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Wikipedia and major UK art institution row over famous paintings

Public domain, cries Wikipedia. Give us money, pleads gallery!

     
5:35 pm on Jul 17, 2009 (gmt 0)

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The battle over Wikipedia's use of images from a British art gallery's website has intensified.

The National Portrait Gallery is threatening legal action after 3,300 images from its website were uploaded to Wikipedia... by a Wikipedia volunteer David Coetzee.

The gallery also explained how David Coetzee was able to obtain the high resolution files from its site. They were made available to visitors using a "Zoomify" feature, which works by allowing several high resolution files to be seen all together.
It claims Mr Coetzee used special software to "de-scramble" the high-resolution tiles, allowing the whole portrait to be seen in high resolution.

The British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies has backed the National Portrait Gallery's stance.

A right royal row developing it seems. Note that the BBC uses just such a photo of a painting to illustrate the story. As they don't credit the source, I wonder where they got it from ;-)

Full story from the BBC [news.bbc.co.uk]

Syzygy

6:56 pm on July 20, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Why doesn't Wikipedia just link to them instead of posting them? Seems to me there is room for compromise here.
7:00 pm on July 20, 2009 (gmt 0)

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because one cant "link" to the entire pictures in hi res only to the interface for the "zoomify" "tiles" ..
4:51 pm on July 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Right. So just link to that.
5:29 pm on July 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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3,300 high res images seems a bit much, to me.
6:09 pm on July 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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What leg does wikipedia have to stand on here?
6:12 pm on July 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Gee. This seems like a no-brainer.
1) David Coetzee is in trouble
2) Wikipedia removes the stolen paintings.

done. Now send the lawyers home.

6:12 pm on July 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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The point here is that the paintings themselves were done hundreds of years ago and the copyright has long since expired on them.

The gallery is however claiming they own the copyright of the photographs *of* the paintings that the Wikipedian put on the encyclopedia.

While this is perhaps technically true (anytime you create a photo, even of another person's artwork, you do instantly own the copyright to it, at least in the US), in my opinion it falls under fair use and Wikipedia is justified to use the photos since they have no merit on their own other than duplicating a previously-created work.

Just another instance in which out-dated copyright law trumps common sense in my opinion.

6:19 pm on July 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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seems like a pretty simple case. wikipedia actively stole thousands of high resolution images and did a nice job to circumvent the gallery's system.

there is a definite cost when creating a high resolution image. the gallery paid that cost and also the cost of preserving and long term care of those paintings. it is not cheap to preserve old paintings.

wikipedia also shouldn't try to use the charity defense. their 07/08 financial report is not pretty imho. they spend over $1 million on finance/admin, another $309k on just the office of the executive director and only $269k on actual program activities. that is $269k out of $3.5 million dollars. doesnt seem like a very efficient charity to me.

6:45 pm on July 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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there is a definite cost when creating a high resolution image.

Exactly what I was going to say. Photographing art is pricey, and having to do it 3300 times is a serious amont of cash.
7:03 pm on July 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Heheh, they probably didn't put a link back to the source either.

-

7:40 pm on July 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Wikipedia volunteer Dcoetzee [commons.wikimedia.org] has made public the legal letter received from the solicitors of the NPG.

The case turns on the basis that in the UK the photographs are protected in their own right by copyright law. However, as the document points out, this is not the case in the USA, where a legal precedent was set - Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp - that states specifically that copyright cannot be applied to a photograph of a painting.

The letter additionally states that the dissemination of these images via Wikipedia and under the terms of GNU licensing will mean that a copyright infringement is caused every time anyone downloads them into their browser, hard drive, etc, wherever they may be in the world!

That aside, the NPG falls under the aegis of UK/English Law, whilst the volunteer, and Wikipedia, are protected by US Laws, which don't consider this to be any sort of infringement (although the matter of the circumvention would surely remain).

Syzygy

11:06 pm on July 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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copyright only last 14 years. i'm sure these paintings are old than that.
11:33 pm on July 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Most subjects in photographs are not copyrighted. You take a picture of a mountain. The mountain is not copyrighted. However, the photograph itself is copyrighted, because it is creative work, and I'm sure there was a legal notice on the web site that Dcoetzee ignored.
1:16 am on July 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

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If you have an authoritative site on a subject, odds are your content was taken (I'll avoid stolen, but that's how it feels) by the wikipedia crowd, mangled and then published there with -if you're lucky- a link back, then odds are somebody came along and removed the link cause you had advertising on your site or disliked for some other reason.
If you then complain to them well they hide under all sorts of rocks but don't fix the problem.
Anyway that's my experience with them.

To me wikipedia is nothing but bad news. Good to see it getting some opposition that has the means to fight it.

1:30 am on July 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

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First: INAL

copyright only last 14 years

AFAIK, copyright out here lasts till 75 years after the death of the author, that's a bit longer than 14 years total, even if they made it on the day of their death.

Even in the USA, the copyright has been extended by the "mickey mouse act" (better known as the Sonny Bono Act) to 70 years after the death of the author (if known) or 95 years after publication or 120 years after creation [whichever comes first] (for anonymous, pseudonym and made for hire works)
Source: [copyright.gov...]

That aside, the NPG falls under the aegis of UK/English Law, whilst the volunteer, and Wikipedia, are protected by US Laws

The Berne convention and subsequent treaties sch as the WIPO copyright treaty actually have provisions in them for mutual respect of copyright between the jurisdictions even if there are differences in how local laws act. Hence it's far more complicated than a simple jurisdiction issue.
1:58 am on July 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Taking content without permission cannot be justified by an organization such as Wikipedia. Get permission or delete the content. It's that simple.
4:05 am on July 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

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1) The paintings are well out of copyright.
2) Taking photographs that are exact reproductions is not a creative work, and it is creative works that are supposed to be protected. The example to taking a photograph of a mountain is completely different because it involves artistic judgement (what angle? what exposure? black and white or colour? ...)

The NPG is just trying to use physical possession of a copy to work around the expiry of copyrights (which they did not necessarily hold in the first place). Wikipedia is in the right both legally and morally.

6:12 am on July 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

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This is clearly an abuse of the copyright process by the NPG. It flies in the face of the purpose and spirit of copyright even if it can be defended according to 'the letter of the law'.

Where is the creative step in photographing or scanning a painting? It is a purely technical process, and claiming your copyright on it is like claiming copyright on a book because you rebound it.

7:36 am on July 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Where is the creative step in photographing or scanning a painting?

They did the work, which might have been a huge task, I don't see why someone else can just take it and publish it without their approval. If someone want the pictures of the paintings, they're free to go and photograph them.

That's like people who copy a news article about an event claiming no one has copyright over the event. That's not the point, someone had to compose the whole article, even though "reporting" something isn't "creative".

7:48 am on July 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Accordingly if I make available publicly a recording of a music concert I made is that fair use too?

This is really basic copyright stuff here. The CDPA is pretty clear, and taking photos periodically of artistic works is a clever way to ensure that copyright remains with the gallery.

As for jurisdiction,thank goodness NPA use a UK IP/host. Well done.

2Clean.

8:14 am on July 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

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If somebody photographs the paintings for themselves and uploads them then thats fine.

If somebody copies the photos that the NPG commissions then that is theft.

8:28 am on July 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

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<a bit off topic>

Most galleries do not allow you to take photographs of paintings because:

a) they can get damaged by the light caused by camera flash

b) the galleries like to sell postcards of them in the shop

<back on track>

In this case I believe that Wikipedia is infringing the copyright of the photographs that the National Portrait Gallery owns.

8:42 am on July 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Having thought about this for a while the most important question is:
Would the NPG allow Wikipedia (or another body) access to take their own high resolution copies of the paintings?

If the NPG is unwilling to allow others to make such images, then they are unjustly trying to control access to public domain paintings. The law brings copyright works into the public domain after a certain period of time to the benefit of the public; it is the intention of the law that the public should thereafter have access to the works.

Hoarding public domain assets and refusing others the opportunity to make use of them is morally wrong, even if it is not technically legally wrong. The public has, by definition, a right to that which is in the public domain!

8:44 am on July 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

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The Berne convention and subsequent treaties sch as the WIPO copyright treaty actually have provisions in them for mutual respect of copyright between the jurisdictions even if there are differences in how local laws act. Hence it's far more complicated than a simple jurisdiction issue.

Of course it's more complicated than a jurisdiction issue, although every specialist IP blog I've read suggests that it is a concern. Certainly, it's not seen as being black and white.

Beyond the side issue of jurisdiction there are claims of breach of contract, bypassing of protection measures and infringements of database rights.

Syzygy

10:50 am on July 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

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The art gallery can huff and puff all they like unless...

a) they own the paintings

and

b) they can prove the images on wikipedia are definitively owned by a photographer hired by the gallery.

Though it might suck all around an art gallery is not a private establishment, anyone can walk in and snap pictures.

11:24 am on July 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

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Is that a judgely ruling, JS_Harris? :-)
11:42 am on July 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

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IANAL. But copyright laws are broken if the NPG is not legally protected for its investment digitising this art- whether or not the art is under copyright.

What incentive is there for other art galleries (or other enitities) granting greater public access via the internet if every Thomas, Richard or indeed Harrold can republish in whatever manner they choose.

1:02 pm on July 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

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I really don't know why Wikipedia did not just take the images down immediately. They are really setting a dangerous precedent for themselves.

If any institution or person claims that an image (or copy) belongs to them, it seems to me that Wikipedia should pull it ASAP, no questions asked.

I am now beginning to wonder if my pictures were used that I would have an uphill battle to contend with to get it removed from Wikipedia. It might make me feel a little more aggressive about whether or not to let them use an image of mine.

If they want to remain friendly for and to the people, they should relinquish anything uploaded without question if it is questioned especially if it is not uploaded by the person who took the photo (and I could have sworn they ask you that anyway when you upload a photo)

Legal or no, Wikipedia is suppose to be a place where information is compiled voluntarily, not gained through an self-righteous editor using software to cut through blocks specifically designed to protect photo downloads. If they want to keep that spirit of volunteer community, they should have removed the photos.

1:15 pm on July 22, 2009 (gmt 0)

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If galleries were not able to sell postcards and the like in their shops, they would get rid of one of the few revenue streams that they have available to them. If you take a photo yourself that's fine. If you sneak a photo in a place where photos have been forbidden, that is not fine.

It's also worth bearing in mind that a lot of art is bequeathed, and that means that the art gallery has not only a responsibilty to protect it's assets but also to uphold its position in the light of this generous request by a donator. Otherwise these donations might stop and that would be bad for the public who would no longer be able to enjoy looking at art for free.

I also agre with "hannamyluv" although I've always thought of Wikipedia as a bit of joke really, and G's insistence on using their results a sign of a low editorial standards, and a knee jerk reaction to a broken algo, that can't rank sites that have decent content over some really basic spammy techniques.

:)

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