|This page documents a Wikipedia policy with legal considerations.|
The text of Wikipedia is copyrighted (automatically, under the
The licenses Wikipedia uses grant free access to our content in the same sense that free software is licensed freely. Wikipedia content can be copied, modified, and redistributed if and only if the copied version is made available on the same terms to others and acknowledgment of the authors of the Wikipedia article used is included (a link back to the article is generally thought to satisfy the attribution requirement; see below for more details). Copied Wikipedia content will therefore remain free under an appropriate license and can continue to be used by anyone subject to certain restrictions, most of which aim to ensure that freedom. This principle is known as copyleft in contrast to typical copyright licenses.
To this end,
- Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify Wikipedia's text under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License and, unless otherwise noted, the GNU Free Documentation License, unversioned, with no invariant sections, front-cover texts, or back-cover texts.
- A copy of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License is included in the section entitled "Wikipedia:Text of Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License"
- A copy of the GNU Free Documentation License is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".
- Content on Wikipedia is covered by disclaimers.
The English text of the CC BY-SA and GFDL licenses is the only legally binding restriction between authors and users of Wikipedia content. What follows is our interpretation of CC BY-SA and GFDL, as it pertains to the rights and obligations of users and contributors.
Contributors' rights and obligations
If you contribute text directly to Wikipedia, you thereby license it to the public for reuse under CC BY-SA and GFDL (unversioned, with no invariant sections, front-cover texts, or back-cover texts). Non-text media may be contributed under a variety of different licenses that support the general goal of allowing unrestricted re-use and re-distribution. See Guidelines for images and other media files, below.
If you want to import text that you have found elsewhere or that you have co-authored with others, you can only do so if it is available under terms that are compatible with the CC BY-SA license. You do not need to ensure or guarantee that the imported text is available under the GNU Free Documentation License, unless you are its sole author. Furthermore, please note that you cannot import information which is available only under the GFDL. In other words, you may only import text that is (a) single-licensed under terms compatible with the CC BY-SA license or (b) dual-licensed with the GFDL and another license with terms compatible with the CC BY-SA license. If you are the sole author of the material, you must license it under both CC BY-SA and GFDL.
If the material, text or media, has been previously published and you wish to donate it to Wikipedia under appropriate license, you will need to verify copyright permission through one of our established procedures. See Wikipedia:Donating copyrighted materials for details. If you are not a copyright holder, you will still need to verify copyright permission; see the Using copyrighted work from others section below.
You retain copyright to materials you contribute to Wikipedia, text and media. Copyright is never transferred to Wikipedia. You can later republish and relicense them in any way you like. However, you can never retract or alter the license for copies of materials that you place here; these copies will remain so licensed until they enter the public domain when your copyright expires (currently some decades after an author's death).
Using copyrighted work from others
All creative works are copyrighted, by international agreement, unless either they fall into the public domain or their copyright is explicitly disclaimed. Generally, Wikipedia must have permission to use copyrighted works. There are some circumstances under which copyrighted works may be legally utilized without permission; see Wikipedia:Non-free content for specific details on when and how to utilize such material. However, it is our goal to be able to freely redistribute as much of Wikipedia's material as possible, so original images and sound files licensed under CC BY-SA and GFDL (unversioned, with no invariant sections, front-cover texts, or back-cover texts) or in the public domain are greatly preferred to copyrighted media files used under fair use or otherwise.
If you want to import media (including text) that you have found elsewhere, and it does not meet the non-free content policy and guideline, you can only do so if it is public domain or available under terms that are compatible with the CC BY-SA license. If you import media under a compatible license which requires attribution, you must, in a reasonable fashion, credit the author(s). You must also in most cases verify that the material is compatibly licensed or public domain. If the original source of publication contains a copyright disclaimer or other indication that the material is free for use, a link to it on the media description page or the article's talk page may satisfy this requirement. If you obtain special permission to use a copyrighted work from the copyright holder under compatible terms, you must make a note of that fact (along with the relevant names and dates) and verify this through one of several processes. See Wikipedia:Requesting copyright permission for the procedure for asking a copyright holder to grant a usable license for their work and for the processes for verifying that license has been granted.
Never use materials that infringe the copyrights of others. This could create legal liabilities and seriously hurt Wikipedia. If in doubt, write the content yourself, thereby creating a new copyrighted work which can be included in Wikipedia without trouble.
Note that copyright law governs the creative expression of ideas, not the ideas or information themselves. Therefore, it is legal to read an encyclopedia article or other work, reformulate the concepts in your own words, and submit it to Wikipedia, so long as you do not follow the source too closely. (See our Copyright FAQ for more on how much reformulation may be necessary as well as the distinction between summary and abridgment.) However, it would still be unethical (but not illegal) to do so without citing the original as a reference (see the plagiarism guideline).
Linking to copyrighted works
Since most recently-created works are copyrighted, almost any Wikipedia article which
However, if you know or reasonably suspect that an external Web site is carrying a work in violation of the creator's copyright, do not link to that copy of the work. An example would be linking to a site hosting the lyrics of many popular songs without permission from their copyright holders. Knowingly and intentionally directing others to a site that violates copyright has been considered a form of
The copyright status of
In articles about a website, it is acceptable to include a link to that website even if there are possible copyright violations somewhere on the site.
Context is also important; it may be acceptable to link to a reputable website's review of a particular film, even if it presents a still from the film (such uses are generally either explicitly permitted by distributors or allowed under fair use). However, linking directly to the still of the film removes the context and the site's justification for permitted use or fair use.
If you suspect a copyright violation, you should at least bring up the issue on that page's
If a page contains material which infringes copyright, that material–and the whole page, if there is no other material present–should be removed. See Wikipedia:Copyright violations for more information, and Wikipedia:Copyright problems for detailed instructions.
Guidelines for images and other media files
Images, photographs, video and sound files, like written works, are subject to copyright. Someone holds the copyright unless the work has explicitly been placed in the public domain. Images, video and sound files on the internet need to be licensed directly from the copyright holder or someone able to license on their behalf. In some cases, fair use guidelines may allow them to be used irrespective of any copyright claims.
On Wikipedia, the use of media files is subject to the
Questions about media copyright may be directed to
Governing copyright law
The Wikimedia Foundation is based in the United States and accordingly governed by United States copyright law. Regardless, according to
A brief summary of non-U.S. copyright laws, including guidelines on determining copyright status of the material in the United States, is available at
Works by the United States Federal Government
Works produced by civilian and military employees of the United States federal government in the scope of their employment are public domain by statute in the United States (though they may be protected by copyright outside the U.S.). It is not enough that the employee was working at the time; he/she must have made the work as part of his/her duties (e.g. a soldier who takes a photograph with his/her personal camera while on patrol in Iraq owns the copyright to the photo, but it may find its way onto a unit webpage or otherwise be licensed to the government).
However, not every work republished by the U.S. government falls into this category. The U.S. government can own copyrights that are assigned to it by others–for example, works created by contractors.
United States Code; Title 17; Chapter 1; § 105 Subject matter of copyright; United States Government works. Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.US Code
Moreover, images and other media found on .mil and .gov websites may be using commercial stock photography owned by others. It may be useful to check the privacy and security notice of the website, but only with an email to the webmaster can you be confident that an image is in the public domain.
Note that while the United States government does not claim copyright protection on its own works, governments outside the U.S. often do claim copyright over works produced by their employees. (For example, several Commonwealth realms utilize Crown copyright.)
Works by state governments of the United States
In contrast to the federal government, most state and local governments in the United States retain copyright to their employees' work. Such work is not in the public domain, so please make sure to check copyright information before using it.
Reusers' rights and obligations
The only Wikipedia content you should contact the Wikimedia Foundation about is the trademarked Wikipedia/Wikimedia logos, which are not freely usable without permission (members of the media, see
Re-use of text
- To re-distribute text on Wikipedia in any form, provide credit to the authors either by including a) a hyperlink (where possible) or URL to the page or pages you are re-using, b) a hyperlink (where possible) or URL to an alternative, stable online copy which is freely accessible, which conforms with the license, and which provides credit to the authors in a manner equivalent to the credit given on this website, or c) a list of all authors. (Any list of authors may be filtered to exclude very small or irrelevant contributions.) This applies to text developed by the Wikipedia community. Text from external sources may attach additional attribution requirements to the work, which should be indicated on an article's face or on its talk page. For example, a page may have a banner or other notation indicating that some or all of its content was originally published somewhere else. Where such notations are visible in the page itself, they should generally be preserved by re-users.
- Copyleft/Share Alike
- If you make modifications or additions to the page you re-use, you must license them under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0 or later.
- Indicate changes
- If you make modifications or additions, you must indicate in a reasonable fashion that the original work has been modified. If you are re-using the page in a wiki, for example, indicating this in the page history is sufficient.
- Licensing notice
- Each copy or modified version that you distribute must include a licensing notice stating that the work is released under CC BY-SA and either a) a hyperlink or URL to the text of the license or b) a copy of the license. For this purpose, a suitable URL is: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/
For further information, please refer to the legal code of the CC BY-SA License.
Additional availability of text under the GNU Free Documentation License
For compatibility reasons, any page which does not incorporate text that is exclusively available under CC BY-SA or a CC BY-SA-compatible license is also available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License. In order to determine whether a page is available under the GFDL, review the page footer, page history, and discussion page for attribution of single-licensed content that is not GFDL-compatible. Since all text published before June 15th, 2009 on Wikipedia was released under the GFDL, you can ensure GFDL compatibility by using the page history to retrieve content published before that date.
Re-use of non-text media
Where not otherwise noted, non-text media files are available under various free culture licenses, consistent with the Wikimedia Foundation Licensing Policy. Please view the media description page for details about the license of any specific media file.
Non-free materials and special requirements
Wikipedia articles may also include quotations, images, or other media under the U.S. Copyright law "fair use" doctrine in accordance with our
Prior to June 15, 2009, Wikipedia did permit some text under licenses that were compatible with the GFDL but might require additional terms that were not required for original Wikipedia text (such as including Invariant Sections, Front-Cover Texts, or Back-Cover Texts). However, these materials could only be placed if the original copyright holders did not require that they be carried forward; for that reason, they impose no special burden for reuse.
Reusing text within Wikipedia
When you merge or split an article, or otherwise move text from one page to another within Wikipedia, the page history functionality cannot by itself determine where the content originally came from. This may violate the attribution clause of the project's licenses. If you are copying text within Wikipedia, you must at least put a link to the source page in an edit summary at the destination page. It is encouraged to do the same thing at the source page, and to add notices at the talk pages of both.
If you reuse text which you created yourself, the above may still be a good idea to avoid confusion, but it isn't mandatory.
If you are the owner of Wikipedia-hosted content being used without your permission
If you are the owner of content that is being used on Wikipedia without your permission, then you may request the page be immediately removed from Wikipedia; see
Inversely, if you are the editor of a Wikipedia article and have found a copy hosted without following the licensing requirements for attribution, please see Wikipedia:Standard license violation letter.
- Wikipedia:Copyright problems
- Wikipedia:Designated agent
- Wikipedia:Example requests for permission
- Wikipedia:File copyright tags
- Wikipedia:Freedom of panorama
- Wikipedia:Mirrors and forks
- Wikipedia:Non-free content
- Wikipedia:Non-U.S. copyrights
- Wikipedia:Scanning an image does not make it your "own work"
- Wikipedia:Spotting possible copyright violations
- Wikipedia:Standard license violation letter
- Wikipedia:WikiProject Copyright Cleanup