I am self-publishing my dissertation and want to use a picture of a painting, modified to fit the cover and with titles and author name on it.

The painter is dead for over a hundred years and a file of the painting can be found in Wikimedia Commons licenced under the GNU Free Document Licence.

I am unsure about the implications. If I use this file in a modified version in a commercial product, I have to include a printout of the GFDL in my book as well as ensure that the original file can be downloaded. Is this correct?

I also have to release the modified version under GFDL. Does this only apply to the book cover then? That would be fine. But I do not want to release the whole book under GFDL.

What else do I have to pay attention to?

  • According to the page you linked to, that image is in the public domain. The GFDL applies to the compilation in which it occurs, not the individual work. You are not reproducing the compilation, just the individual work.
    – user16226
    Commented Oct 15, 2016 at 14:39
  • Okay, yes. I guess my confusion is about the distinction of the painting itself and the digitial reproduction of it as a file. In the page it says the reproduction is PD because the work is PD. I was under the impression that one could copyright the reproduction of a PD work.
    – TFM
    Commented Oct 15, 2016 at 17:08

1 Answer 1


I was looking into this and found the following:

Material licensed under the current version of the license can be used for any purpose, as long as the use meets certain conditions.

  1. All previous authors of the work must be attributed.
  2. All changes to the work must be logged.
  3. All derivative works must be licensed under the same license.
  4. The full text of the license, unmodified invariant sections as defined by the author if any, and any other added warranty disclaimers (such as a general disclaimer alerting readers that the document may not be accurate for example) and copyright notices from previous versions must be maintained.
  5. Technical measures such as DRM may not be used to control or obstruct distribution or editing of the document.

Hope this is helpful.

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    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 14:33

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