Imagery is a valuable and often essential part of profiling any business or celebrity. It’s difficult to explain in words the appearance of a logo or person, so companies hiring paid Wikipedia editors are likely to wish to upload photographs to enhance any article they are preparing for the site. However, as part of Wikipedia’s mission to provide educational content that’s free to use by anyone, anywhere, the site has complex policies regarding image usage. It’s easy for paid editors to fall foul of these guidelines and the consequences can be severe, with potential deletion of the image or related article or even a ban on the user account. In this article, I will touch on a couple of cases in point where editors have breached Wikipedia’s fair use policy and explore the four categories of images that Wikipedia allows.
Rule number 1. Don’t get caught.
Earlier this year, the outdoor clothing company The North Face embarked on an advertising campaign that was astounding in how blatantly it breached the guidelines. They hired a Brazilian advertising agency, Leo Burnett, to swap out location images on many Wikipedia pages with photos that included products adorned with The North Face branding. They then created a video in which they bragged about how, by “collaborating” with Wikipedia, they had achieved top ranking on Google by “paying absolutely nothing”. The Wikipedia Foundation was quick to confirm there had been no collaboration and after an outcry from The North Face’s followers on Twitter, the company soon pulled the ad and issued an apology. However, the saga didn’t end there. Because Leo Burnett published the images on Wikipedia Commons, they were essentially giving away their client’s marketing materials for free. Instead of deleting several high-quality photos, the trolls in charge of Wikimedia Commons cropped out the North Face logo and kept the images. Now several of the North Face’s marketing materials are in the public domain for anyone anywhere to use for free. The moral of the story is, know the rules. Don’t get caught.
Where is the best place to host an image that I want to use on Wikipedia?
Wikipedia places much importance on the free part of “the free encyclopaedia that anyone can edit”. This ethos extends to the images used on the site. If you see an image you like on Wikipedia, you are well within your rights to download it and use it any way you like. If you see a picture you want on Wikipedia, theoretically, you can use it in your power-point presentation, your second cousin’s bar mitzvah invitation, you could even use it in a marketing campaign of your own. There are over 50million freely available images on Wikipedia. Such an extensive collection of royalty-free images requires a large repository. That’s why in 2004 the Wikimedia foundation launched Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Commons is a smart concept. Instead of hosting the same image hundreds of times over on multiple different language versions of the encyclopaedia, Wikipedians can host the image once on commons. Wikipedians can then use the image on the English Wikipedia, as well as the Welsh Wikipedia the Sanskrit Wikipedia, and the (relatively) newly established Scottish Gaelic Wikipedia. In fact, Wikipedians could use your images in any of the different language versions of Wikipedia.
Who owns the images on Wikipedia?
Here’s the catch. As our rebellious friends at the North Face found out, freedom is a two-way street. Wikimedia Commons only accepts free content. Meaning, the images are not subject to any copyright restrictions. If you spend thousands of pounds hiring a top rate professional photographer to shoot the visuals for your latest high-end marketing campaign and some bright spark in your office insists that your campaign should extend to your company’s Wikipedia page. Before you go uploading all those beautiful images to Wikimedia Commons, read the licensing agreement first. Otherwise, like the North Face, you might find you are giving those images away for free. However, in most cases, the copyright lies with the content creator or author. The professional photographer that you hired may have granted you permission to use their images in your marketing campaign, but did they permit you to release those images into the public domain under a free licence? Probably not. For better or for worse, the trolls who spend every waking hour of their lives policing Wikimedia commons for copyright violations can spot a copyrighted image a mile off. Copyrighted images aren’t like the grainy, home-made, low-resolution mobile phone camera images which adorn Wikipedia. Copyrighted images are high-contrast, pristine, turner prize ready masterpieces. If you want to give such images away, make sure that you can prove, when challenged that you own the copyright. The trolls will challenge you, and if they catch you uploading copyrighted images to their coveted image repository, they will block you and your company for life. Furthermore, if you or your company is fortunate enough to have a Wikipedia page, they will use the failed upload as evidence of an undisclosed conflict of interest and either delete your page or, as they put it, take the axe to it.
My advice is, don’t bother with images, because any photos that you’re allowed to upload won’t be worth uploading. Trying to add pictures to your company Wikipedia will only attract unwanted attention.
To what extent does copyright affect the quality of Wikipedia’s articles?
One man, (not me) made it his mission to challenge Wikipedia’s preference for free rather than fair use images. Like anyone who challenges Wikipedia’s establishment, his actions resulted in multiple breaches of terms and conditions. Editor Slowking4 believes the encyclopaedia can only be genuinely educational if it encourages fair use images where they enhance the content. For example, an encyclopaedia entry for a famous work of art is not complete without a picture of the painting itself but uploading any such photo would be a breach of Wikipedia’s non-free use policy. Even if the image were taken by the user, unless it meets a long list of conditions, a situation Hayes feels is overly onerous on editors. The editor in questions created 3,000 pages and made over 50,000 editorial changes to existing pages. To document the under-documented areas of knowledge, he often focused on minority sportswomen and other under-represented groups. Internet users should celebrate such commitment to Wikipedia, but his repeated breaches of the non-free content policy led to repeated user account bans and trolls spitefully deleting thousands of his articles, including those where he had made only minor edits and not uploaded any imagery.
So how can paid editors include images in their articles without breaching Wikipedia’s policies on image usage?
Well, it’s a catch 22. To upload an image, you must be able to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the copyright belongs to you. However, to state that the image belongs to you and then use it in your company, Wikipedia page would be an admission of conflict of interest, which I no longer recommend. My advice is to save the images for your website.
What about adding a company logo?
The consensus is that it’s ok to use a logo belonging to someone else for encyclopaedic purposes. However, just because there is a consensus doesn’t mean the trolls won’t move the goalposts just for the fun of it. Because your company logo is a registered trademark, and because your company Wikipedia page isn’t an official communication, the use of your company logo is going to be heavily restricted. Anything you upload will have to comply with Wikipedia’s non-free content policy. As you would expect, the policy is lengthy and mind-numbingly dull. However, there are a few noteworthy points which apply to Business Wikipedia pages.
- Editors may upload logos under Wikipedia’s exemption doctrine policy which allows the use of copyrighted or Non-free content.
- The exemption doctrine policy exists across all of Wikipedia’s sister projects except, interestingly Wikimedia Commons.
- The use of logos should be minimal.
- Editors should upload logos that do not include company slogans.
- Logos must be low resolution.
The critical point here is, Wikipedia pages about companies include logos for illustrative encyclopaedia purposes, not promotional purposes. Therefore, if you have a rebrand, the chances are you won’t be able to change the logo on the Wikipedia entry for your company. The page isn’t there to promote you; it’s there to document you.
How do I upload a picture of myself to my Wikipedia page?
Firstly, it’s worth remembering that you don’t own your personal Wikipedia biography page. The general public owns the page, and technically, you have no say in the content. However, uploading a picture of yourself to Wikipedia is easier than you would think, providing you own the copyright, can prove it and haven’t hired someone else to upload the picture on your behalf. In my experience, the easiest way to prove that you own the copyright is to upload a selfie to Wikimedia commons. That way, there can be no ambiguity over who owns the copyright.
It is always worth remembering, however, that changing an image on a Wikipedia page is very difficult. Therefore, if you like to change your haircut or facial hair arrangement frequently, including a picture on your Wikipedia page may not be in your best interests.
The bottom line
The copyright holder should upload company logos, images or portraits to Wikimedia commons. Trying to add images as part of a paid Wikipedia editing project will almost certainly mitigate your project’s chances of success. Furthermore, given the importance of visual branding and Wikipedia’s strict regulation of copyrighted material, often, the best approach is to leave corporate images off Wikipedia altogether.