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Proposal:Nonfree media vault or time capsule

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Every proposal should be tied to one of the strategic priorities below.

Edit this page to help identify the priorities related to this proposal!

  1. Achieve continued growth in readership
  2. Focus on quality content
  3. Increase Participation
  4. Stabilize and improve the infrastructure
  5. Encourage Innovation


A site similar to Wikimedia Commons to which nonfree media files can be uploaded accompanied by a calendar date upon which the file will pass into the public domain or otherwise become free media. The file is stored without being published until the date is reached to avoid issues of redistributing copyrighted material.


A Wikipedia contributor might have on hand a media file that is currently nonfree but which will become public domain in a matter of a few years. This file cannot currently be uploaded to Wikimedia Commons or any other Wikimedia project because doing so would immediately publish the file and thus constitute copyright infringement.

A facility similar to Wikimedia Commons could provide a place for the editor to upload this file without publishing it. If the editor can do the necessary research to determine on what date under current law the file content will become public domain this information can be submitted along with the file and it can be held in an inaccessible location until the date upon which its publication will be legal.

To further ensure compliance with any intelligible form that copyright law might take in the future it may be expedient to permit the uploader to certify that he or she is a licensed user of the content and is making the upload for the purpose of personal storage of the file until the future date. The service might be entirely constructed around this valid and truthful premise: that individual Wikipedians are attempting to make indelible personal backups of content they rightfully have license to, for safe keeping until the point at which it will become freely distributable.


Editors frequently encounter material which has a nonfree licensing status but which by its nature will be of great value to future Wikimedia projects. We should not miss the opportunity to safeguard these resources for future editors and users of the Wikimedia projects.

A great deal of historically important material, such as the original footage of the NASA moon landing or many early BBC broadcasts, has been misplaced or lost. Even in the modern digital era we should not take for granted that any given item will be preserved until the point when it can be made freely available. We should take steps to avoid the loss of important digital artifacts with a project such as this.

Key Questions

  • How to secure against a "denial of service" type attack when the uploaded content is not being immediately reviewed - perhaps a per IP daily upload bandwidth limit?
  • Would as much short-term storage be necessary as in the case of Wikimedia Commons? Perhaps a cost savings could be obtained by immediately or shortly moving uploaded files onto tape or another long-term storage solution.
  • How to handle a review process for content which has nominally passed into the public domain, to ensure that it is genuinely eligible to be published - would some sort of private / non-published review be necessary?
  • How to handle prevention of "red herring" / decoy uploads, files which do not match the description provided with them?
  • Would it be wise to try to prevent the upload of duplicate files / content or better to allow duplicates to be uploaded, in case one version is of higher quality than another?
  • To how many years till PD we should limit ourselves?
  • Should, let's say, administrators of commons be able to browse the contribution or would this vault be closed till the opening day?
  • If the service became extremely successful would we have any motivation to try to prevent users from working entirely in the future on content to be revealed years hence? Would we want to encourage this behavior, discourage it in policy, or be neutral?
  • How to handle response to the undoubted future changes in law that will further extend the term of copyright. It seems that the dating mechanism must include functionality and any necessary metadata to facilitate en masse changes to the dates.

Potential Costs

Cost ought to be equivalent to the cost of Wikimedia Commons; a duplicate of the code and infrastructure of Wikimedia Commons with added date-based publishing functionality and possibly some sort of review mechanism.

Impact on Users

  • For non-editing users of the Wikimedia projects the implementation of this proposal would primarily be transparent as a reader of a content page does not normally investigate the individual pages of images where the indication of whether the file is hosted locally or on Wikimedia Commons would be present. Hence the impact upon this user group would be negligible.
  • For editors of content there are several possible impacts
    • A possible mildly negative impact could be that depending upon the implementation, the Foundation might essentially end up with two separate Wikimedia Commons installations. This could cause confusion when trying to determine the location of a file or add extra steps such as a need to perform two duplicate searches at both Commons and the Vault. However, it should be possible to overcome this problem with good technical design.
    • A positive impact is that editors would now have an outlet for non-free media in their possession.
      • If the project was successful and usage of the Vault grew, a somewhat neutral impact might be demand from users for increased sophistication on the part of MediaWiki with the date-based mechanisms of the vault. For example there might be a request for an image tag for an unpublished image which would display only a placeholder perhaps containing a countdown until the image is displayed. Or a request might be made for a way to set a MediaWiki template to change in appearance based upon the status of a referenced file; The template should display one set of text, perhaps accompanied by a blurry free-use thumbnail, while the reference image is non-free / unpublished; but after the publication date the template shows the full image.

Community Discussion

Do you have a thought about this proposal? A suggestion? Discuss this proposal by going to Proposal talk:Nonfree media vault or time capsule.

Want to work on this proposal?

It's filed as bugzilla:39798.

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