Reader Question: Can I Use Wikipedia Images for My Business?

A recent inquiry on LinkedIn in response to my article, Myths & Facts: Can I Use This Image for My Business, seemed to warrant another post on the topic of images you can use for your business. My former colleague Stacey asked: "Two questions: What's the rule on Wikipedia images? And what can you do with celebrity images? Especially around passings or if you are doing a cultural heritage month homage? I would love your thoughts."

Can I use Wikipedia images for my business?

Wikipedia, Wikimedia, and Copyright

These are GREAT questions. Many people wrongly assume that all photos on Wikipedia, most of which can be found on Wikimedia Commons, are public domain images. Of course, astute readers of this blog know much better than to assume when it comes to image licenses! While these images may be free to share and even remix under a Creative Commons (CC) license, most also require attribution. (Remember, there are many kinds of CC licenses.)

The wonderful thing about Wikipedia/Wikimedia is that copyright issues are taken very seriously. Users are asked to upload media - not limited to images - that may be freely used for any purpose. Images that violate copyright tend to be quickly deleted from the sites. Uploaded images must include the image's source, author, and copyright licensing information. My favorite feature is the detailed description of the image, which can be used on your blog to improve accessibility.

Finding Images You Can Use on Wikipedia and Wikimedia

By now you're probably wondering: How can you find images on Wikipedia/Wikimedia and determine whether or not they can be used on your business's blog or social media posts? First, identify an image you'd like to use by searching Wikimedia Commons or finding an image in a Wikipedia entry. Once you've found an image, click on it for a larger view; you'll see a blue "More Details" button at the lower right-hand corner of the screen.

Wikimedia Commons screenshot showing More Details button under expanded image of Dolores Huerta by Gage Skidmore

Wikimedia Commons screenshot showing More Details button under expanded image of Dolores Huerta by Gage Skidmore

Image Source, Author, Description, and License Information

Clicking this button will take you to a page with a fuller description of the image, along with a link to the source, information on the author, and licensing information. For example, this image of Dolores Huerta was taken on March 20, 2016 by Gage Skidmore. It is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license; it can be shared and remixed, but must be attributed to the author in the manner specified. It can also be altered, transformed, or built upon, but if shared, can only be distributed with the same or similar license.

Wikimedia Commons screenshot (cropped) of Dolores Huerta image by Gage Skidmore with details, including image description, source, author, and copyright information

Wikimedia Commons screenshot (cropped) of Dolores Huerta image by Gage Skidmore with details, including image description, source, author, and copyright information

Celebrity Images

While you may find celebrity images on free stock image sites like Pexels or Pixabay, beware that there is no guarantee of the license or the author. Just today I found a photo of a famous singer on Pexels that was attributed to Pixabay. Clicking over to Pixabay, the photo was attributed a 65-year-old photographer from Tennessee. It was a close-up concert photo so I assumed he was a professional photographer, but Google didn't turn up a business website or Facebook page under his name. I decided to do a reverse image search on Google and found the photo, taken at a military event related to a presidential inauguration, on Wikimedia. (Yes, I'm a little Veronica Mars-y when it comes to this kind of thing!) The image turned out to be in the public domain, as it was taken by an employee of the government as part of that person's official duties; however, it was not taken by the person to whom it was attributed to on Pixabay!

Conclusion

In my opinion, it's smarter to use Wikimedia Commons to source free images of celebrities; you are able to view the original source, author, and double-check the license for yourself, which I always recommend. If you choose to use free images from elsewhere, the reverse image search tool on Google that I cited above is a powerful tool to help establish an image's origins. You can of course also purchase these images if you have the budget, but when it comes to free images, I would err on the side of caution, sourcing from a reputable site and researching the image license carefully.