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Wikipedia and copyright



4:55 pm on Jul 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Since 2003 we used Wikipedia for a site which pertains to education, and it has not been a problem (we abide by all of Wikipedia's rules pertaining use, such as linking to the original article, displaying the all the information is released under GNU, etc.)

Now we received a letter from a photographer that says that one of the photographs used by our site and Wikipedia are his copyright.

We removed it, since Wikipedia removed it but now he's asking us to wire transfer him money.

With Wikipedia all pages are releases under GNU Free Documentation License, so others are free to use them.

How should I respond to this?

Thanks for any ideas.


8:39 pm on Jul 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

forgot to include, on the Wikipedia page, it displayed: "Text and images used with authorisation of person's_name_here", "reference link" - link to the person's website.


9:10 am on Jul 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Well...since no one answered I'll tell you what I would do.

I would politly tell him that the site you got the material from (Wikipedia) allowed you to use their content under the GNU license.

Wikipedia, under their TOS, only allows non-copywrited material on their site.

Therefore the photographers action needs to address the editor that uploaded the copywrited information against Wikipedia TOS and maybe Wikipedia if they did not remove the copywrited information once they were made aware that it was copywrited.

I would then ignore any communication for the photographer unless it comes from a lawyer.


9:47 am on Jul 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member vincevincevince is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

I would not wire him a cent. State that the photograph was obtained from Wikipedia who had licensed the work to you for your use. The fact that Wikipedia was not permitted to do this is an issue which you regret and you ask him to seek redress from wikipedia both for their original copyright infringement and all subsequent infringements generated by their action and misrepresentation of copyright.


11:09 am on Jul 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

You used the image 'in good faith' (a legally valid argument, used successfully in many court cases) and as soon as you were asked to cease your use (albeit indirectly) you complied with the request - I don't think he has a leg to stand on.

Regarding Wikipedia's responsibilities, he may or may not have a case against them depending on some specific circumstances, plus whether they used the image in good faith and how reasonable the time between request and ceasure - but that's their problem.

If you're worried you might want to talk to an intellectual property lawyer, but I'm guessing that would cost more than the photographer is asking for.


1:26 pm on Jul 29, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

>>Wikipedia, under their TOS, only allows non-copywrited material on their site.

This is incorrect - with some of the images they argue "fair use" provisions of US law to get around what they must consider to be copyright issues and warn downline users that the images may be copyright to another owner.


11:57 am on Jul 30, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Legal blah bla blab disclaimer - I am not a lawyer.

Failure to know that an item was copyright is no argument. This one is a classic. If you buy a stolen car without knowing it was stolen, the original owner can still sue you and come after you. Your only recourse is to sue the person that sold you the car.

Really, this happens everyday - you aren't protected. And as someone who gets his pictures stolen daily, I'd say you should pay close attention to what the photographer says as he has a right to ask for payment for the time you used his material without his permission - even if you did not know it was copyrighted.

[edited by: Harry at 11:58 am (utc) on July 30, 2006]


4:16 pm on Jul 30, 2006 (gmt 0)

Harry, I think the fact that the picture was obtained from Wikipedia, who had an apparently valid right to use it, makes this a somewhat different case. It wasn't just copied off a website with no attention paid to a copyrght holder's rights.

The OP took the photograph down promptly, so he was not using the photograph without permission.

Of course, I am not a lawyer either.

But what the exact rights and wrongs here isn't the real issue. You want this to go away. If it were me, if the photographer were asking for a modest sum (a relative term--decide what is modest in your case) then I would pay it, to make this go away. BUT only if the photographer will sign a statement that you provide that says that this settles all claims (you might need a little help with the legal languag). If the photographer is asking for a large sum, and persists in making the demand, then I consult with an intellectual property attorney.


8:51 pm on Jul 30, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

just to be clear, the Wikipedia article page said:

Text and images used with authorization of the owner. (the person sending us the letter now)

So it looks like the owner gave permission to use his picture/text then he seems to has asked for it to be taken down.

I searched Wikipedia and this guy's name appears twice as giving consent to use his materials and one article has been edited(removed material) while one remains intact.


9:10 pm on Jul 30, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Then it sounds as if someone needs to explain very slowly and clearly to the photographer exactly what's involved in giving permission to wikipedia - and thus other - to use the material...



9:12 pm on Aug 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I wouldnt pay him at all
If he keep emailing point him to Wikipedia TOS and GNU


6:55 am on Aug 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Shame on the photographer for submitting the photo to Wikipedia in the first place. I believe Wikipedia has changed their policy now requiring photos submitted must be released into the public domain.

Shame on you for misinterpreting "Used by permission." Wikipedia was (may have been) granted usage permission, not you- you should have obtained a written release prior to your usage (or at least probably so according to the release the photo was submitted to WP under).

From what I understand, if the photo does not have a registered copyright you may be liable for actual damages rather than actual and punitive damages. Forget "Fair Use" and fumbling ignorance.

From a photographer's standpoint, I can't stand having my work swiped. However, things happen. So what I do is calculate what the users time is worth and what they would pay to stay out of a small claims court for the better part of a day, then send them a bill for that. If there is no response or an adverse one, I file a claim locally and send off a subpeona (sp?). This is so much fun if a real estate broker snitched a photo(s)! I make the suite for usually about $600 (But will settle for $400 if they call). I've done this a few times and it gets the matter settled. I had one cry baby (This guy knowingly took a photo and printed it in the paper as an advertisment) that sent me $600 in quarters. Funny thing- when the box arrived (it cost him a group of money to ship it first class) we just happened to be getting ready for a trip to Las Vegas. I gave the wife the money for playing slots. I called and left a message on his machine and telling him he was $45 short.

Now, if I were in your situation I would get his/her mailing address and send a check for maybe $25 with an apology for misunderstanding. Write the apology in ink and put a couple drops of water on the signature to make it blur like you been crying.

I wouldn't wire nothing to nobody, that's too expensive. Especially since I can't afford to wire my new Nigerian friend a few thousand dollars 'good faith money' to help him get his family fortune (23 million USD) out of that horribly turmultuous country.

Depressing, yes? I'd gamble that the $25 would shut him up. Sending the check and note registered mail (keep copies) would show you made an attempt. If the check gets cashed, its most likely the last you'll hear of it.

Good luck - get it over with.


12:32 am on Aug 4, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I'm not saying your post about court is bs, but as far as I know you must file suit in their state when it comes to small claims, unless you have a contract with the defendent stating the venue is your state.


12:40 am on Aug 4, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member vincevincevince is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

Wikipedia was granted permission to use the image, and part of wikipedia are those parts of other websites which wikipedia supplies with content. The content and context are still the wikipedia despite the fact that it is on another domain because it is use by explicit license from Wikipedia.


12:49 am on Aug 4, 2006 (gmt 0)

1. the odds of him suing you are astronomical
2. the odds of him winning--after an expensive legal battle--especially given the conditions under which you used the image, and how fast you removed are even higher.
If it was me, I would NOT send him a cent; let him threaten all day.


8:26 am on Aug 4, 2006 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Your probably right about the venue. My experiences have been within my state.

I don't use photos other than my own because of this kind of garbage.


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