HOW TO: Submit Author Photos to Wikimedia Commons (for Wikipedia)

Recently I was editing a wikipedia page about an author when I realized I needed an author photo.

You may not realize that graphics for wikipedia come from a separate website called Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Commons has a separate mission from Wikipedia. Unlike Wikipedia (which requires that pages for living people meet a “notability” test), it’s pretty easy to upload art or photographs to Wikimedia Commons. The main challenge is making sure that the person uploading it has the rights to do so and that they are willing to use a license that allows others the unlimited right to use the image commercially. After a person’s photo has been uploaded onto Wikimedia Commons, it can be used anywhere on Wikipedia (or other third party sites even). For authors and publishers, it generally makes sense that publicity photos have no special restrictions on use.

Uploading Book covers (which are copyrighted and not-free) is allowed by Wikipedia under fair use, but there are special rules about that. I discuss this more at the bottom of this blogpost.

Unfortunately, this information is not widely known. That’s why the wikipedia page for many authors, musicians and public figures lack a photograph of the subject.

For this reason, I have prepared this page which explains how to get an author photo onto wikicommons (and possibly at some point Wikipedia). Because I work in publishing, the main use case I’m thinking of is author photos, but most of these rules are generally applicable to other living persons on Wikipedia (musicians, politicians, etc).

Important Pre-Conditions

To be able to use this upload wizard, you must either be the original photographer or the copyright holder with full copyright control. If you do not own the copyright, then you must be able to verify that the image has one of these creative commons licenses. That means you must 1)know the name of the copyright holder and specify where the digital file comes from. It could be a URL, a book or a publication.

Personality Rights (and Model Releases). Generally the Wikicommons Upload Wizard does not require a model release. But the copyright owner who is doing the uploading must choose an image which respects the publicity rights (i.e., personality rights) of people inside the photo for that country (or US State). Wikimedia Commons has a process for considering removal requests if an individual feels that a photo violates someone’s personality rights. More information about publicity rights and personality rights and Wikimedia Commons can be found at the bottom of this blogpost.

How to Upload the Image

There are basically two ways to upload a graphic or photo to Wikimedia Commons.    Assuming you meet the pre-condition, you must take one of these two steps:

  1.    use wikimedia commons upload form wizard OR
  2.    email wikimedia commons, attach the photo and include a release of the rights to the image in the body of the email message. 

The first option is easy to do (takes less than 5 minutes), even if the wizard is something complicated. Importantly, it goes live within minutes of uploading.  Below are explicit directions  about how to use the form. 

The second option is for less tech-savvy people. It takes several weeks for wikimedia volunteers to process.  But it works. 

Below is a technical guide I wrote about how to perform either step.   Fasten your seat belts! 

FIRST OPTION: The photographer uses the upload form wizard

THE EASIEST WAY to get everything done is for the person taking the photograph to do the uploading. It often asks you to include a lot of metadata, but a lot of it is optional. You can always add/edit these things later.

Before you do anything, you must create an account for yourself on Wikicommmons.

After you do that, go to the upload form wizard.  

Below the explanatory graphic, there is a blue NEXT button, which you should press. 

Some remarks about the process of using the upload form.

1. First tab allows you to upload the photo.

2. Second tab allows you to specify if it’s your own work or not (i.e., Release Rights). If you choose THE FILE IS NOT MY OWN WORK, you then have to fill out some rights information. I would avoid selecting this option if at all possible.

3. Next tag asks you to provide a description — pretty self-explanatory. However, the bottom category is somewhat important. You should add categories by typing AUTHORS FROM THE UNITED STATES and WRITERS FROM TEXAS. Filling out the category part is optional. Anyone can add  it later. Depending on the kind of person in the photo, you may need to choose different categories.

4. The Add Data tab asks for you to fill out more data (like a description of the picture). Totally optional.

5. Publish and then you’re done.

I tried uploading a random selfie of myself to see how to do it. You can use this as a model. 

Here is another photograph of myself on Wikimedia Commons. In this case, a professional photographer took it and he uploaded it to Wikimedia Commons himself. (I actually sat next to him and watched him do it!) He had to license it with a creative commons license.

It’s really easy to do if you own the copyright to the image. It’s almost as easy if you have proof that you have full copyright control over the photo (like a signed agreement or posting on a website by the organization which owns the photo). After you finish the wizard and press submit, the image will immediately be available.

SECOND OPTION: Send Wikimedia Commons an Email 

The person who holds the copyright to the image (presumably the photographer) should send this email to . The email should come from an email address that we can recognise as associated with the content being released. For instance, if you are releasing images shown on a website, your email address should be associated with the website or listed on the contact page of the website; if you are releasing images on behalf of an organisation, your email address should be an official email address of the organization.

I used this wikicommons form to auto-generate this letter .

EMAIL SUBJECT LINE: release of content attached to this email


I hereby affirm that I represent [University of Texas at Dallas], the creator and/or sole owner of the exclusive copyright of the following media work:

(list content attached to this email)

I agree to publish the above-mentioned work under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International.

I acknowledge that by doing so I grant anyone the right to use the work, even in a commercial product or otherwise, and to modify it according to their needs, provided that they abide by the terms of the license and any other applicable laws.

I am aware that this agreement is not limited to Wikipedia or related sites.

I am aware that the copyright holder always retains ownership of the copyright as well as the right to be attributed in accordance with the license chosen. Modifications others make to the work will not be claimed to have been made by the copyright holder.

I acknowledge that I cannot withdraw this agreement, and that the content may or may not be kept permanently on a Wikimedia project.




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Publicity Rights (Personality Rights) for Author Photos

Publicity rights (or personality rights) vary according to the country and US state you reside in. The copyright owner (usually the photographer) will generally have to respect these rights when choosing what kinds of photos to upload to WikiCommons (although it is not always required to obtain consent to take or publish it). This can be accomplished simply by getting a model release (even though in many cases it is not necessary). Generally though it is permissible to upload photographs of people taking part in a public event at a privately-owned venue; Some of the questions which the uploader should keep in mind when trying to decide:

  1. Generally is the photo reasonably flattering (i.e., in focus, not sweating, etc)?
  2. Was the author (subject) aware that he or she is being photographed? Does the context suggest that the author is performing a role as writer at a certain event (like after a reading or at a book sale)?
  3. Has this photo already been used by an individual or organization in order to promote some event or product or the author himself? (like publicity for a book, etc). If yes, this implies consent for the image being used for other promotional purposes.
  4. Does the upload include other people in the background? Are the individuals identifiable? Is it possible to crop the photo so that unnecessary figures are removed without damaging the overall photo?

Generally my impression is that the Wikicommons upload wizard does not have any specific requirements about personality rights, except that the photo must follow the rules in one’s own country and state.

Uploading Book Covers (non-free, Fair Use) to Wikicommons

Book covers are a special case; Wikicommons/Wikipedia allows the uploading of certain non-free content still in copyright. On the upload page for non-free content, you should click This is a copyrighted, non-free work, but I believe it is Fair Use. and then check this box: This is the cover or dustjacket of a book, the cover of a CD or video, the official release poster of a movie, or a comparable item. It will be included as that work’s primary means of visual identification, at the top of the article about the book, movie, etc. in question.

Here are wiki guidelines about what is a low-res images, summary of fair use cases (up to 2019),

One other thing. If you are uploading non-free content, it must be low-resolution and it must be used on at least one wikipedia article. So if you are uploading a non-free book cover without actually including it inside a Wikipedia article, I’m guessing that it will be subject to deletion.







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