I’ve been meeting with a lot of GLAM institutions recently who are keen to collaborate with Wikimedia projects but, unsurprisingly, wanted to “go on a few dates before getting married”. So, this post is directed to those institutions who are looking at finding a small, manageable project that they can undertake with the Wikimedia community – a project that has a low level of risk and difficulty but with a relatively high level of measurable impact. A good ROI for some low-hanging fruit, if you will. This is by no means the only thing a GLAM could collaborate on with the Wikimedia community, so don’t be limited by it, but it is nevertheless a viable option.
What I suggest is that you upload one image, of one object, to Wikimedia Commons.
Just the one.
But, a quite specific one.
I suggest that you find within your collection an item that is notable in and of itself. Ideally this object already has a Wikipedia article written about it already or it should be an object of individual significance enough to warrant such an article (see our policy on Notability). If you don’t have any such items in your collection perhaps there is something, though not uniquely notable, that is a perfect example of its type and warrants being the headline image for the article about genre/style/craft.
To avoid conflicts between the Wikimedia community and the institution about whether the faithful reproduction of a 2D object creates new copyright in favour of the organisation making the reproduction (see the backgrount to the NPG controversy for more information about this subject), I recommend specifically choosing a 3D item – an ancient sculpture or archeological artifact for example – that is in itself definitively out of copyright. Thereby, your photograph of this object is incontrovertibly the institution’s own copyright and no other copyright claims exist.
Go to Wikimedia Commons (the multimedia repository associated with Wikipedia) and create a user account. Technically, Wikimedia policy says you’re not supposed to have “role accounts” (usernames associated with an organisation rather than an individual). Speaking for myself, I can understand this on Wikipedia (where a role-account may be promotional and unaccountable) but on Commons having a role account seems to me to be a good thing as it provides good attribution to the institution. So, whilst the anti-role-account rule is in place I suggest the institution create a username something like “user:JohnCitizen_NationalMuseumofAtlantis” (this gives both attribution and personalisation).
3) Tech specs
Take your “canonical photograph” of this item and compare it to the existing free-use images available of it online (e.g. in the Wikipedia article, on Flickr, Google Image search etc.) and also compare it to Wikipedia’s “Featured Picture Criteria“. Ideally the image being donated to Wikimedia Commons should be of higher quality than any other freely-available image of the object and the image should be clearly above the minimum standards for being listed as a Featured Picture. Among other things, this means that it should be at least 1000pixels along the longest side. But, as with all of Wikipedia’s quality standards, this tends to increase over time so it is good to go significantly above these criteria if possible (especially if the subject of the photograph has fine/intricate details). Also the level of “wow factor” to the Wikimedia community is almost directly proportional to the resolution of the image. For example, some of our most highly prized images are simply huge. (Also, please don’t upload images with watermarks or equivalent).
4) Upload and notify
Although it’s a bit unwieldy (and we’re working on improving it), use the “upload file” form and upload the image putting in as much attribution, metadata, captioning as you want. Many of the specific elements of uploading are a bit tricky to work out (e.g. placing it in categories or giving it a geo-code) but the essential should be straightforward. The most important bit is that the image is “your own work” (i.e. it’s copyright to the institution) and that you agree to release this copyright under the Creative-Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. (Other acceptable copyright licenses are available but this is the Wikimedia community’s preference.) Yes, this license does mean that third-parties can make commercial use of your image without asking your specific permission. But! If they make a derivative work (such as incorporating the image into a montage for a documentary film) then that derivative work has to be “shared alike” and made equally freely-available. This, not surprisingly, is something that commercial re-users rarely want to do and therefore they would need to get your specific permission for their usage requirements. Feel free to charge them $$$$$ if they are unwilling to release their work into the commons like you have.
Because your image has never been made available before under a free-license, it is probable that Wikimedians checking the copyright status of new uploads might be suspicious that the image has been uploaded without the copyright holder’s consent. Write an email, from your work email address (for verification purposes), to the “permissions system” attesting to the fact that the upload is legitimate and that you really did intend to release it under that license. If you don’t do this, someone might list the image for deletion from Wikimedia Commons in an attempt to make sure that the copyright of your institution isn’t being infringed. The burden of proof on copyright checking lies with the uploader, not the deleter.
5) Tell a Wikimedian
Tell several. Tweet it. Dent it. Blog it. Notify someone on the discussion page associated with the Wikipedia article about the item itself. Leave a message with your local Wikimedia Chapter or the relevant WikiProject. These people will then rally around the image and make sure that it is appropriately categorised, and that it is used in relevant Wikipedia articles, probably in several languages. For example, the Deutsches Bundesarchiv ‘s image of Konrad Adenauer is now used as the headline image in upwards of 15 language editions of Wikipedia. It is now THE image of Adenaur across the internet (see the “global file usage“).
6) Go for Gold
Leave it a week and then check to see how many times the image is being used in Wikipedia, especially the Wikipedia edition in your institution’s “home” language. Assuming you’ve uploaded an image of high enough quality then the image may very well qualify as a Featured Picture. Nudge a Wikimedian or two to ask them to nominate it as a Featured Picture Candidate for you. What will follow will be about a week’s worth of public critiquing of the image’s technical quality, encyclopedic value, replicability… The image may get worked on a bit in Photoshop by a Wikimedian or someone might come along and crop it more tightly. But, if all goes well, then the image will be given the gold star that is Featured Image status. Congratulations.
The image is now worthy to be displayed on Wikipedia’s main page for a day. There is a queue for this and every FP is eligible for this honour once. Generally FPs go on the mainpage on a first-in first-out basis, but hopefully given that you’re a special guest on Wikipedia, someone will bump-up your image to appear on the mainpage sooner rather than later – but there’s no promises Unfortunately, we don’t currently clicktrack people going to the GLAM’s website from the image’s attribution statement (for privacy reasons) but if you are aware of the image’s imminent appearance on the mainpage then perhaps you could get your own tech department to monitor inbound traffic to your website over that 24 period to see if there is any difference. You can also check how often the article appears is viewed by clicking on the “history” tab at the top of the article, then click “page view statistics”. You should see a noticeable spike once the stats are compiled a day or two later.
Best of luck.