Grants:IdeaLab/Add optional Avatar which you don't have to license for modification and commercial use (as a new non free use rationale special case)

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Add optional Avatar which you don't have to license for modification and commercial use (as a new non free use rationale special case)
When wikipedia was created, avatars were rare. Now Wikipedia is one of the few places online where discussions don't use avatars. This proposal is about a way of introducing avatars to Wikipedia user pages and talk page discussions. Avatars will help to make Wikipedia feel friendly and also help editors to recognize other editors quickly on the talk page. I think this may help with some behaviour issues and help reduce harassment.
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created on14:35, 22 June 2016 (UTC)

Project ideaEdit

What is the problem you're trying to solve?Edit

Lack of avatars on wikipedia. Plus requirement to share your image for re-use including commercial use on the user page. Adding avatars can help to make wikipedia feel more friendly to a modern user, and so I think may help with some behaviour issues and help reduce harassment.

This is in response to the Inspire initiative to reduce on-wiki harassment.

What is your solution?Edit

This idea mainly concerns the policy changes that would be needed. There would be programming changes needed also but I just briefly touch on those as I'm not involved in wikipedia programming.

The main policy issue here is that many avatars consist of photographs of the user. Then:

  • These are unlikely to be licensed for modification and commercial reuse, except for users who are already much photographed public figures.
  • Many user won't want to license photographs of themselves in this way.
  • We shouldn't do anything to discourage users from using photographs of themselves as avatars if they wish to do so, as that can help add to the friendliness of interactions.

So we need a policy change here. I suggest that we add permission for low resolution user avatars as non free images, as a new "non free use rationale"', and hide the images for anonymous visitors to the encyclopedia. That would make it clear that even on talk pages / user pages the avatars are not part of the encyclopedia itself and are of no educational value so don't need to be shared as free images or included in copies of the encyclopedia.

Before I can explain the proposed non free use rationale in detail I need to explain how "non free" is understood here.

Meaning of "non free" in this proposalEdit

According to the English Wikipedia non-free content guideline,

free content [is] defined as content that does not bear copyright restrictions on the right to redistribute, study, modify and improve, or otherwise use works for any purpose in any medium, even commercially. Any content not satisfying these criteria is said to be non-free. (bolding in original)

So, by that definition, non-free content includes

  1. works that the uploader has copyright for, but they don't want to license them for modification and commercial reuse
  2. works the uploader doesn't have copyright for (such as book covers for instance, or logos, under fair use)

Here I mean it in the first sense only.

NOTE I'm not suggesting that avatars all have to be non free. If the uploader wants to, they can of course use any existing "free" image as their avatar or upload a new image with CC BY SA3. The proposal here is just to add an extra fair use rationale for users who want to use a "non free" avatar.

Policy changesEdit

There are non free use rationales already for low resolution images of book covers cover image of Goblet of Fire, and images of historical events that can't be rephotographed. So the idea is to add another non free fair use rationale for "user avatar". In detail:

Suggested non free use rationaleEdit

If you don't wish to license your avatar under CC by SA3 or similar, you can use a "non free" image provided that

  1. It is only for use as an avatar for your signature on talk pages, or a user image for your user pages.
  2. You have copyright for it, or you have permission to use it as your avatar by the copyright owner.
  3. It's low resolution, say max of 100,000 pixels as in current non free use guidelines for book covers etc
  4. It's an image that they have permission to use for this purpose or own the copyright for.
  5. Any license is acceptable so long as it gives them permission to use it as an avatar. It doesn't have to be CC by SA (any version) or similar.
Permitted use of avatarsEdit
  1. You can add a full size (max of 100,000 pixels) avatar to any of your user pages in your user space, with a maximum of one avatar per page.
  2. A miniature version of your avatars (say, 60 by 60 px) can be included in your signature (this needs new programming probably) with some maximum size - but your signature must also include sufficient text as well so that you can be recognized without your avatar.
  3. These are the only two permitted uses of avatars on wikipedia.
To make it clear that it is not an essential part of wikipediaEdit
  1. , add a global setting "show avatars of other users".
  2. You only see them if you are another user and choose to show avatars.
  3. You have to be logged in to see the avatars - that way the general public won't see these non free images even if they go to the talk pages and user pages.
  4. Data dumps won't have them.
Why they are permitted to be non freeEdit
  1. Avatar images are permitted to be non free for understandable reasons. As a clear example, as it is now, I have had to license my photograph under CC by SA to use it in wikipedia on my user page. This means that someone could use my image in an advertising campaign that I might not approve of. I might have some way to stop them - but it would be much easier to stop something like that if my photo didn't have a CC by SA license.
  2. If my image didn't have a CC by SA license, they probably wouldn't even attempt to use it in an advertising campaign or similar.
  3. They are not displayed to anonymous users (even the larger version on your user page) and registered users can choose to hide them.
  4. Making them only visible to logged in users would also provide an element of protection - the images would not turn up in Google image searches, or when browsing wikipedia, so e.g. spammers looking for an image for a fake facebook account or similar probably would find them elsewhere.

They won't serve any educational value. But they will make wikipedia talk pages more modern as just about all modern discussion pages, forums, etc have avatars nowadays - and also will make it feel a more friendly place to modern users who are used to avatars.

Privacy concernsEdit

It's true that any photograph uploaded on the web can be used improperly by spammers etc. But nearly everyone nowadays has many images of themselves online anyway. The few that are so cautious they don't permit any photographs to be viewable publicly on the web won't need any special cautioning about avatars on wikipedia.

So, I don't see any special privacy issues here. You could have a message when you upload your avatar image to warn you that when viewable on the web, this means that you make it physically possible for others to copy it without permission (most users will know this already).

The main reason why users may want to retain a non free license for their image is that you have a much stronger case if you want someone to take it down if they use it improperly. Indeed with so many free for commercial use photographs available it also greatly reduces the chance that anyone uses the images. It also gives some extra safeguards that they are hidden to anonymous users.

Also most users will have a standard avatar that they use for all their forum discussions and social networking sites online. It is very unlikely that this is a "free use" avatar already, and this means they can use the same avatar as they use anywhere else, under the same license they use for it everywhere else. This would make it much more likely that this new feature is taken up by many users, so adding avatars to most wikipedia discussions for those who like to see them.

Implementation in different wikis and wiki projectsEdit

The way non free images are handled depends on the language version of wikipedia. The proposal here is for the English language version and any others that use the same policies that

  1. You can use non free images
  2. Permits local upload into the wiki (because wikimedia commons doesn't permit non free images)

I suggest this proposal is first implemented in wikis that work like the English wikipedia. If it works well, other wikis can try and find a solution later. For details of how different wikis and projects use non free content, see Non-free content.


This would obviously require extra programming to:

  1. let users add an image to their signature
  2. hide that image in the signature and in their user space for non logged in users and for data dumps
  3. option also for users to hide the avatars of all users when logged in, for those who don't want to see them.


Get InvolvedEdit

About the idea creatorEdit

I proposed this as a solution to Stop allowing anyone to legally re-use profile photos for any purpose#Special criterion of "avatar image" for non free use images. Then thought, "I think this is worth putting forward as a separate idea.

See alsoEdit

Grants:IdeaLab/Stop allowing anyone to legally re-use profile photos for any purpose



  • As long as Avatar means, the real face of the editor, it will certainly help. Manorainjan (talk) 16:29, 27 June 2017 (UTC)

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