Consider this article. The main photo on the right ("A female African bush elephant in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania") is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License version 1.2. However:

  1. in the article itself, there is no mention of GNU FDL nor of the copyright nor of the image author, even though "attribution of the image to the author" is "required in a prominent location near to the image"
  2. at the bottom of the article page it says: Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 4.0, even though GNU FDL requires that all the derived works (so for example: works containing GNU FDL licensed content, with or without modification) be licensed under the same license (GNU FDL).

What am I missing?

Or is it, that Wikipedia has a separate licensing agreement with the original author of this elephant photo, and hence is not bound by the terms of GNU FDL?

  • I’m voting to close this question because the GNU Free Documentation License is not a law.
    – bdb484
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 23:39
  • @bdb484 is is a legal question though, and GNU Free Documentation License would be void should there be no copyright law.
    – stf
    Commented Sep 27, 2023 at 5:28
  • I'd call it a contract-interpretation question, but not a legal question.
    – bdb484
    Commented Sep 27, 2023 at 12:57
  • The GNU FDL does not say that the attribution must be "in a prominent location near to the image/document". If you read section 2, FDL merely says that you must include the FDL, the copyright notices, and a statement that the FDL applies to the document (i.e. to the image). Wikipedia appears to include all of those things as soon as you click the image of the elephant. I don't think they're trying to hide it -- this is pretty standard web page behaviour. If it were a printed document, you'd probably better mention it in a footnote somewhere. But on the web, a link seems reasonable.
    – Brandin
    Commented Sep 28, 2023 at 12:53

1 Answer 1


Interpreted strictly, yes, this is a violation of the GFDL. That's also the reason why this license (with few exceptions) is no longer acceptable on Wikipedia/Commons for images and many older images have been relicensed as CC-By-sa. I can't currently find it, but IIRC WMF argues that the single click necessary to get to the license is acceptably close to the GFDL requirement, even if not literally sufficient.

Wmf and the community clearly dislike uploaders who use a difficult-to-follow license to trick users of their images into lawsuits or financial claims. Photographers have been blocked for that and their (otherwise good) images have been deleted.

  • The article only puts the text under CC-A-SA, not any photos.
    – Trish
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 22:10
  • 3
    @stf what makes the text a derivate of the image?
    – Trish
    Commented Sep 27, 2023 at 6:16
  • 1
    @Trish I don't quite get your point. In said "Elephant" article, the text is CC-BY-SA, but the top image of the Elephant is GFDL. That's exactly the point of the question. GFDL has some requirements, which would basically not allow embedding the image in the way it's currently done (and not least because of this it is no longer considered a suitable license for images).
    – PMF
    Commented Sep 27, 2023 at 7:37
  • 2
    @PMF That's another way of saying that the license text is included, although on a different physical page -- for a web page, the fact that you click on links to navigate is part of how the HTML format works. If this were a printed book, we'd be reasonable to expect the reader to refer to the table of contents to see on which page the FDL license text is to be found, and then to flip to that page (e.g. in the appendix) to find the required text. Those actions of flipping to a page are analogous to mouse clicks on a web page.
    – Brandin
    Commented Sep 28, 2023 at 12:46
  • 1
    @Trish I think you're right: the text is not a derivative of the image. But the article webpage is a derivative of both the image and the text (because it contains both). Now, GFDL (of the image) requires the webpage to be put under GFDL, and, similarly, CC BY-SA (of the text) requires the webpage to be put under CC BY-SA (thanks to the similar Share Alike clause). Those two licenses are not the same, so, what is the final license of the webpage?
    – stf
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 13:22

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