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).

183 thoughts on “How are your Wikimedia Commons photos being used elsewhere?”

  1. Once TinEye gets some serious traction, it should be useful for finding where your images are being used without any attribution at all.

  2. Sage, considering the many cases of where your work was not properly attributed, what was your personal or emotional reaction? Do you intend to seek out any rectification of the problem?

    I recently found all sorts of content on Green Wikia that had been lifted verbatim from copyrighted sources. When I pointed out a few of these most glaring acts of theft, the Wikia reaction was to… wait for it…

    …block my account until March 2009.

  3. Greg, for the most part I don’t have much of a personal negative reaction to the copyright violations I discuss here. That’s because all these cases do at least make a superficial attempt to credit me, even if they don’t do so properly.

    There is widespread misunderstanding about what CC and other free licenses permit and require. Especially in cases that don’t even mention the licensing (e.g., the Jerusalem Post article) and make it appear than I granted direct permission, I am considering contacting them to demand compensation. I’m happy for my work to be used under the terms of one of the licenses, but the whole point of using copyleft licenses is their viral nature, to increase the pool free content. So publications that abuse or ignore these licenses need to get the message that using freely licensed content without following the license is the same as using an AP photo or other professional photo without paying for the right to do so.

    I do find it a little bit appalling the way World News Network uses my photos (and indeed, with their whole business model), since they aspire to be a news source but use my photos in totally misleading ways. But that’s an issue of journalistic integrity rather than intellectual property.

    I’m sorry to hear about your experience on Green Wikia. It’s not surprising that (like Associated Content) Wikia takes a looser approach to copyright violation than Wikimedia projects, since much of the Wikimedia community has an ideological stake in free culture and its legal dimensions while Wikia is for-profit and Green Wikia users probably don’t have much stake in the free culture movement.

  4. Dear Sage,

    Boy, am I glad to have come across this blog of yours! Thank you for sharing this wonderful article.

    I work as a Picture Researcher for an educational publishing company that publishes K-12 educational textbooks, workbooks, practical books, Teacher’s Guide etc. for use by national schools both locally and overseas.

    Since the editorial budget for educational books are limited and restrictive, I have resorted to using freely-licensed images from stock.XCHNG ( which requires me to write in for permissions as well as images found on the Wikimedia Commons page.

    Until I came across your blog, I have wrongly assumed that the following credit line for reproducing photos taken from Wikimedia Commons was sufficient e.g. “Copyright holder’s Name or Username / Wikimedia Commons”.

    Well, after having read your blog, I sent out the following email to all our editors. Below is the text of the email for your reference. Please feel free to comment if it requires further amendments.

    Dear all,

    I recently came across this Yahoo! link and noticed how those images taken from Wikimedia Commons are being credited.

    Since I am no lawyer by any means at all, I did some further research and found that besides crediting the author of the work, the person who uploaded the image as well as the name and link to the text of the licence must be clearly indicated in the photo credit line, whether the licensing type is CC (Creative Commons) or GFDL (GNU Free Documentation License) etc.

    After having done my research (scroll all the way down for the links to my researched sources), I came across the following Photo Credits for crediting images taken from Wikimedia Commons which seems like an ideal way if we do not wish to infringe any copyright laws. Let me know your thoughts.

    e.g. © Copyright Holder’s Name or Username / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain or CC BY-SA 3.0 (

    Below are the examples of the Photo Credits indicated in the said Yahoo! link ( which used those images taken from Wikimedia Commons:

    1. Photo: By David290 (David290) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

    2. Photo: By Frank Yu (originally posted to Flickr as IMG_0050) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

    3. Photo: By Tee Meng at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

    4. Photo: By User:Lerdsuwa (Own photo (400D + 18-55/3.5-4.5)) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

    5. Photo: By Craig (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

    6. Photo: By Maurice07 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

    7. Photo: By irvin calicut (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

    8. Photo: By Mike Gonzalez (TheCoffee) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

    9. Photo: By Chicken7 (Camera, on visit to the country.) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

    10. Photo: By Simon Law (originally posted to Flickr as Junk food) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

    11. Photo: By Cmglee (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


    J. Simon

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