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Wikipedia's licensing requires that attribution be given to the original author. For most pages, this is supplied by the page history, with exceptions associated with copying and deletion. In these cases, supplementary attribution must be provided by either a link back to the source page, if available, or a list of authors. At minimum, this means a linked edit summary at the destination page—that is, the page into which the material is copied. It is good practice, especially if copying is extensive, to make a note in an edit summary at the source page as well. Content reusers should also consider leaving a note at the talk pages of both source and destination.

Why attribution is required

Contributors to Wikipedia are not asked to surrender their copyright to the material they contribute. Instead, they are required to co-license their contributions under the copyleft licenses Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA) and GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). Both of these licenses allow reuse and modification, but reserve the right to attribution.

The CC-BY-SA, section 4(c), states that:

You must ... provide ... the name of the Original Author (or pseudonym, if applicable) ... and ... in the case of an Adaptation, a credit identifying the use of the Work in the Adaptation (e.g., "French translation of the Work by Original Author," or "Screenplay based on original Work by Original Author"). The credit required by this Section 4(c) may be implemented in any reasonable manner; provided, however, that in the case of a Adaptation or Collection, at a minimum such credit will appear, if a credit for all contributing authors of the Adaptation or Collection appears, then as part of these credits and in a manner at least as prominent as the credits for the other contributing authors.

The GFDL, section 4-I, states that:

... you must ... Preserve the section Entitled "History", Preserve its Title, and add to it an item stating at least the title, year, new authors, and publisher of the Modified Version as given on the Title Page.

The Wikimedia Foundation's Terms of Use are clear that attribution will be supplied:

in any of the following fashions: a) through a hyperlink (where possible) or URL to the article or articles you contributed to, b) through a hyperlink (where possible) or URL to an alternative, stable online copy which is freely accessible, which conforms with the license, and which provides credit to the authors in a manner equivalent to the credit given on this website, or c) through a list of all authors. (Any list of authors may be filtered to exclude very small or irrelevant contributions.)

If material is used without attribution, it violates the licensing terms under which it has been provided, which in turn violates the Reusers' rights and obligations clause of Wikipedia's copyrights policy.

Where attribution is not needed

Not everything copied from one Wikipedia page to another requires attribution. If the re-user is the sole contributor of the text at the other page, attribution is not necessary. Content rewritten in one's own words does not need attribution. However, duplicating material by other contributors that is sufficiently creative to be copyrightable under US law (as the governing law for Wikipedia), requires attribution.

As guidance, none of the following are "creative expression" requiring attribution, for Wikipedia purposes:

  • Bare references;
  • Common expressions and idioms;
  • Simple, non-creative lists of information (such as a list of actors in a television program by order of appearance or alphabetical order);
  • Basic mathematical and scientific formulae;
  • Material that will be reverted and deleted in full, with no copy kept on the public wiki. (This particularly covers vandalism, private information, offensive or disruptive comments, gibberish, BLP vios and defamation, etc, that are being deleted or redacted by an administrator.)

Quotes from external sources do not need to be attributed to the original Wikipedia contributor, although any text surrounding them would be, and the original source must still be cited. However, even though attribution is not required in these cases, including a link is often useful.

Proper attribution

Attribution can be provided in any of the fashions detailed in the Terms of Use (listed above), although methods (a) and (c) — i.e., through a hyperlink (where possible) or URL to the article or articles you contributed to; or through a list of all authors — are the most practical for transferring text from one Wikipedia page to another. Both methods have strengths and weaknesses, but either satisfies the licensing requirements if properly done.

If material has been contributed by more than one author, providing a link in the edit summary is the simplest method of providing attribution. A statement in the edit summary such as copied content from [[article name]]; see that article's history for attribution will direct interested parties to the edit history of the source page, where they can trace exactly who added what content when. A disadvantage with this method is that the page history of the original article must subsequently be retained in order to maintain attribution. To avoid the source page being inadvertently moved or deleted, it is helpful to make a note of the copying on the talk page of the source article. The template ((copied)) can be used for this purpose. This template can also be added to the destination talk page.
List of authors
When dealing with a page edited by many, a hyperlink is the simplest solution, but if the content being copied has only one contributor, it may be preferable simply to list him or her individually. Using this method, the edit history of the source page is unnecessary, and it will not matter if the source page is later deleted or moved. A statement in the edit summary such as text originally contributed by [[User:Example]] on 1 January 2009 serves as full attribution. If the material being copied has more than one author, attribution requirements can technically be satisfied with a note in edit summary directing attention to a list of contributors on the talk page, but as the Terms of Service indicate, a hyperlink is preferred where possible.

Specific situations

Merging and splitting

While there may be many reasons to duplicate text from one page into another, there are additional procedures, and templates, which may be necessary for certain situations of copying within Wikipedia. For merging two articles together or content from one article into another, see Wikipedia:Merging. For splitting one article into two or more, see Wikipedia:Splitting.

Copying from other Wikimedia Projects

If copying or moving via "transwiki" from another Wikimedia project that is licensed under CC-BY-SA (such as Wikimedia Commons, Wiktionary, and Wikispecies), you may satisfy attribution either by providing a complete list of authors of the original content (the complete list can be generated by copying the history of the remote page) or by providing a direct link to the original material. If the list of authors is brief, this may be provided in the edit summary. A direct link (such as an InterWikimedia link) should be included in the edit summary; the template ((Interwiki copy)) is available for the article's talk page. If leaving a list of authors, please also provide a URL to the original page in case it becomes necessary in the future to access that history. (See Help:Transwiki.) Although most Wikimedia projects are licensed under CC-BY-SA and require attribution consistent with the Foundation's Terms of Use, some projects are handled differently. For example, content from Wikinews is licensed under CC-BY and may be reused with attribution only to "Wikinews." (See Wikinews:Copyright.) It is the responsibility of the editor importing content to determine the license that applies and ensure that attribution is satisfied.

Translating from other language Wikimedia Projects

Translations of copyrighted text, even from other Wikimedia projects, are derivative works, and attribution must be given to satisfy licensing requirements. When translating material from a Wikimedia project licensed under CC-By-SA, a note identifying the Wikimedia source (such as an interlanguage link) should be made in an edit summary and a link left to the original at the article's talk page. The template ((Translated page)) is available for this purpose.

Content forking

There are also some situations in Wikipedia where copying may not be appropriate, such as if two articles are being created on the same subject because editors of the original cannot agree on the article's development. This is called "content forking". The acceptable solution to disagreement on the development of an article is to seek consensus through dispute resolution.

Reusing deleted material

If an article is deleted, its history is removed and thus its content cannot be reused on Wikipedia—even under the same article title—unless attribution is otherwise provided (or the page undeleted). Deleted articles may not be recovered and reused from Wikipedia mirrors, Google cache, or the view-deleted administrator right.

It may sometimes be necessary to delete specific parts of an article's history for various reasons (copyright violations introduced but later excised; extreme personal attacks; personal information) through Selective History deletion, Revision Deletion or Oversight. If the article retains contributions placed by users in the deleted / oversighted revisions, those must be attributed. Dummy edits should be used for this purpose, whenever practical; otherwise, talk page attribution will be necessary. A typical dummy edit summary could read, for instance Revision deletion for reason XYZ: Article was started by and retains contributions from [[User:Example]], as well as contributions from [[User:Example2]] and [[User:Example3]]


If an article is "userified"—copied or moved into user space—it must be fully attributed. If an article is being moved to userspace to avoid deletion (or to work on after deletion), the full history should be visible (restored if necessary) and then moved using the move button. If a user wishes to copy all or part of an article to work on in userspace, he or she should use an edit summary like creating page with content copied from revision 123456789 of [[article title]].

Repairing insufficient attribution

While technically licensing violations are copyright violations, pages that contain unattributed text do not normally need to be deleted. Attribution can be belatedly supplied by the methods above, using dummy edits to record new edit summaries and via talk page attribution using the ((copied)) template. Such belated attribution should make clear when the relevant text entered the page. You can also identify problem articles, in particular complex cases that you cannot fix right away, by tagging the article itself with the templates ((CWW)) (for a single origin) and ((CWW-multi)) (for articles with multiple origins).

When possible, the re-user should be notified of the proper procedures for copying text between pages. The template ((uw-c&pmove)) is available for addressing cut-and-paste moves. For other copying situations, the ((uw-copying)) template can be used.

Repairing cut and paste moves of a page

Main page: Wikipedia:How to fix cut-and-paste moves

If the entire contents of one page were relocated to another title via cutting and pasting, leaving a redirect at the previous page, the licensing violation can be repaired through the use of the ((histmerge)) template. If the situation is more complex—as for example if a new article has developed at the source page on a subject with related title—the situation should be addressed at the cut and paste move repair holding pen for administrator attention.

See also