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National Portrait Gallery bitchslaps Wikipedia

Hands off our photos!

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Wikipedia has been dinged for violating 3,000 copyrights belonging to the National Portrait Gallery.

User DCoetzee uploaded the images here to the Wikimedia Commons site. The Gallery says it contacted the Wikimedia Foundation back in April, without success, so is now suing the uploader personally. He received the notification on Friday and posted it here, and alerted El Reg to it following our Copyfraud article.

It's not Copyfraud, however, which is defined as the false assertion of copyright over public domain material. While the portraits are long out of copyright, the photographs aren't, and the gallery owns these rights.

In a page on its website that explains its copyright policy, the NPG says it has "a public duty not only to conserve and display works in its Collection but also to ensure they are correctly represented in reproductions and publications".

Copyright expert Struan Robertson of law firm Pinsett Masons told us it was a straightforward breach of copyright, but the US location of the infringer added a wrinkle. "The copyright owner has to enforce the order in the US. It's possible to do, but it can be quite expensive," he said.

As Charles Eicher, author of our recent Copyfraud piece, explained here (see How To Copyright Michelangelo), the US legal situation is unusual, in that since 1999, a photograph of an artwork cannot be copyrighted. Many US galleries and museums had already handed over exploitation rights, many of which can only be sourced to Corbis - Bill Gates' other monopoly.

The Gallery says the infringement is enflamed by Wikipedia's use of a permissive licence.

"By posting the images to the Wikipedia website you are expressly authorising users to themselves make further copies of those images on their own screens and hard drives in the manner permitted by the GNU Free Documentation License. Therefore, by authorising that use you are also primarily liable under 16(2) of the CDPA for every subsequent copyright infringement committed by every member of the public that re-uses those images anywhere in the world," wrote the Gallery's lawyers, Farrer & Co.

Ironically, the first DMCA takedown we ever received at El Reg (after the act had been operating for eight years) was from... a Wikipedian. ®

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