasn't been released as free content by the owner), read this guideline first.

If after reading the guidelines you have decided to upload the image, go to Wikipedia:Upload (shortcut:WP:UL) and follow the directions there. Before you upload, make sure that one or more articles will use your image. One way to ensure this is to start editing a page, add the image under the filename you will upload the image under, then save as soon as the image is uploaded. If the image is removed from all articles, you will shortly receive a notice from a bot warning you about an "orphan non-free image." In that case, re-add the image to the article and then discuss the image on the article's talk page.

Screenshots and similar image captures aren't the same as original photos. They're fair use images, if the original content (being copied) isn't itself free content.
Non-photo images and other media

As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, an image doesn't have to be a photo. It could be a map, an illustration, a graphic, or even an animated gif. The SVG format is preferred for drawings and line-art illustration. The PNG format is preferred for non-vector graphic iconic images, including screenshots. The GIF format is used for animations, but not for static images.

If you're interested in using these file types, here are some places at Wikipedia that you can get more information:


Graphics and illustrations:

You can also upload other types of media besides images: audio and video files. Because of licensing issues, the file formats acceptable for uploads are very limited:

  • For sound: Ogg (using FLAC, Speex, or Vorbis codecs), WAV (PCM encoded), FLAC (without container) or MIDI (with extension .mid). Ogg Vorbis for general application or FLAC for lossless audio encoding are preferred.
  • For video: Ogg (using Theora codec), WebM

If audio or video files interest you, here are some places at Wikipedia where you can get further information:

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