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How and Why to Use Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Images

Updated on October 18, 2014

Pictures are attention grabbers.

 Madrid - Orgullo 2010 - Torso con bandera de España, a public domain  image.
Madrid - Orgullo 2010 - Torso con bandera de España, a public domain image. | Source

Warning! Warning! Warning!

Many of the files on Wikimedia Commons are very graphic. Be advised that if you are allowing children access to these images, there are many X-rated images. There are also very gruesome photographs of victims of torture and executions.

Learning to Write for the Internet

I have done some writing in the past for a newspaper (many, many years ago). But writing for the internet is a whole new animal! No more catchy titles; SEO is king and we must write for the search engines or be ignored. Being new to internet writing, I have been reading everything I can about it. After learning about the value of adding pictures, I searched for free photos and found Wikimedia Commons.

What is Wikimedia Commons?

According to the parent site Wikipedia, Wikimedia Common is " an online repository of free-use images, sound and other media files."

Started in 2004 by volunteers, the site now contains over 16 million media files, from master painters to everyday photographers. The files are all public domain, with the understanding that the artist or creator of the file will be credited. The agreement extends to the user, who is expected to make any files obtained and altered from the site freely available to others.

The quality of the photographs range from amateur to professional. If you need images of ancient paintings, this is your go-to place.

Unfortunately, Hub Pages does not recognize the video files, so you will be unable to download to this your Hub directly.

Public Domain Image

A Wikimedia public domain image of a scanning electron microscope image of a pyralidae moth.
A Wikimedia public domain image of a scanning electron microscope image of a pyralidae moth. | Source

Using WikiCommons to Get Attention

In this age of short attention spans, people make a split second decision as to whether they want to read your article or not. Using images can help illustrate your content and entice people into clicking on your article.

I hope the image above caught your attention and made you want to read further. I wanted an eyecatching (eyecatching to me, anyway) picture, I typed in man torso and hit search. This is one sample of what appeared.

When searching for "butterflies" hundreds of pictures of butterflies came up in the search. There were oil paintings, photographs, line drawings and video.

The picture to the side caught my eye. I had intended to use a stunning color photograph, but I'm drawn to the unusual. Never mind that it is actually a moth. :)

Madonna Litta, a public domain image from Wikimedia.
Madonna Litta, a public domain image from Wikimedia. | Source

Why Use Wikimedia Commons?

The most obvious answer is because the images are free! Make sure you check out the requirements of reusing content.

It adds SEO value:

  • Images are useful information that search engines use when classifying your article. Be sure images are relevant to your topic. If you are writing about steam engines, use a picture of a steam engine not a tree.
  • Ideally, your image file name should also reflect your articles main topic. If you are writing about red steam engines, include the words in your pictures caption.
  • Use dashes when naming your image files when you save them: steam-engine-red, not steamenginesred. Dashes are seen as spaces and will aid the search bots in classifying your content.

Larger Audience of Internet Searchers

  • Many people (myself included) have searched for specific images, found one and landed on someone else's webpage. Sometimes I get distracted and start reading the page's writing. Without images for others to search for, you are reducing your potential internet audience.

Design Your Own Products

  • If you design products for resale on Zazzle or Cafe Press, you can possibly use these pictures and artwork to design shirts, mugs and tons of other products. Just check the user agreements listed under every image for requirements and limitations.

 Régate à Argenteuil, a Wikimedia Commons public domain image.
Régate à Argenteuil, a Wikimedia Commons public domain image. | Source

What Makes a Picture Public Domain?

An image becomes public domain if the copyright has expired. In the US, the copyright is 70 years.

Images produced by or for the US government cannot be copyrighted and as such are considered in the public domain.

Many media files are released by the artist into the public domain with the caveat that they be credited. Wouldn't you like to be credited if 70 years from now someone republishes your work?

Always include the creator of any work when you share a Wikicommons media file. Be respectful and give the artists their due.

Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Year 2012

 European Bee-eater, public domain image found on Wikimedia Commons.
European Bee-eater, public domain image found on Wikimedia Commons. | Source

How to Attribute an Image on Wikimedia

Wikimedia Commons provides a clear and easy way to get the attribution information needed to properly attribute the picture's source.

  1. When you find an image you would like to use on Wikimedia Commons, upload it to your photo capsule.
  2. Then look at the wording directly above the image. You will see "reuse this file." Click on this.
  3. A globe will appear to the right of the image. Click on it.
  4. This will bring up a box with the image's URL, attribution, and html information.
  5. Copy the attribution information and paste it in the "name of source" box of the photo capsule.
  6. The information can be reduced to the author's name, image use licenses, and a link to the licensing information source.

Wkimedia Commons on Youtube

Wiki Poll

Have you ever used Wikimedia Commons?

See results


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    • Gcrhoads64 profile imageAUTHOR

      Gable Rhoads 

      4 years ago from North Dakota

      I would do nothing. If the image was on Wikimedia when you used it and has since been removed, I believe that you are in the clear. If you are really concerned, you may consider consulting an attorney for legal advice.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 

      4 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      I have used hundreds of pictires from Wikipefia. You're right - they have a fabulous bank!

      Recently, I have come across a new problem. A picture I referenced suddenly showed up as a broken link. It turned out the person had removed it. What do I do in this situation? The picture is in a published book.

    • justthemessenger profile image

      James C Moore 

      4 years ago from The Great Midwest

      You're preaching to the choir Gcrhoads. Wikipedia commons along with flickr and pictures that I have taken are my main source of hub photos. Good source of information.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      4 years ago from San Diego California

      I use these photos constantly, primarily because I am a crappy photographer with limited photoshop skills. I can find almost everything I need there, and I wholeheartedly agree with you that a great picture can draw attention to a crappy article, and a bad picture can drive people away from an otherwise great article. Fantastic hub!

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 

      5 years ago

      I see Gable, I guess that I never used a word in that area - so far.


    • Gcrhoads64 profile imageAUTHOR

      Gable Rhoads 

      5 years ago from North Dakota

      Hi everyone! Thanks for reading my page and taking the time to comment.. It is nice to be able to help others out. :)

      Examiner - I was searching for an image on something mundane (I don't recall what) when the x-rated images came up. If I remember correctly it is because the word I searched for was slang for a sex act.

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 

      5 years ago from San Francisco

      Forgive me, but I read the article despite the photograph! My dear, long-time friend, who has been a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger since he came to this country as a muscle man and has all his calendars from that era, would have a good laugh at me right now.

      Thank you for a clear, concise and easy how-to. I'm always unsure just how to attribute Wikimedia Commons photos and usually err on the side of way too much. You've solved that problem for me.

    • colorfulone profile image

      Susie Lehto 

      5 years ago from Minnesota

      I use to use photos from Wikipedia often on another platform. I got into photography more in the past couple of years, now I mostly use my own photos. I like the images you used here.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Thank you. Your instructions and tips are very clear and helpful. I love the photos and images you selected. Very eyecatching.

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 

      5 years ago from Lakewood New York

      Thnaks for the useful information, I've never used Wikimedia, but will take a closer look thanks to you. I've bookmarked this so I can refer back to it.

    • profile image

      Donna Cook 

      5 years ago

      Thanks for explaining how to upload Wikimedia to HP! As a Squidoo refugee, this is very helpful.

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 

      5 years ago

      I wonder Gable, would they show up when I looked for birds/animals, food, media, things like that?


    • Gcrhoads64 profile imageAUTHOR

      Gable Rhoads 

      5 years ago from North Dakota

      Thanks Kevin. You don't have to intentionally search for the images. They sometimes appear when you are searching for a similar topic. :)

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 

      5 years ago

      I enjoyed reading your Hub, Gable, especially since I use Wikimedia 90% of the time. I must have never searched for images/photos near the graphic/X-rated ones because I never saw them. I voted this up and shared it.


    • Beata Stasak profile image

      Beata Stasak 

      6 years ago from Western Australia

      Learnt something new, thank you for sharing:)..B

    • Gcrhoads64 profile imageAUTHOR

      Gable Rhoads 

      6 years ago from North Dakota

      Thanks, ladydeonne. I love the ability to add pictures here at hubpages. Try Pixabay, too. :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      That ripped torso really got my attention! Very good information and report re the merits of using wikimedia. I have been challenged to find quality free photos, but while reviewing photos posted by hubber srsddn, A Picture Tour Of Beaches in India I noticed that his photos were from wikimedia. I used wikimedia and my photos were not rejected for poor quality. Thanks for the reminder of how important photos are for SEO and viewer response.

    • Gcrhoads64 profile imageAUTHOR

      Gable Rhoads 

      6 years ago from North Dakota

      Hmmm. Was it the hot guy? I know he always catches my eye. Thanks, Beth37. :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I don't know why I was drawn to *this particular hub over some of your others... maybe I should scroll to the top again and take another look.

      Oh yes, I remember... very good info. I will come here again, the next time I go to post a new hub. I have a hard time remembering all the copyrite info. Im sure this will help.


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