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Wikipedia's Gallery guy hung up to dry?

Facing up to National Portrait Gallery

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They also assert Coetzee violated their Database rights, reformatting the contents of the NPG's proprietary database for use by Wikimedia. No equivalent of Database Rights exists under US law.

Yesterday, Wikimedia Foundation released a statement of support, "The Wikimedia Foundation has no reason to believe that the user in question has violated any applicable law, and we are exploring ways to support the user in the event that NPG follows up on its original threat. We are open to a compromise around the specific images, but our position on the legal status of these images is unlikely to change."

Ultimately, this case is a conflict between two philosophies. The NPG believes its role is as a custodian of British heritage, and reserves its right to control its artworks. Wikimedia believes it is a custodian of public domain images, even over the objections of institutions that control access.

The NPG is spending £1m of taxpayers' money to digitize these artworks, and says it recouped over £380,000 last year in royalties for the public. But such a monumental investment in digitization would be futile if the Gallery's work instantly escapes its control once it appears on their website. Aggressive prosecution would establish their rights; failure could discourage further digitization.

Wikimedia's argument is that the Gallery, by making the images publicly available, hadn't really made them available:

"The Wikimedia Foundation sympathizes with cultural institutions' desire for revenue streams to help them maintain services for their audiences. And yet, if that revenue stream requires an institution to lock up and severely limit access to its educational materials, rather than allowing the materials to be freely available to everyone, that strikes us as counter to those institutions' educational mission." ®

Charles Eicher is an artist and multimedia producer in the American Midwest. He has a special interest in intellectual property rights in the Arts and Humanities. He writes at the Disinfotainment weblog, and wrote about Copyfraud here for The Register.

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