ESA images

This page reports the status of our discussions with the European Space Agency with respect to the use of their images, and possible proposals that we could make to ESA to reach an agreement with them in that respect.

February 2017Edit

On February 20, 2017, the ESA announced a comprehensive Open Access policy that includes CC-by-sa 3.0 IGO as the preferred free license for its audiovisual content.

October 2004 - June 2005: getting in contactEdit

User:Arnomane noticed on October 2004 in de.wikipedia several images of European Space Agency labelled as Public Domain and quickly found that the license conditions of the ESA "multimedia gallery" (linked from ESA main page) where the pictures were taken from do not allow free usage:

Most images have been released publicly from ESA. You may use ESA images or videos for educational or informational purposes. The publicly released ESA images may be reproduced without fee, on the following conditions:'
* Credit ESA as the source of the images
* ESA images may not be used to state or imply the endorsement by ESA or any ESA employee of a commercial product, process or service, or used in any other manner that might mislead.
*If an image includes an identifiable person, using that image for commercial purposes may infringe that person's right of privacy, and separate permission should be obtained from the individual.

So Arnomane tried to get in contact with ESA via email (via contact at esa dot int and photolibrary at esa dot int) and asked for GFDL-free usage of those images of the ESA "multimedia gallery" as de.wikipedia only accepts free images (in contrast to e.g. en.wikipedia). The first answers from ESA headquarters (from Mrs. Imbert-Vier, office of Mr. Stéphane Corvaja; PR / photo department) in Paris, France made clear that the use of these images were not possible after some email exchange and explanation of the issue so all ESA images (~40) in de.wikipedia were deleted.

Some time later Arnomane got independently a second reply from another ESA department: from Mr. von Weyhe of ESA Space Operation Center in Darmstadt, Germany. He was asking for further information about our project and why we at all have a problem with their conditions.

Arnomane explained our project and the philosophy behind it to him and to some of his colleagues at his office at ESOC and phoned several times on that topic with them. They explained some of their issues (why their reproduction conditions are - for details see meeting summary) and they showed interest in our project and suggested an official Wikimedia letter to ESA headquarters regarding that issue. The letter was then sent out to ESA headquarters on 3. March 2005 (from that time on Wikimédia France and Wikimedia as a whole got deeply involved and it was no longer only driven by Arnomane; though Wikimedia Deutschland knew about Arnomanes pet project from the beginnings).

After that ESA signalled that we could find a solution and we finally agreed having a personal meeting between ESA and Wikimedia to get in touch with each other and to lay the basis for a future cooperation. As Delphine Ménard has proposed this idea and as ESA headquarters are located in Paris, Wikimédia France was then arranging a meeting with Mr Stéphane Corvaja from ESA photo department in Paris for June 27, 2005.

June 27, 2005, meetingEdit

Were present: Nicolas Weeger, Delphine Ménard and David Monniaux.

We were cordially received by Mr Stéphane Corvaja, head of the still iconography group at ESA. After we introduced ourselves and explained to him what Wikimedia and Wikipedia were about, he explained to us the difficulties he has about giving us access to images:

  • ESA does not own the copyright to a lot of images that they use on their web site and other publications.
    • In many cases, photographs are taken by professional photographers who are not ESA employees, and grant ESA an usage right to their photographs for educative and informational purposes. This means that ESA may distribute these images to news agencies, newspapers, or publishers of educational books, but not, for instance, to makers of advertisement campaigns. ESA does not wish to purchase full commercial rights, since they have no interest in them and they would be much more expensive.
    • In the case of scientific images, copyright is often held by the institutions who own the instruments aboard the spacecraft.
    • In the case of some satellites (Envisat, Spot...), some or all of their data production is resold through commercial channels.
  • ESA does not want its images being used for advertisement or political purposes.
  • ESA does not want its images used or as part of collages, "edited" images or other derived work that misrepresent reality. This objection, and the above one, are especially applicable with images of astronauts.

For these reasons, ESA makes available a collection of images in reasonably high resolution (say, A4 300 dpi) to newspapers and news agencies. Access to this collection, known as PPA, is granted only to professionals and may be withdrawn in case of abuse. Because ESA, contrary to some other organizations, has very limited staff for checking that appropriate usage is made of their intellectual property, they prefer this kind of a priori limitation of possible abuse to an a posteriori approach.

In addition, ESA has a "multimedia gallery" linked from their main page, which provides images to the general public. These images are sometimes only available in low resolution, and sometimes have high resolution images attached, in sizes up to approximately 6000×4000 pixels. In all cases, the use of the image is authorized for educative and informational purposes only:

Most images have been released publicly from ESA. You may use ESA images or videos for educational or informational purposes. The publicly released ESA images may be reproduced without fee, on the following conditions:'
* Credit ESA as the source of the images
* ESA images may not be used to state or imply the endorsement by ESA or any ESA employee of a commercial product, process or service, or used in any other manner that might mislead.
*If an image includes an identifiable person, using that image for commercial purposes may infringe that person's right of privacy, and separate permission should be obtained from the individual.

Mr Corvaja invites us to make them a precise proposal of what we would desire, which he'll examine with all the stakeholders. It is our understanding that:

  • We will not get "full resolution" pictures (images suitable for, say, printing wall posters), but we may probably get images with good resolution for our purposes. It is not ESA's desire to give us bad quality products.
  • We will not get images with full free commercial rights - but we may well get images with rights for educative and informational purposes, including commercial distribution of the educative and informational products. All of Wikimedia's projects and purposes fit that category.
  • ESA staff cannot deal with many contributors requesting images, so probably a contact group should be provided.
  • One tricky issue is the derivative works. ESA does not mind our adding legends, explanatory arrows and other devices that convey information, nor do they mind their images being used in articles critical of their programs. However, they wish to prohibit derivative works where images are edited so as to convey untruths, for instance.

Possible proposals to ESAEdit

Please do not comment inside this section, and rather go to Talk:ESA images. Also, please do not comment without having read and understood the above.

ESA, being an international consortium, would have to request the agreement of many organizations involved in their projects for a blanket change of image diffusion policy. It is thus unlikely that they would do so in the near future, just for one outside project such as Wikipedia. For the same reason, they will not purchase supplemental rights to images or hire supplemental photographic staff just so that we can get pictures under a totally free license. So a general solution for all ESA images via a single policy is not possible.

We need to be precise as to what kinds of images we intend to get. There exist three groups of images:

  1. The "normal" public images available via the "multimedia gallery".
  2. A high resolution (~60MB) TIFF images database for posters and so on.
  3. Image databases for commercial things like earth observation.

As we have actually no usage for ~60MB-TIFF-files, we can drop 2. The images from 3 are also not fitting in the educative frame of Wikipedia (only a map server could be built on such data) and are in most cases photos that need further processing in a service like Google maps. As we don't have a map project yet we don't need earth observation images in general (interesting educative earth observation photos are available via the "multimedia gallery" anyway). So this boils down to images (videos and sounds) such as you can find in the ESA multimedia gallery.

So Arnomane suggests an opt-in solution:Edit

  • ESA provides a web platform (like its "multimedia gallery" or transforms this gallery gradually) where only free content can be uploaded (e.g. under CC-BY or CC-BY-SA). This material is explicitly used by ESA for press kits and PR and so on. The individual sub projects that own the copyrights can upload those pictures of their missions that they want to release freely (maybe with the possibility tagging it with either PD or a free CC license according to their taste).
  • This public gallery would in return be a great PR deal and thus in return a financial benefit for those scientific projects, considering that projects with the best PR get the most public recognition... So others that hesitate will notice at some point that others get because of that more recognition and in the end maybe every sub project grants free usage of most of their images...
  • As this media repository would need some time to be built up and of course also some high level decisions inside ESA departments it would be best to concentrate at first at one ESA chapter. I guess the Huygens media files would be a good first example as the copyright owners of these images (University of Arizona, USA) are known to freely and early exchange all their picture data. So if ESA shows interest in this idea it would be probably only a matter of two weeks to iron it out with that University and to set up a starting point of the free repository.
  • ESA could reuse their experience and website software from their free Public Domain image database of ESA-Hubble images (ESA owns 15% of Hubble-Space-Telescope observation time) located at So a free image repository with a decent interface is by no means anything completly new for ESA.
  • That way ESA would avoid the necessity to handle out a new image policy and of course it wouldn't consume large man power for ESA PR department. This solution would be plain enough to allow dealing with the intricate internal decision structure of ESA. Every chapter can decide by themselves.

The last step is: We need to arrange a (hopefully final) meeting with ESA iconographic department in Paris to propose this idea and to appoint an agreement.

Proposal by David Monniaux.Edit

I agree with the above opt-in solution, but it may take significant time to get established. In the meantime, I think we should offer a solution for images already offered by ESA's databases.

We should address ESA's concerns about possible misuse of images:

  1. commercial exploitation as in, e.g., advertisements using images from ESA, especially as though implying an endorsement of the products;
  2. "creative" editing making things appear as though they should not (in order to give a false representation of reality).

I think we can validly address #1. by offering GFDL as a licensing option. GFDL makes it mandatory to append a copy of the GFDL license to any use of the photograph. This does not hinder Wikipedia, but prevents, de facto, any use in most printed publications or any commercial.

Of course, we prefer licenses such as CC-BY-SA, which do not have these limitations for image usage. However, it is not as though Wikimedia would be the sole source of the images — parties not interested in GFDL licenses could always contact ESA for other option.

As for #2, the obligation to affix the GFDL and to name authors is surely a hindrance to legally using the photographs inappropriately.

Thus, I think we should propose them that they give us photographs of a resolution approximately 2500×2000 under CC-BY, CC-BY-SA or, if impossible, GFDL.

Another solution is for us to alter our licensing constraints. All projects maintained by the Wikimedia Foundation, including Wikipedia, fit well within the "educational or informational" clause of the current license of ESA pictures. Note that they include commercial education or information within that clause, thus the usual objections to "non-commercial" license do not apply.

Regarding the use of satellite imagery, I disagree with Arnomane. There are many instances where we could use satellite photographs for illustration. However, I realize that they are a different topic and that arrangements in that respect may have to be done with some commercial sales bodies.

small proposal complement from User:FoeNyx (and some comments of Arnomane)Edit

Based on the opt-in commercially free document gallery of Arnomane proposal, and focusing on the « wish to prohibit derivative works where images are edited so as to convey untruths ». I propose to authorize derivative work but with a way for anyone to get the official and original description of the document.

As in free licenses (as CC-BY-*) author(s) and source need to be named ESA can determine what the credit should be like. So they can determine that you give (not necessarily in every instance of an image but at least in a glossary directly connected with the image) at least the following information:

  1. Author
  2. Image-ID
  3. modification hint if modified (and names of the authors of modification)

So author could be something like "ESA - 2005" and the image ID could be used for a shortcut URL to the description page of the original image. This shortcut URL could be based on the same idea than tinyurl, an unique hash or counter

(ex: )

and lead to the relevant page in the esa public free opt-in image gallery.

Right now the ESA multimedia image gallery has unique ID's for images but not shortcut URLs. A relatively short URL based on an image ID could be embedded easily on digital or printed documents and thus allow easy control for anyone, just by visiting esa website. This author+ID/URL metadata can moreover be added in the comment fields of jpeg and png files quite easily.

On the target page of the shortcut URL, ESA could give all the wanted legal notices for the opt-in gallery, a full licence explanation link, and a scientific description of the image which would prevent "false representation of reality".

Regarding ESA's strong wish that "ESA images may not be used to state or imply the endorsement by ESA or any ESA employee of a commercial product [...]"' there is actually a solution outside copyright. This is for example prohibited by the rights on Trademarks. So we could do an additional warning remark regarding this thing outside the copyright license thing (like we actually do with coats of arms).

That license template at Wikimedia Commons could look like that:

This image is released by ESA under Foobar-free-license.

  • The original image can be found at the ESA image gallery under image ID: [<ESA page with scientific description of the image.> {{{Image ID}}}] and ESA's original license requirements under [Here a link to the full licence at ESA]
  • However be aware that additional laws require that ESA images may not be used to give the impression acting on behalf or with the support of ESA if you are not authorized by them to do so. If the image displays an identifiable person be aware of the personal rights of the person displayed which are independent from copyright issues but prohibit harmful modifications and usage.

(sorry if it sounds not very clear)--FoeNyx 16:23, 11 October 2005 (UTC)Reply[reply]