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Photo via White House (Public Domain)
Is Trump’s presidential portrait protected by copyright? Good question.
A debate is raging on Wikimedia Commons after an unknown person requested that the official portrait of President Donald Trump be deleted from the site on the grounds that the photograph is copyright protected.
Government photographs—including presidential portraits—are often licensed under the public domain, and are, therefore, usable by anyone, including Wikimedia Commons.
The ticket was filed under Wikimedia Commons’ open-source ticket request system (OTRS) claiming the photo, which was taken by photographer Doug Coulter, was not the work of the U.S. government.
Wikimedia Commons is the online repository for media, like photos and audio, that the public is free to use without payment. The Commons is part of the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit that also oversees Wikipedia.
Some OTRS agents argued that the ticket requesting the deletion showed “beyond any reasonable doubt” that the picture is not public domain. Others argued that the picture appears in government buildings and, therefore, should be considered usable under fair use.
Further bolstering the argument that Wikimedia Commons has the right to republish the portrait, the photo also appears on the White House’s website with Trump’s biography. (Trump also briefly used the photo as the Twitter profile picture on the @POTUS account.) According to the White House website’s copyright policy, all government-produced material is not copyright protected. Third-party content on the White House site is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. It is unclear whether the Trump portrait falls under this license.
The Trump portrait was deleted over the weekend, but it has since been undeleted on the grounds that, ostensibly according to White House policy, it was published under a Creative Commons license that allows anyone to republish the photo.
“The situation is thus that we have a reputable publisher (the White House) claiming that the copyright holder has agreed to publish the portrait under a CC BY license on their website,” writes a Commons editor who is arguing that the photograph not be deleted. “Unless we have the copyright holder explicitly deny this, I think we should trust what the White House is telling the public: the image has been granted publication under a free license by its copyright holder.”
What remains unclear is whether Coulter was acting in an official government capacity when taking Trump’s official portrait.
A member said in the discussion on Wikimedia that Coulter took the photo in December 2016, before Trump took office, and upon investigation, “it was made clear that we do not have a license from the copyright owner.”
It is possible that the Trump portrait could be deleted again.
Coulter did not respond to a request for comment by the Daily Dot.
Additional reporting by Andrew Couts.
Andrew Wyrich is a politics staff writer for the Daily Dot, covering the intersection of politics and the internet. Andrew has written for USA Today, NorthJersey.com, and other newspapers and websites. His work has been recognized by the Society of the Silurians, Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE), and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).