Stories

By Any Other Name
April 2016

Sometimes, public figures are upset that Wikipedia articles contain the most basic information: for example, their name. An author with a pen name; a famous comedian who performs pseudonymously; and a musical group that uses stage names—all contacted us earlier this year to have their names removed from Wikipedia articles. Decisions about what well-sourced information should be on the projects belong to the Wikimedia communities. We directed them to the editors of Galician, English, and French Wikipedia, who can evaluate the sources provided for these names and determine whether or not to remove them.

Dictating Content
April 2016

We occasionally receive requests from governments to remove content that those governments may find offensive—even content that is perfectly legal elsewhere. In April, we received an email from the Information and Communication Technologies Authority of the Turkish government, claiming that the Turkish Wikipedia article on Müşfik diktatörlük (benevolent dictatorship) violated Turkish law. We rejected the request, and offered to pass the message on to Turkish Wikipedia volunteers. The projects belong to the contributors, readers, and other members of the Wikimedia communities, and we believe that where possible they should decide what content belongs on the projects.

Happy Hour
June 2016

Occasionally, businesses will claim that Wikipedia articles about their products are unlawful—or, in this case, “illicit”. This happened in June, when an alcoholic beverage organization emailed us, arguing that an international treaty restricted English Wikipedia editors from referring to the organization’s region-specific alcoholic beverage by a generic name. We rejected the request and informed the organization that neither trademark law nor international treaties prevent Wikimedia communities from discussing that product or similar products. We also informed them that they were welcome to work with the volunteers to discuss the proper labeling of their favored drink.



Feel the Bern
January 2016

In January, we received a DMCA from the campaign of Bernie Sanders, a U.S. presidential primary candidate. They asked us to remove campaign logos from Wikimedia Commons. We cautioned them that the notice would be posted to Lumen, which could trigger a Streisand effect. They refused to withdraw the DMCA, so we removed the logos. The next day, Ars Technica wrote about the takedown, and we received a counter-notice from a Wikimedia user. We spoke with the Sanders campaign about the counter-notice, and were happy to hear they had decided to rescind their DMCA. The logos have been restored.

DMCA Poster Child
February 2016

It’s not unusual to see movie posters or billboards long before a film is released, or for an upcoming movie to have a Wikipedia article written about it. Before a recent action movie hit theatres, Russian Wikipedia editors created an article about it, which included an image of one of the film’s posters. The studio behind the film contacted us in February with a DMCA notice requesting that the poster be removed from the site. However, we analyzed the request and refused it. The poster had been widely distributed to promote the movie, and it was fair use for editors to feature its image in an article informing readers about the film.

Reuse Ruse
June 2016

We encourage the public to reuse Wikimedia content under our many free licenses. However, we ask that reusers respect those licenses and refrain from claiming copyright ownership of that content. This is what happened in June, when we received a DMCA notice from an Asian newspaper claiming that English Wikipedia had copied content from one of its articles. When we investigated, it turned out to be the opposite: the newspaper had copied the content from Wikipedia. We rejected the DMCA and provided a link to one of the community’s many guides on properly reusing Wikipedia content.



Dance Off
November 2015

It’s not uncommon for bands to break up or change members. It is uncommon for previous band members to contact us about what other members are writing on Wikipedia. We received an email from purported former members of a dance group, seeking to control the English Wikipedia article about the group. They argued that edits made by other members infringed their trademark. We explained that writing an article about a notable topic is not infringement, and suggested that they work with the Wikipedia editor community if they’d like to improve the article.

Copywrong
October 2015

Owning a copy of a photograph is not the same thing as owning the copyright to that photograph. This is an important principle of copyright law. We received a handful of requests to remove photos from the projects in which the requesting parties argued that because they owned a photo, they owned the copyright. For example, one request concerned a photo of an American author. Since that picture is in the public domain, it could be freely posted. We explained this to the requester, and the image remains on the Wikimedia projects.

Hello, My Name Is…
October 2015

An online rights agent representing an international pop star contacted us regarding the Romanian Wikipedia article about their client. They claimed that a reporter had published inaccurate information about the musician’s birth name, which had made its way into reputable secondary sources, and eventually onto Wikipedia. The agent asked us to change the article directly. We told them that the Foundation does not write or edit the projects, and explained they could provide our volunteer editors with reliable sources that included the correct name.



Precautionary Principle
October 2015

Wikimedia editors work hard to ensure that media is uploaded to the projects under the appropriate license, even going beyond the requirements of copyright law in some cases. Due to their efforts, we receive relatively few DMCA notices, and we carefully evaluate the notices we do get. When we received a DMCA from a design group concerning a photo of one of their products on Wikimedia Commons, we denied it, because the request didn’t meet the law’s stringent standards. However, the community had concerns about the license, and decided on its own to remove the photo.

Let It Go
December 2015

Sometimes a requester won’t take no for an answer, even when the law isn’t on their side. Last year, we received an email from a public relations firm that wanted us to remove an image of a rapper on Wikimedia Commons. Not terribly unusual—except that in September 2014, we had already explained to the same requester that the photo was properly licensed (see the story “No Take Backsies”, which originally appeared in our January 2015 Transparency Report). We denied this second request on the same grounds.

Bedtime Story
December 2015

Thanks to the diligence of the Wikimedia community, the Wikimedia Foundation receives a relatively small number of DMCA takedown notices. Most of these notices tend to concern photographs; however, on occasion, some allege that copyrighted text has appeared on the projects. We received a DMCA notice from a publishing company stating that text from one of its classic children’s books—the complete text of the book, in fact—had been posted on English Wikipedia. When we confirmed that the entire book had been improperly copied onto the projects, we removed the copyrighted text.



The Right Way
March and April 2015

We carefully evaluate every DMCA notice we receive, but the job is easier when the requester provides all of the necessary information. Recently, we complied with two DMCA notices from a stock photo agency. One concerned a photo of a red fox, the other a Nepalese mountain. They also requested a third photo be removed, but as is often the case, the community noticed the improper copyright permissions and proactively removed it before we got the chance to. In each case, the agency had followed the template for DMCA requests, facilitating our review and consequently the removal of their content.

Home-Made Barnstar
March 2015

The Wikimedia community is large and diverse, but has many things in common: for example, who doesn’t like getting a barnstar to recognize their good work on the Projects? Unfortunately, we recently received a DMCA request about one of the many barnstar images available across Wikimedia projects. Someone had uploaded a unique 'Home-Made Barnstar' from an arts and crafts site without permission to use the star. We evaluated the request, and removed the image. Don’t worry, though: you can still get a homemade barnstar. There are freely licensed barnstars, like this one, just waiting to be discovered and awarded.

Mistaken Identity
January, March, and May 2015

Sometimes, we get takedown requests for websites that we do not operate. In most cases, we explain to the requester that they’ve contacted the wrong party, and don’t hear from them again. But recently, a company sent us three separate DMCA requests, asking that we remove certain allegedly proprietary content from our sites. The problem? Wikimedia is not associated with any of the sites in question. The company apparently thought that all sites that include the word 'wiki' in the URL or use MediaWiki software are Wikimedia projects. We explained that isn't the case, but they continued to send us DMCA notices.



Copyrighting Facts
May 2015

A user contacted us to express concern about an English Wikipedia article on a famous work of art. They wanted to remove a single sentence, on the grounds that the sentence infringed their claimed copyright in a theory they had published some years ago. We explained to them that it is impossible to copyright an idea or a short statement of fact. They could copyright their article, but not the theories contained within. If the community thought the idea was interesting or notable and complied with Wikipedia’s policies, it was free to include it in the article.

Citation Needed
January 2015

A self-identified religious group wrote us, requesting that we remove multiple English Wikipedia articles. As support for their request, they cited a self-publication declaring that the founder of their tradition is the ruler of the universe. We explained that the Wikimedia Foundation does not edit or curate content on Wikipedia, and that if they were concerned about inaccuracies, they could consult Wikipedia's experienced volunteer editors. We also directed them to Wikipedia’s policy on verifiability and guide to identifying reliable sources, so that they could better understand the standards applied to Wikipedia articles and permissible sources to cite in those articles.

Political Points
March 2015

A lawyer reached out to us on behalf of a lesser-known North American political party that was unhappy with edits to English Wikipedia articles about the party and one of its leaders. Her clients apparently wanted previous, more promotional versions of the articles restored in place of the later versions. To better engage in discussions with the community, we encouraged them to familiarize themselves with Wikipedia's recommendations on style and tone and the policy restricting use of promotional language. We also advised that one of the best ways to resolve their concerns is to engage with the community directly.



Grounds for Removal
July 2014

A nutritional supplement company requested the removal of all references to the term “coffee berries” from the English Wikipedia article on coffee, claiming both inaccuracy and infringement of their trademark, COFFEEBERRY®. We responded that the community of editors felt that “coffee berry” was an acceptable term to refer to the fruit of the coffee plant. We also explained that trademarking a pre-existing word cannot prevent others from using the word for its original meaning. Trademark rights simply don’t give companies total control over everyday words.

Unredacted
August 2014

When a blogger included a photo of his visa to visit Burma/Myanmar on his website, he had scrubbed his personal details from the image. He never expected the same picture to show up on English Wikipedia in an article about the country's visa policy -- with the redactions removed and his information exposed. He wrote to us, asking to remove the photo. Given the nature of the information and the circumstances of how it was exposed, we took the image down.

A Murky Future
October 2014

A law firm representing an astrologer asked that we remove a French Wikipedia article that chronicled her history of allegedly false predictions. Unusually, they cited Wikipedia’s own policy on biographies of living persons as a source of the article’s problems. We explained that the Wikimedia Foundation does not write or edit Wikipedia articles. We asked that they engage with the French Wikipedia community of volunteer editors and follow Wikipedia policies to address any issues of alleged inaccuracies with the community.



Doubling Down on DMCA
December 2014

Takedown notices play an important role in guarding against copyright infringement. However, there must be transparency surrounding the use of takedown notices, which is why we post the notices we receive on a dedicated page and report them to Chilling Effects. In a totally absurd twist, we received a DMCA takedown notice to remove a previously filed DMCA takedown notice from the same individual. The sender also claimed that the second DMCA notice itself was subject to copyright and could not be posted. We declined the request and posted it as we would any other DMCA takedown notice.

No Take Backsies
September 2014

A public relations company demanded that we remove an image of a rapper. However, the photo had been freely licensed under Wikimedia Commons policy apparently by the artist and claimed holder of the copyright. Therefore, we declined to remove it. The PR company initially alleged that the portrayed musician was someone different from the rapper. They later appeared to suggest that the rapper had never intended to give his permission. As the story seemed to change, the community examined, and then re-examined, the original permission. In the end the community found that the image should be kept.

A Common(s) Mistake
July 2014

When a photographer uploaded his photograph to Flickr, he knew that he was making it available for public view, but he didn’t intend for anyone to be able to copy it, and he didn’t license it for reuse. When he found it on Wikimedia Commons, he sent us a DMCA takedown notice letting us know that it had been uploaded to Commons without his permission. After investigating, we determined that he really did own the image and had not licensed it for reuse on Flickr or elsewhere. We therefore removed the image.



A Deadly Threat

The community shares threats with the Foundation when they find them. When an anonymous poster made an alleged bomb threat, we found that the edit was made from an IP address that was near the apparent threat location. As permitted by our privacy policy, we alerted local police, passing on the IP address and details we had about the threat. The police informed us they had located and arrested the person in question, who allegedly had weapons available and reportedly confessed.

Revealing Presidential Threats

On rare occasions we discover threats against public figures. This is uncommon, but something that happens on large websites. An individual had made specific, graphic threats against President Barack Obama. This is contrary to our policies, and against U.S. law. In cases of potential serious harm to a person, our Privacy Policy allows us to disclose relevant information. We immediately took action, reporting the user’s IP address, user agent information, and email address to the United States Secret Service.

Dealing with Suicide

Authorities advise contacting emergency services when a loved one threatens suicide. When someone shared what appeared to be a credible intent to commit suicide, we notified their local police department. The person was able to get medical help, and later let us know they were okay. If you are considering suicide, please seek out a mental health professional immediately. You can also contact emergency services; visit an emergency room or psychiatric walk-in clinic; or call a suicide prevention hotline.



French Intelligence Agency
March 2013

A French intelligence agency summoned a Wikipedia user to its offices, and threatened him with severe criminal penalties if he did not use his administrative rights to delete information about a military base from French Wikipedia that the agency deemed classified. The supposedly classified information was actually publicly available because the military had provided interviews and a tour of the base to local reporters. We defended the user involved and fought to keep the content up on Wikipedia. Read more...

Monkey Selfie
January 2014

A photographer left his camera unattended in a national park in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. A female crested black macaque monkey got ahold of the camera and took a series of pictures, including some self-portraits. The pictures were featured in an online newspaper article and eventually posted to Commons. We received a takedown request from the photographer, claiming that he owned the copyright to the photographs. We didn't agree, so we denied the request.

Aboriginal Language
July 2012

A Tasmanian aboriginal language center demanded the removal of the English Wikipedia article on 'palawa kani', claiming copyright over the entirety of the language. We refused to remove the article because copyright law simply cannot be used to stop people from using an entire language or to prevent general discussion about the language. Such a broad claim would have chilled free speech and negatively impacted research, education, and public discourse—activities that Wikimedia serves to promote.



Babe Ruth's Called Shot
March 2014

A film shot by Matt Kandle at the 1932 World Series provides evidence of Babe Ruth's famous “called shot,” in which he gestured to center field before hitting a home run to the same location. The copyright owner sent us a DMCA takedown request regarding a still image from the film used on English Wikipedia. We declined to remove the image on the basis of fair use, citing its extraordinary value in illustrating the famous moment and the educational purpose it serves.

Obama & Mandela Meet
December 2013

We received a takedown notice for a photo on Commons of then-Senator Barack Obama’s first meeting with Nelson Mandela. Because the photographer David Katz was a federal employee at the time, the photo was believed to be in the public domain. Katz argued the photo was not taken as part of his “official duties” and thus not in the public domain. After an exhaustive factual investigation, we could not find sufficient evidence that photography was one of Katz’s official duties and therefore removed the image. Read more...

The Classics
November 2013

A publishing company sent us a takedown request concerning four famous works on Wikisource: French translations of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, a French translation of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and Jean de la Fontaine’s Fables. We immediately noticed the peculiarity with the request: all four original works (and likely their French translations as well) were old enough to have fallen into the public domain. When we alerted the company to this point, it rescinded the takedown notice.