What happens when you release photos on Wikimedia Commons?

  • May 1, 2014
The London Eye at night

This post was written by Mike Peel

I started making my photographs available on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons licence in 2006. Since then, I have uploaded over 3,500 photos to Commons, and I plan to upload many thousands more in the future. The main reason I started to upload my photos was to illustrate Wikipedia articles, and that’s still a big reason why I have continued doing so. However, only 16% of the images I’ve uploaded are currently used on the Wikimedia projects. So, why am I continuing to upload so many images?

My hope is that, in the long run, my photos will help preserve history. I hope that they will provide a record of the state of things today to others looking back at this time in the future, in a similar way to how we look at 50-year-old photos today. I want to make sure that those looking back on our history don’t have to worry about the copyright of those images, but can freely use them in their own projects.

However, there is a great shorter-term outcome that keeps me motivated to continue uploading my photographs: how people have been making use of my photos today in ways I never anticipated when uploading them. Some examples of this (amongst many others) include:


Michael Nielsen


Seagulls nesting at Conwy Castle

One of the lessons I’ve learnt throughout this is that, realistically, no-one respects the licence that your photo is licensed under – they’ll simply use it for their purposes. If you try to keep full copyright of your photo and deny people the use of the image, then you’ll be ignored – but if you release it under a free license then you’ll be able to reasonably ask for proper attribution. Also, people will generally go out of their way to let you know that they are using your image under a free license, if you ask them to, but if you restrict the use of the image then they’ll simply use it without letting you know.

4 thoughts on “What happens when you release photos on Wikimedia Commons?”

  1. It is great to know these lessons that you’ve gained and I can somewhat understand how it feels when such things occur. Though I haven’t uploaded as much photos as you, but some of my photos have been used in some good articles and when I found it, it really feels great and inspires me to continue uploading more and good photographs in Commons. Thanks for your inspiring write-up!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *