How eBay could help Wikimedia Commons get more open-licensed images

Here is a screen-shot of a recent eBay auction (ends 18 April):

eBay auction page for '18th Century Token Warwickshire General Elliot Henry Biggs 1792 Birmingham'

It’s for a 1792 trade token, commemorating General Elliot and worth a halfpenny at Henry Biggs, of Moor Street, Birmingham.

Here’s the close up of both sides of the token:

Both sides of the token

I’ve taken the liberty of using the latter image without asking permission, to illustrate the points I’m making in this post, and it’s(permission now obtained) The latter image is one of many I could have chosen — eBay is full of such pictures, of old tokens, coins and medals, old books, documents and ephemera, plus all sorts of other objects. Those images lead transient lives, effectively disappearing when their auctions end.

I’d really like to upload it to Wikimedia Commons, the repository of media for Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects, and freely reusable by anyone.

It could then be used to illustrate Wikipedia articles on the general, trade tokens, and various aspects of Birmingham’s history — and by anyone, on other websites or printed projects. All the benefits of free content would apply.

I’ve written before about open-licensing images, what it means and how to do it.

Of course I could ask the seller concerned for permission to upload their image to Wikimedia Commons, but doing so on an individual basis would be time consuming and require them to send e-mail to a third address, confirming their agreement. Doing this on a large scale is infeasible, and contacting individual sellers many times — or several people contacting them —  would be irritating to them.

I would like eBay to consider (after discussion with me and the Wikimedia community) introducing a feature where their sellers are asked to confirm that they are the author of such images and, if so, to tick a box releasing them under a suitable Creative Commons licence (as described in my earlier post).

These open-licensed images would then be flagged, be searchable, and could perhaps be made available via an RSS feed or feeds.

Wikimedians could then add them to Commons individually, after checking that the subject of the image was not itself subject to copyright (in the case of, for example, a recent book or CD cover). As with uploading open-licensed Flickr images to Commons, tools to expedite this could be written.

Sellers with Commons accounts could even be given the opportunity to upload images to both sites at once.

What about it, eBay? Can someone put me in touch with the relevant people there?

14 thoughts on “How eBay could help Wikimedia Commons get more open-licensed images

  1. Àlex Kippelboy

    Andy, this is a great idea and somehow “doable”. I thought several times about it also on social media projects like “Twitter”, when people is sharing worldwide an image but it’s license is not that clear -> Everybody can use it and share it, but not in Wikimedia?

    It would be great if you can “easily configure” somehow your Twitpic, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and obviously ebay user accounts with CC-BY licenses. Who you think should lead this project?

    1. Andy Mabbett Post author

      The easiest way for someone to open-license their TwitPics or similar would be to put a release (or a link to one) in their Twitter profile. It would be even better, though, if TwitPic, YFrog and similar services, including Twitter’s own, also allowed users to set per-image or per-account licences, and make them visible on pages for individual images.

      I’m happy to be involved in discussions with them too, if we can find relevant people to talk to.

      I’d like to think we could also have discussions with Instagram/ Facebook, but they don;t seem as open to making content freely available. I’d love them to prove me wrong…

      Incidentally, the issue of current licencing on such services is addressed in my earlier post, “The BBC’s fundamental misunderstanding of copyright“.

  2. Justin Tanner

    Nice article, I’m encountered this problem with eBay as well. Pictures of coins is one thing, but what about pictures of paper antiques like this:

    I know the publisher of this artwork ( Raphael Tuck and Sons ) published this work before 1920, so the artwork it self in now in the public domain.

    Is a photograph / scan of such an antique a new copyrightable ip? Or does the expired public domain copyright still hold?

      1. Justin Tanner

        That very interesting, and so the pictures of the coins, is different only in that its a picture of a three dimensional object? And that picture is retains full copyright even tho the coin maybe over 100+ years old ( just guessing )?

  3. Neil Kandalgaonkar

    I think it’s a good idea generally to give eBayers the option to post their imagery with a CC license. I doubt many of them would understand it, though.

    However, Wikimedia Commons doesn’t really want more images at this point — they need better tools or more volunteers to manage the influx of images they already have.

  4. Michael

    There are a few problems:

    1) I’m sure Ebay will not add this feature. Their job is to allow people to sell stuff easily and everything which confuses the seller is hurting their business. They do eye tracking studies to test which features of their site are confusing people, which features are overlooked etc.
    This feature will confuse some sellers and if only some are confused enough, they will stop posting the sale. Just a few hundred confused sellers are costing them money.
    2) Free licences are great, but many people don’t understand them. So we will see many unfree pictures posted under a CC-Licence.
    3) There are some big sellers of coins, antiques, postcards etc. Getting them to licence their pictures could be possible.

    1. Andy Mabbett Post author

      Michael: You say “there are a few problems”, but provide only your personal predictions.

      We don’t know how eBay will respond; let’s wait and see. There is no reason why open licences need confuse people, that’s why I suggest eBay talk to us (the Wikimedia community) before acting, so that we can collaborate to make sure that no confusion can arise.

  5. John Cummings

    Hey Andy

    This is a really interesting suggestion, I have no idea is it would work or not, could be a great place to source images of quite rare objects, good luck to you. I have one suggestion or maybe it’s just an observation, I know ebay has a categorisation system, just wondering if this could be used as a guidance or automatically add it to a compatible category on commons? I assume ebay spent an arm and a leg on working out all their categorisation, seems sensible to use it if they make sense.

    1. Andy Mabbett Post author

      They’d get credit for their contribution — we could work jointly on publicity — and each image added that way could also include recognition of their role, on its page at Commons.

      Hopefully, they’ll recognise the benefit to society as a while, and agree to participate for the common good, as part of their social responsibility programme.

      1. llywrch

        There is a cost to adding this: programming the feature into their website. This could be done with under a man-week of labor — figuring out how to explain the terms of licensing (maybe a link to the Creative Commons might do it), adding the necessary widgets to the web interface (which include the click box, some web pages, how to indicate a given image is offered with a free license), & tying this into the database. Of all these, IMHO the last is the most difficult & may be the deal killer: some databases are held together with the scripting equivalent of bailing wire & chewing gum, & to add even a row to a given table might not be welcome — unless that brought in more money.

        Just my speculations. But if eBay were approached in earnest to make this happen, knowing as much as possible about things like this would help persuade them to agree. This could gain them a lot of good will, & one man week of overhead staff time would be considered by many otherwise profitable companies as a minimal cost.


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