I like to add photographs to Wikipedia articles. The addition of a visual aspect improves the quality of an article, and gives a better view on a subject. If the photo isn't reflecting reality, it can also influence the opinion of readers. That’s why many Wikipedians try to improve the quality of photos. I have seen astonishing improvements of photographs, but also weird effects. Some photographs are beautified so much, that the new photograph is an improved version of reality.
I have to admit: I crop photographs. I also remove watermarks, or ask skilled colleagues to make that happen (thank you, Wikipedians at the Graphics Lab). I don’t particularly like scratches and blurs, but where’s the limit? Clearing a background, removal of persons or buildings, image restoration: it all happens at Commons. There’s one line I won’t cross: changing the characteristics of a photograph. Yes, I have seen cigarettes removed from the lips of one of my cultural heroes (“just a small retouch”), and the retouched photograph was used in 10 language versions of Wiki, over a period of six years. I pushed the original photograph back in.
Carly Rae Jepsen (2012) – with watermark
Carly Rae Jepsen – watermark removed
Clear copyright claim (right in the middle)
Frogs web (original)
Same image, brightened
When money is involved, attitudes change. The management of The Weeknd wanted his image to change in 2020, and thus wanted to abolish the then current photo in Wikipedia. They hired a company to take legal action via a request for removal of this 2017 photograph in Wiki (DMCA Removal Request, 2020). The result was devastating for Commons: not only was the photograph removed, but two great administrators resigned during the resulting row.
I love removing watermarks and copyright signs from photos in Commons– if permitted by the license. Most photographs in Wikimedia Commons have either a PD or a CC-BY-license, and both permit removing watermarks. At the same time, I like to respect photographers. The rules in Wikipedia regarding removal of watermarks are quite clear. I'm inclined to adhere to the most likely interpretation (in short: removal of (copyright) watermarks is in line with CC-BY-SA and not a legal violation), because CC-BY permits changing of files and removal of watermarks. Some Wikipedians say this issue is not an issue of copyright, but is about ethics. They say it would be disrecpectful or insulting to remove the copyright claims. My simple answer: if you don’t want your photo to be touched by others, don’t bring them under a CC-BY-license.
My suggestion: the proposed Commons guideline should also promote removal of visible copyright signs of images under a CC-BY license.