How are your Wikimedia Commons photos being used elsewhere?

I don’t know about yours, but I do have some idea of how mine are being used.

Google searches for my name and my username reveal a lot more instances than I was aware of, especially for news article illustrations.

In the “license, schmicense” category, I found this article from The Jerusalem Post, which takes a recent photo of mine (either from Flickr or Wikipedia, but more likely Wikipedia) as simply says “Photo: Courtesy:Ragesoss”.

Marginal cases include the hundreds of Google hits for “ragesoss” come from World News Network websites. This organization runs thousands of online pseudo-newspapers, such as the West Virginia Star and Media Vietnam, that aggregate content from real news organizations. Stories at all of their portals link to World News pages that have teasers for the actual articles at the original sources. And I’ve found a bunch of my photographs as illustrations on these pages. See these:

Of course, my photographs are not the ones used by original articles. World News seems to have used almost every photo I uploaded from the February 4 Barack Obama rally in Hartford, to illustrate campaign news unrelated to the Hartford rally. In terms of photo credits (see the links), most of them they say “photo: Creative Commons / Ragesoss” or “photo: GNU / Ragesoss”. Nearly all of my photos on Wikimedia Commons are copyleft under GFDL and/or CC-by-sa, so non-specific credits like that do not constitute legitimate use under the terms of either license. The GFDL requires a link to the license (GFDL, not “GNU”), and CC-by-sa at least requires notice that the image is free to reuse as long as derivatives are issued under the same license (simply “Creative Commons” is not a license). It is also implicit with CC licenses that credits for my photos should include a link to my Commons userpage, since the author field on the image pages is typically a link titled “Ragesoss”, not just the text. (The third link above, among others I found, does link to the GFDL, although the photo has nothing to do with the article.)

Another major user of my photos is Associated Content, a commercial user-generated content site that pays contributors. AC is a mixed bag in terms of legitimate uses of photos, since individual contributors are responsible for selecting and crediting the illustratons for their articles. This one, which uses a photo of Ralph Nader, credits my shot as “credit: ragesoss/wikipedia copyright: ragesoss/GNU FDL 1.2”. It almost meets the basic requirements of the license (all it needs is a link to the text of the license), although a link to the source would preferable to simply mentioning Wikipedia. This one, on the other hand, just says “credit: Ragesoss copyright: Wikimedia Commons”.

Popular Science, in this article, lists the GFDL, but links it to the Wikipedia article on the license rather than the actual text.

The Bottle Bill Resource Guide links to my Commons userpage, but does not list the license or link to the image source.

Another partly-legit use is by LibraryThing, a book related site that uses several of my photos for authors (e.g., Dava Sobel). They include links back to the original image pages, but the site behaves erratically and sometimes insists on me signing in or creating an account to view the image details.

Unexpectedly, I also found several of my photos illustrating Encyclopedia Brittanica. See:

In each case, they provide a link to one of the licenses (GFDL 1.2 and CC-by-sa 3.0 unported, in these cases), although they don’t provide a userpage link. At least they seem to take the licenses seriously.

Of course, it’s much tougher to find out where my photos are being used without mentioning me at all. I suspect that the majority of uses don’t even attempt to assign credit or respect copyright. Most of the publications that are serious about copyright aren’t even willing to use copyleft licenses, preferring to get direct permission from the photographer (even if it means paying, often).

Fun photo project for Wikipedian photographers

Taking pictures to illustrate Wikipedia articles is the reason I got into photography. I started with my wife’s point-and-shoot, and pretty soon I started to appreciate the joys of photography for their own sake…and I started to experience that strong desire for better and still better equipment. A few weeks ago I finally realized my long-time goal of shooting an original Featured Picture (FP), this ‘Peach Glow’ water lily.

My equipment (Canon EOS 400D, 50 mm prime lens, 18-55mm kit lens, and low-end 70-300mm superzoom/macro) is not professional, but it’s not cheap either. With my setup and my intermediate skill level, the circumstances under which I could take an FP are pretty narrow.

But there are many opportunities for taking valuable photos for Wikipedia. A project that I just completed, which many American Wikipedians could do as well, was to take photos of every Registered Historic Place in my town. In West Hartford, there are 28 Registered Historic Places, only a few of which had images or articles. But there is a wonderful List of Registered Historic Places in Hartford County, Connecticut, that lists the addresses and geographical coordinates for every one in my town and the surrounding towns. It has slots for thumbnail images, so even the ones without articles have a home for photos, and there is even a Google Maps link at the bottom that maps out every place on the list.

I spent a couple days doing bike trips to all the West Hartford places on the list, and now I’ve shot them all. Now I’m starting a series of longer trips to shoot the places in neighboring towns. It’s definitely been worthwhile; I learned a lot about local geography, got some exercise, and took a bunch of photos.

Not all local NHRP lists have the useful table format that the Connecticut lists have (and the Western U.S. has relatively few registered places), but the NHRP WikiProject can help and there is a tool for automatically generating formatting lists by county. There are currently only a handful of lists that are fully illustrated so far, but I hope eventually to add the Hartford County, Connecticut list to that group. An even more ambitious goal would be to create articles for all the places on that list, but I’m afraid there may not be relevant sources for most of them.

Wikipedia’s epistemological methods

A colleague of mine recently asked me about Wikipedia’s policy on sources and evidence, Wikipedia:Verifiability (WP:V). In short, the threshold for including content in Wikipedia is that it be “verifiable, not true”. Truth alone, without appropriate evidence that fits with the Wikipedia community’s standards, is not enough to justify adding something to Wikipedia.

You can interpret this in a number of ways. For some, it’s an embodiment of post-modern notions of truth and subjectivity (people disagree about truth, so we don’t let people simply add what they know to be true, instead relying on authority). For others, it’s just a practical concession to the sociological nature of Wikipedia, in which some people are more objective and more capable than others (and those are the people that know how to leverage authority effectively). The Verifiability standards could also be taken as a fundamentally rhetorical, rather than epistemological, policy: communal standards of evidence ensure a basic level of apparent reliability, since readers can be pointed straight to relevant authorities. (Citizendium, in contrast, as has looser evidentiary standards and relies in part on the personal authority of its Authors and Editors.)

From an academic standpoint, there are plenty of relevant sets of literature that bear on the problems that Wikipedia’s evidentiary standards and policies attempt to deal with. But from my own perspective as a historian of science, I think the parallel to scientific epistemology and evidentiary norms is an interesting one.

WP:V works in ways that are closely paralleled in scientific (and historical) method as it is actually practiced. Communities of scientists have various norms (mostly unwritten) for what does and does not constitute legitimate evidence for making novel scientific claims. These norms are highly context dependent, and can include (for exclude) experiments, reference to the work of others, reasoning and rhetoric, visual evidence, artificially simulated data, etc., depending on field and venue. Verifiability in the traditional scientific sense of experimental repeatibility is actually very rarely a consideration in science (and in fact, many philosophers and historians of science have argued that repeating experiments is rarely possible and almost never desirable… the questions instead are, do the results accord with the results of related experiments?, can we build on these results?, etc.)

Science, as scientists are increasingly willing to admit in recent decades, is about what is verifiable rather than true in a similar sense to WP:V, since experimental science is increasingly conducted in largely artificial physical contexts. What happens in the lab is hoped to be a faithful reflection of what happens in nature, but the whole point of the lab is to isolate certain parts of nature so that they can be studied without all the complicating factors…and sometimes those complicating factors mean that a given experimental result may actually only be “true” for the very peculiar and artificial set of circumstances tested. The analogous situation on Wikipedia is when a seemingly reliable source is wrong; all the Wikipedian can do, without other sources to compare it to, is either limit claims to “source X says Y” (instead of just claiming Y and citing X) or ignore the source altogether. On Wikipedia we also hope that what the sources says accords with reality, but (for sociological rather than technical reasons) editors can’t go out and probe reality in its full complexity and must stick within the (negotiable) norms (which, like in science, are tailored to try to maximize the chances of accord between evidence and reality).

WP:V, and Wikipedia’s approach to sourcing and evidence more broadly, is just a different set of evidentiary norms, suited to a different group of people with a different purpose.