For some strange reason, ever since I have started collaborating to the Wikimedia projects (namely Wikipédia), I have put all my pictures under a Creative Commons license, CC-BY-SA. I guess the reason for it was that I had actually been in contact with the CC license through my particpation at Ouvaton (a French cooperative web-hosting cooperative) and had never heard of the GFDL, which is the default license for all Wikipedia texts. Now that I am a bit more involved in the projects, and that I know a little more about licensing and copyrights, I know what the GFDL is about, what it provides and also what it entails. The GFDL goes:

The purpose of this License is to make a manual, textbook, or other functional and useful document "free" in the sense of freedom: to assure everyone the effective freedom to copy and redistribute it, with or without modifying it, either commercially or noncommercially.Secondarily, this License preserves for the author and publisher a way to get credit for their work, while not being considered responsible for modifications made by others.

A great way to make sure that text stays free. Since "document" I suppose applies to any kind of document, by default many Wikipedians have released the images with which they contribute to the projects under GFDL. Now...Wikimedia has launched about 7 months ago the Wikimedia Commons , a project designed to:

provide a central repository for free images, music, sound & video clips and, possibly, texts and spoken texts, used in pages of any Wikimedia project. Unlike images uploaded on other projects, images on Commons can be embedded on pages of all Wikimedia projects.

Commons allows only for completely free images, which means that unlike some of the Wikimedia projects, it does not allow the use of fair use, or any non-commercial license. However, any material released under licenses from GFDL to most CC licences (apart from the non commercial ones,a nd those that don't allow derivative works), as well as Public domain and art libre for example, can be allowed. I find the idea of Commons a great one, and I thank Tristan for advertising it with such vehemence and having prompted a few new vocations. However, a few comments and his own on this article have pushed me to give an example of why GFDL is, in my opinion, not suited as a stand alone licence for images within the Commons, and any Wikimedia project for that matter.

A few weeks ago, someone from the Conseil du statut de la femme in Québec sent an email to the French Wikipedia list asking for how they could reproduce in their paper magazine a picture they had found on Commons. They were wondering what they had to pay, if anything, who to credit etc. I won't linger on the fact that this says a lot about the readibility of our image tags, but rather try to explain the process we had to go through to ensure that this highly official bureau, with goals certainly as interesting as Wikimedia's, and at least as educative, could use an image from Commons. The picture they pointed to was this one. It was, at the time, licensed only under the GFDL. As I pointed out, the publication for which the demand came was a paper publication. And if we look a bit more closely at the text of the GFDL, we can read:

To use this License in a document you have written, include a copy of the License in the document and put the following copyright and license notices just after the title page (...).

and, in article 2 (Verbatim Copying)

You may copy and distribute the Document in any medium, either commercially or noncommercially, provided that this License, the copyright notices, and the license notice saying this License applies to the Document are reproduced in all copies (...)

What is important here is the include a copy of the License in the document and provided that this License (...) is reproduced in all copies part. If you've clicked on the GFDL link above, you'll notice that the GFDL text is quite long. Even in fine print, it probably takes at least two pages of any printed document to include it. Which is definitely fine for online documents (a link to the text would suffice), CDs or DVDs (again a link to a pdf of the license is enough for example) but which definitely is a problem for printed material. Basically, to use one picture in a magazine, the publisher needs to reserve two pages for the license. Not practical, and definitely not an incentive for anyone to use images published under this license. And this I find very sad, because I am of those who believe that the Wikimedia projects definitely should allow not only free use of their material, but also easy use of them. What happened is I tracked down the author and asked him whether he would consider to dual license his picture under a licence easier of use, namely CC-BY-SA, which only requests to mention the name of the author and the following text to accompany printed material:

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.

Three lines. That's all. The author agreed, and I hereby thank him for that, and his picture will be published in the next issue of La gazette des femmes.

So... I urge all of the Wikimedia contributors to consider choosing the license(s) they decide to use when releasing their images, depending on what use they believe should be made possible of their documents. Beware, things are not "that" easy, as many licenses still exclude each other, and make it difficult to use material released under one or the other. At this stage, multi-licensing is definitely the best option, so that material available through the Wikimedia projects be not only free but also easy of use. until one is free, whatever the tag we put on it :) .

Related links:

Addendum 27 may:added quote of the verbatim copying part of the GFDL, more relevant to my point than the one quoted before.