Wikipedia:WikiProject Opera/Copyright guidelines

Wikipedia takes copyright violations in articles very seriously and so does WikiProject Opera. The guidelines below must be observed. Editors who fail to do so will quickly bring themselves into disrepute. At the very least your edits will be reverted, and in some cases whole articles deleted. Persistent violation will lead to blocking. Don't steal other people's work. We're not in a race here. Better an honest stub, or no article at all, than one which violates copyright.


  • In the United States, where Wikipedia's foundation and servers are based, a copyright source is any printed text first published after 1923 and any web page text without an explicit statement that it is published under a license compatible with the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License. There is a list of compatible licenses here.
  • If there is any doubt whatsoever as to whether a text is copyright, always assume that it is.
  • Never paste text from a copyright source directly into an article, even temporarily.
  • Significant chunks of copyright material must not appear anywhere on Wikipedia, including user pages. Any small extracts on your user pages for temporary drafting purposes should be clearly marked with quotation marks and have the source attributed.

See also FAQs below.

Avoiding copyright problemsEdit

One of the best ways to avoid copyright violations (and to write a better article) is to use several sources rather than relying on a single reference work or web site. It also helps to draft your article gradually rather than rushing to get it into Wikipedia. This approach will result in more interesting and coherent content. It also allows you the time to review your work carefully for potential copyright violations. We recommend that you draft your article in your user space first. You'll find help in setting up a draft page here. The pressure of trying to expand and refine 'on the hop' in a live article can lead to copyright disaster.

It can sometimes be difficult to view your work objectively concerning copyright issues, especially if you are new to Wikipedia. If your draft (or a section of it) is largely derived from a single source, ask for an experienced editor's opinion before going live with it. Just post a notice on our project's talk page. We're happy to help.

Antandrus has written some very useful advice for editors basing their articles on material from the Grove reference works,[1] but it applies to using any source:

  • Read the Grove article. Digest it. Internalize it. Make sure you understand the outline of the subject well enough to explain it verbally to another person without looking at the Grove.
  • Then make an outline of the facts only (no adjectives; no phrases; just the facts, in chronological order if it is a biography or chronology otherwise applies.
  • Now attempt a draft of the topic, just using your outline, preferably after not having looked at the Grove article for a little while.
  • This will force you to write it in your own words — it's just too easy to be tempted to copy the pithy and perfect phrases that one frequently encounters in Grove articles.

A recurring problem has been the copying or close paraphrasing of opera synopses from copyright sources, particularly if the opera is rarely performed. Don't do it. It's better to provide a brief gist of the plot in three or four sentences than to produce a detailed, act-by-act synopsis based solely on a copyright source. You're bound to run into close paraphrasing problems.

To write a 'gist' synopsis, read and internalize the source synopsis until you could explain the plot verbally to someone else. Then without looking at the source, make brief notes as to who/what the characters are and outline the bare facts of what happens to them. A good way to write a detailed act-by-act synopsis is to take notes while watching a DVD of a performance. Alternatively, listen to the opera on CD with the libretto in front of you. (See also FAQs 4 and 7.)

Dealing with copyright violationsEdit

There can be other explanations for any of the following alarm bells, but their presence often warrants closer scrutiny of the article:

  • Has the editor been churning out large numbers of non-stub articles in a short space of time?
  • Was the original version of the article or section a large chunk of unformatted, un-wikified text?
  • Does the whole text (or parts of it) look almost too professional, polished, or scholarly?
  • Is the text overly 'poetic' in parts? This often indicates pasting from a composer's or publisher's description of a work. For example, "a downward glissando breaks the spell, and the solo cello returns one last time, plaintively and prophetically."[2]
  • Are there non-standard wiki characters e.g. « » or slanted quote marks and apostrophes  ? The latter are more easily seen when looking at the text in the editing box.
  • Does it read like a resumé, press release, or fan site? Typical signs of this in opera-related biographies are the use of honorifics, e.g. "Maestro Cavolini", "Ms. Cipolla", etc., or the use of the subject's first name on its own. Other give-aways are peacock wording like "a fast rising star on the international opera scene" and clichés like "has sung under the baton of".

If you find closely paraphrased or pasted verbatim text in an article, remove it immediately and note this in the edit summary and on the article's talk page by adding the Cclean template. If you are unsure, or for some reason don't want to make the edit yourself, tag the article with the Close paraphrasing template or the Copypaste template (whichever is relevant). More detailed guidance can be found here.

Note also that an article may appear to have been copied from another source, but actually the other source copied from Wikipedia - sometimes without attribution. (Wikipedia:Mirrors and forks has more information about this.) If there is significant doubt as to who copied whom, report the issue at Wikipedia:Copyright problems, but first check the apparent source carefully to see if it states somewhere that the content was taken from Wikipedia. (Often such statements are at the very bottom of the page and/or in very small print.)

Dealing with editors who violate copyrightEdit

  • Remember that many editors, especially new ones, may not be intentionally dishonest or editing in bad faith. They may not have fully understood Wikipedia's copyright policies. They may have the common misconception that a freely available website means that its contents are in the public domain. Even some experienced editors may not realize exactly what constitutes close paraphrasing or that it is a copyright violation.
  • Contact them on their talk page and point them here. A courteous personal note is often more effective, and more likely to be read, than a template warning. The templates Nothanks (relatively gentle) and Uw-copyright (forceful) are also available.


1. Can I copy material from my own or my client's website, or material that I have written for another website or publisher?

No, unless the website explicitly displays one of the licenses under Guidelines above. If not, you must take the proper steps to donate the material to Wikipedia or obtain documented proof of permission from the copyright holder. It's not a simple process. You need to follow the procedures at Donating copyrighted materials or Requesting copyright permission. A note on the talk page of the article saying that you are the author or have permission from the author is not sufficient. Until properly documented permission is received, the material will be removed or the article may be blanked with Template:Copyviocore.

Note also that even if permission is documented, material from an artist's or organization's official web site is almost invariably promotional to some degree and will require significant editing to achieve a neutral, encyclopedic tone.

2. Can I copy material in the public domain?

Yes, provided it actually is in the public domain, and that issue can be complex. You must read Wikipedia's public domain guidance first. Note that even public domain material must be attributed. Attribution templates for this purpose can be found at Category:Attribution templates. The most relevant ones for this project include:

{{Grove1sted}} – Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1st ed.), 1879-1889
{{1911}} – Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.), 1911
{{DNB}} – Dictionary of National Biography (1st ed.), 1885–1900

3. Can I quote from a copyright source?

Yes, you can use a brief quotation of copyright text to illustrate a point, establish context, or attribute a point of view or idea. However, the text must be clearly marked as a quote either with quotation marks or block quote, and the source must be attributed. Extensive quotation of copyrighted text is prohibited. See Non-free content and Quotations for more.

4. Is it OK to use copyright text if I switch the phrases around, change some of the words to their synonyms and leave out some?

No, that's called close paraphrasing, and is also a copyright infringement. Without clear attribution, it also passes off someone else's writing as your own (plagiarism). It can sometimes be difficult deciding when the line has been crossed into unacceptably close paraphrasing. But as a guide, where the text is only superficially modified and retains the same basic sentence structure, vocabulary, and tone, the paraphrase is too close. Below are some examples of closely paraphrased individual sentences. When there is a series of sentences like these from the same source, all closely paraphrased, the line has been crossed.

Source: "In St Petersburg, Bullant probably gave his first concert there as a virtuoso bassoonist on 20 November/1 December 1780 (MGG1; according to Findeyzen not until 21 February 1781), playing some of his own works;"[3]
Close paraphrase: Bullant gave his first concert in St Petersburg as a virtuoso bassoonist in either November or December 1780, playing some of his own works.
Source: "Meanwhile, Admeto has a miraculous recovery to the joy of all Thessaly."[4]
Close paraphrase: Meanwhile, Admeto miraculously recovers to the joy of the kingdom.

A very limited amount of close paraphrase may be acceptable under fair use, especially when discussing critical appraisals of a work or a singer but then you should attribute the source in the actual text of the article as well as in the citation. Alternatively, you can use a brief attributed quote. For example:

Source: "It is certainly his most imaginative opera score, and it reveals an instinct for theatrical emotion that any opera composer would be proud of."[5]
Fair-use, attributed paraphrase: Hugh Macdonald has described the score of Samson et Dalila as the most imaginative of all Saint-Saens' operas, revealing a real instinct for theatrical emotion.[5]
Fair use attributed quote: Hugh Macdonald has described Samson et Dalila as Saint-Saens' "most imaginative opera score", revealing "an instinct for theatrical emotion that any opera composer would be proud of."[5]

Fair-use attributed paraphrase, like fair use quotes, must be used very sparingly. Extensive fair-use attributed paraphrase of a single copyrighted text is prohibited.

5. Can I copy a translation of an out-of-copyright work?

Only if the translation itself is out of copyright. For example, you cannot copy text from Anthony M. Esolen's new translation of Tasso's La Gerusalemme liberata, published in 2000. However, you can copy from the one by Edward Fairfax, first published in 1600.

6. Can I translate a copyright source from a foreign language into English and paste that into Wikipedia?

No, your translation is a derivative work. It cannot be published on Wikipedia without the original copyright holder's permission. You must treat your translation like any other copyright text. You may use it as a source of information only, not a source of expression. Below is an example of translated text from a copyright source that cannot be pasted into an article except as a brief attributed fair use quote or paraphrase (see FAQ 4):

Original Italian: "E' un testo multietnico, che parla di tre donne diverse, vittime di un sequestro."[6]
English translation: It is a multi-ethnic text about three different women, victims of a kidnapping.

7. Can I copy or closely paraphrase a plot description of an out-of-copyright work?

Plot descriptions, like any other text, cannot be copied or closely paraphrased from other sources, including official sources, unless that source can be verified to be public domain or licensed compatibly with Wikipedia. The age of the work being described is irrelevant.

There are some out of copyright sources for opera plots such as Krehbiel's 1919 Book of Operas: Their Histories, Their Plots, and Their Music and various pre-1923 programmes and libretti which can be found on Project Gutenberg and The Internet Archive. However, many of these older texts may need considerable editing to achieve a concise, flowing, and encyclopedic style.

8. Can I paste text from other Wikipedia articles?

Yes, but unless you have written the text yourself, you must attribute it in either the edit summary or on the talk page of the article where you have pasted it. See copying within Wikipedia for how to do this.

WikiProject Opera past copyright discussionsEdit


  1. ^ WikiProject Opera – Discussion archive 83
  2. ^ Daugherty, Michael, Composer's Notes: Jackie O, Boosey & Hawkes
  3. ^ Brook, Barry S. et al., "Bullant, Antoine", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy
  4. ^ Opera Today, Gluck: Alceste
  5. ^ a b c MacDonald, Hugh, "Samson et Dalila ", Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy
  6. ^ Il Resto del Carlino, "Cristina Pavarotti 'scrive' la lirica", 23 September 2009.