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New Developments In NPG/Wikipedia Lawsuit Threat 345

Posted by timothy
from the I-see-portraits-of-dead-people dept.
Raul654 writes "Last week, it was reported that the UK's National Portrait Gallery had threatened a lawsuit against an American Wikipedian for uploading pictures from the NPG's website to Wikipedia. The uploaded pictures are clearly in the public domain in the United States. (In the US, copies of public domain works are also in the public domain. UK law on the matter is unclear.) Since then, there have been several developments: EFF staff attorney Fred von Lohmann has taken on the case pro-bono; Eric Moeller, Wikimedia Foundation Deputy Director, has responded to the NPG's allegations in a post on the WMF blog; and the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies has weighed in on the dispute in favor of the NPG."
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New Developments In NPG/Wikipedia Lawsuit Threat

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  • by MadCow42 (243108) on Friday July 17, 2009 @08:11AM (#28727991) Homepage

    I fully agree that the paintings are in the public domain, but it does NOT mean that the digital photos are. If he created his own photos, he could post them. The only question is whether or not a straight copy of a work can be copyrighted on its own... which is why the museum is arguing that artistry went into creating them.

    Having done museum copywork in the past, I can assure you that getting high-quality images of paintings is NOT simple - lighting is critical to capture the texture, color, and avoid reflections and shadows. It's not just point-and-click. I'd side with the museum here, sorry!

    madCow.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by u38cg (607297)
      But this kind of test is stupid. If I grabbed one of these portraits off the wall and threw it in a photocopier, do I get copyright on whatever comes out? I should hope not. Likewise, while it may not be easy to photograph one of these works, you are certainly not adding anything to the actual content of the image; indeed, you are actively trying not to. Technical expertise went into creating them, yes. Artistry, no.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hope Thelps (322083)

        Likewise, while it may not be easy to photograph one of these works, you are certainly not adding anything to the actual content of the image; indeed, you are actively trying not to. Technical expertise went into creating them, yes. Artistry, no.

        That's like claiming that you're not adding anything when photographing a person. Realistically, we know that in either situation the photographer is applying their creative skill and making choices and judgments about what aspects to capture. The photograph will NOT be exactly the same as the original - it's a representation. Capturing the texture and the qualities of the canvas, deciding what lighting to use (and let's face it that affects the colour, the perception of the texture, everything), the angle

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by mdwh2 (535323)

          The originality in taking a photograph of a person (or any scene) are nothing to do with issues such as colour reproduction. You have a whole load of extra issues to do with how the person is posed, the angle, what's in the background. There's also a huge difference in talking about lighting and colour as photographers/artists typically use them, or pedantically pointing out that no reproduction is perfect and there will always be some lighting or false colour effects.

          The issue isn't something as simple as

          • But US courts have already concluded that photographic reproductions of a public domain painting do not count - so tough, it's legal, and not up for debate.

            From TFA: http://www.bjp-online.com/public/showPage.html?page=865802 [bjp-online.com]

            [Wikimedia Commons] regard all images of out of copyright material as public domain, and dispute there is any copyright in a copy of an original work,' [Simon Cliffe, NPG executive director] says. 'This is contrary to UK law. ... The 1988 CDPA recognises this.'

            So according to this guy, US and UK law are in disagreement over this, making this case all the more interesting.

            • by u38cg (607297)
              There has never been an equivalent of the Corel v. Bridgeman case in the UK - so it is a grey area in UK law. That said, apparently the chances are it would go the other way.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by vagabond_gr (762469)

      Quoting from one of TFAs [wikipedia.org] (emphasis mine):

      Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp., 36 F. Supp. 2d 191 (S.D.N.Y. 1999), was a
      decision by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New
      York, which ruled that exact photographic copies of public domain images could
      not be protected by copyright because the copies lack originality. Even if
      accurate reproductions require a great deal of skill, experience and effort, the
      key element for copyrightability under U.S. law is that copyrighted material
      must show sufficient originality.

    • I work as a graphic designer so I am fully aware of the hurdles you needed to overcome in copying the art. That said, there is no "artistry" in it. It is a mechanical process. You were not _creative_. Your work was, if anything, mechanical in nature. It should _NOT_ be covered by copyright. And, remember, I am a graphic designer (who has also worked as a writer and editor at various stages of my career) so copyrights are a big part of my livelihood. Mechanical reproduction, while important and valuable, is
    • by jonbryce (703250)

      English law sides with you, and the gallery, American law sides with Wikipedia.

    • by langelgjm (860756)

      Having done museum copywork in the past, I can assure you that getting high-quality images of paintings is NOT simple - lighting is critical to capture the texture, color, and avoid reflections and shadows. It's not just point-and-click. I'd side with the museum here, sorry!

      The WP entry for the case linked in the summary states that "Even if accurate reproductions require a great deal of skill, experience and effort, the key element for copyrightability under U.S. law is that copyrighted material must show sufficient originality." We did not cover this case in my IP law class, so I won't vouch for the accuracy of the WP article; however, I will note that it's an interesting exception to general copyright rules.

      The watershed case for copyrightability of photographs was Burrow-G [wikipedia.org]

    • by patch0 (1339585) on Friday July 17, 2009 @08:42AM (#28728223) Homepage
      It kind of worries me that he hacked in and took the hi-res images. We run a gallery of biological images and it costs us a lot of money and effort to digitise our 80-100 year old collections in order to make them useful to the public and scientific community. We do want our images in the public domain and we do want them used, but we need to have the cash to keep doing this work as a small charity so clearly there needs to be some balance. If someone hacked in and took our hi-res images it might jeopardize our ability to add other images on our already shoe-string budget. If he gets away with that I'd be quite upset to be honest...
      • by reebmmm (939463)

        No hacking involved. Visit website; save image.

        Your efforts to digitize collections of public domain will not give you some special IP protection, at least in the US. You may be able to impose a contract obligation not to reproduce the work, but then the only remedy is breach of contract. And I'll wager your damages for breach of contract would be diminishingly small since you're allowing people to use them for other purposes. So if someone wanted to copy all your images and throw them up on wikipedia o

      • "Hacked" is rather misleading.

        The NPG made high res images viewable online as a series of tiles, i.e. you might deliver the full image as twenty smaller images each showing a portion of the total.

        His "hack" was to download each of these tiles individually and reassemble them into a coherent whole.

        Nothing was done to gain unauthorize access or compromise their systems in any way.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Qubit (100461)

        it costs us a lot of money and effort to digitise our 80-100 year old collections

        Sure. Digitizing a bunch of stuff can cost a certain chunk of change.

        We do want our images in the public domain and we do want them used, but we need to have the cash to keep doing this work as a small charity

        There's an initial cost of digitizing all of the materials, and then an additional (but much smaller) cost of keeping the website serving them up and running.

        it might jeopardize our ability to add other images on our already shoe-string budget.

        How many new images will you add a year? Will all of the new ones be taken with a digital camera?

        Doing initial setup and digitizing the huge historical log of data can be an overwhelming task, I agree. But as you state yourself, you've got a valuable resource that makes sense to put i

      • by Venik (915777) on Friday July 17, 2009 @12:32PM (#28731337)
        It's a bit unclear if he really "hacked" anything. The lawyers allege he "circumvented the technical measures", aka the "Zoomify" applet. However, "Zoomify" is intended to make it easier to view hi-res photos - not to prevent you from viewing them. From their site: "Zoomify makes high-quality images zoom-and-pan for fast, interactive viewing on the web". This application was not designed to protect copyright work: a fact to which its creators, no doubt, will readily attest.
    • by c (8461)

      > Having done museum copywork in the past, I can assure you that getting
      > high-quality images of paintings is NOT simple - lighting is critical to
      > capture the texture, color, and avoid reflections and shadows. It's not
      > just point-and-click.

      Is it a creative transformation or is it a technical process? Copyright is about protecting creative works, and while there's some argument that there could be some element of creativity involved, the question w

    • by Adelbert (873575)

      Hypothetical question:

      Supposing there are a series of photographs of portraits that are in the public domain, but the images all have the frames in shot.

      I don't think the frame should be in shot, so I write a bash script to remove the frames in bulk. Not only has a great deal of technical sophistry gone into this (I'd be surprised if 2% of the general population were capable of doing that), but the resulting .jpegs are set up in a way that I have dictated, based on my personal artistic preferences.

      Are these

      • Whilst I don't know enough copyright law to know if the NPG is in the right or not, as a UK taxpayer I'm firmly against this legal action. Our culture is enriched by these images; let them be free!

        Exactly. This is one case where I feel that both parties are in the wrong. Wikipedia should not be taking these images without permission - even if it's legally acceptable in the USA it is impolite to just grab a few thousand images from a site and reproduce them without asking permission. Similarly the NPG should be making the entire set available for download, and making these downloads as easy as possible; not doing so is counter to their mandate from the taxpayer.

        The resolution I would like to see

      • by reebmmm (939463)

        Same analysis under US law. If the original works are in the public domain (e.g., photographs of public domain works) then the result of your cropping would be as well. The modicum of creativity introduced by removing the frame* does not create a copyrightable work. If anything, removing the frame reduces the image to that of the public domain work. Slavish copying of public domain works and sweat of brow do not give rise to copyright rights in the United States.

        * As an aside, simply changing the FRAME

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mcgrew (92797)

      Did you even read the summary? Under US law, copies of public domain works are in the public domain. PERIOD.

      Having done museum copywork in the past, I can assure you that getting high-quality images of paintings is NOT simple - lighting is critical to capture the texture, color, and avoid reflections and shadows. It's not just point-and-click.

      The ease or difficulty, and quality of the copy, is irrelevant. They're copies of public domain works and can not be copyrighted.

    • by Danathar (267989)

      Hmmm...are those the only photographs available? (the ones made by the museum?) Can somebody walk in and take photographs? (or is that prohibited?).

      Surely somebody or some institution OTHER than them have taken photos of these paintings? If the U.S. Gov has (Smithsonian?) then the wikimedia could use those right?

    • by Rich0 (548339)

      Yeah - and if I gave you a CD-ROM containing the complete (public domain) works of shakespere and asked you to copy it, you'd need a sophisticated array of lasers, servos, A/D converters, high speed data transmission busses, tons of logic/control circuitry, and probably a general purpose CPU to do it. Let's not even get into what it takes to make the blank CD-Rs. So, clearly making a copy of a CD is a highly sophisticated process requiring a great deal of care to end up with an accurate reproduction. Nev

    • Aha, having finally found somebody who has actually worked on this stuff, I have a question...

      Last time this came up on Wikipedia people seemed to doubt that there was *creativity* as opposed to just skill and time involved in producing an accurate reproduction of a painting, given its 2D. My belief was that, since a painting is actually *not* just a photograph and *is* somewhat 3D due to texture of paints (particularly oil paints) that some subjective and creative work would be required. How much of this

    • by b4upoo (166390)

      How reasonable is it to have tax payer money supporting court systems to hear such cases over and over again? The sad fact is that allowing copyright cases opens the door to thousands upon thousands of continuing copyright suits, It is exactly like porn law. Each year vast sums are spent with law enforcement and the courts chewing over whether a work is illegal or not. Each complaint generates a new public expense. The real answer is to forbid such cases from law completely. Give the tax payers a

  • Globalisation (Score:4, Interesting)

    by paulhar (652995) on Friday July 17, 2009 @08:14AM (#28728005)

    Welcome to globalisation. Laws in the US aren't the same as the ones in the UK. In the UK we don't have fair use laws.
    I'm wondering why this is different to the music mess caused by allofmp3; everyone was so upset that the Russians system was different and against "our" laws.

    One of a couple of things is going to happen as we continue the Digital Revolution. Either we're going to need a global legal system since all this internet stuff is global, or we're going to have to shut down the internet and make it the "countrynet" so that everything you do is contained in the same legal framework.

    Or, head, sand, bury.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by u38cg (607297)
      Facts, they are relevant to your arguments. [copyrightservice.co.uk]
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by paulhar (652995)

        To reword: our fair use law is very restrictive and doesn't allow for commonly considered fair use cases, such as the right to transfer songs to your ipod from CD. The "fair use" laws we have in the UK are designed for the press and for educational use, not the common people.

      • by ray-auch (454705)

        Facts are good, but they need reading. The page you linked to is a general commentary on copyright law, and specifically states:

        "The actual specifics of what is acceptable will be governed by national laws"

        The page you want for uk law is: http://www.copyrightservice.co.uk/copyright/p01_uk_copyright_law [copyrightservice.co.uk]

        It explicitly covers the uk law "fair dealing" provisions, which is NOT the same as "fair use". Stating that the UK does not have fair use (in comparison with the US) is technically cor

  • by just_another_sean (919159) on Friday July 17, 2009 @08:18AM (#28728035) Homepage Journal

    the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies has weighed in on the dispute in favor of the NPG.

    There's a shocker. These people are just as bad as the *AA here in the U.S. Their about us [bapla.org.uk] page just screams "we make money of every dirty copyright trick we can think of and pretend to do it for you, the artist, the photographer, the little guy". It's all such a sham.

    Check out their site, I was going to quote some of it but you can't even right click the page without their stupid JavaScript alerting you that their site is their content, blah, blah. Hello, 1996 called they want their cheap tricks back. Obviously this stuff is easy to defeat but it's still ridiculous that they even do it at all.

    I hope this suit goes all the way to the new Supreme Court [judiciary.gov.uk] England is setting up and that these idiots get a total smackdown. Hey, a guy can dream a little right?

    • by u38cg (607297)
      This Supreme Court is just handwaving - it doesn't change very much. As the last court of appeal in the UK, the Law Lords that sit in the Lords were effectively independent anyway. This is just giving them a new home and constitutional separation from the legislature (not that the Lords do much legislating anyway).
  • by waderoush (1271548) on Friday July 17, 2009 @08:19AM (#28728041) Homepage
    Defenders of the Wikimedia Foundation say the images are in the public domain (even though they aren't under UK law) and applaud Coetzee as if he were some kind of Robin Hood. Unfortunately, it's a case of the poor stealing from the poor. If all museum images were simply appropriated by file-sharers under the rationale that they *should* be in the public domain, pretty soon there wouldn't be any museum willing to pay for the digitization of important works, and we'd all be worse off. See the rest of my argument here: http://www.xconomy.com/national/2009/07/17/art-isnt-free-the-tragedy-of-the-wikimedia-commons/ [xconomy.com]
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by abigsmurf (919188)
      And damn those evil public galleries that in Wikipedia's words "restrict access" by putting them in galleries that have free entry and free guided tours!
      • by Fittysix (191672) on Friday July 17, 2009 @08:47AM (#28728273)

        That depends on the reader being at or near the geographical location of the painting. When reading an article about the Mona Lisa on Wikipedia, I expect to see a photo of the article in question for purpose of discussion, not "to see this painting, please visit the Louvre in France"
        I'd simply go elsewhere to find a picture.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by owlnation (858981)

        And damn those evil public galleries that in Wikipedia's words "restrict access" by putting them in galleries that have free entry and free guided tours!

        Exactly. And that is the real crux of this. While copyright is most often a tool for greed. In this particular case it really isn't. The choice is: allow these pictures to be free copied and distributed ad high quality and not be able to raise revenue to allow FREE access to the gallery. Or, allow the status quo to continue and provide an excellent free s

        • by thejynxed (831517) on Friday July 17, 2009 @09:55AM (#28729121) Homepage

          No, the better solution is for both groups to compromise. NPG already offered lower-res versions of the same photographs for Wikipedia to use free of charge. I think to retain good-will for all, and not appear to be selfish asstards, Wikipedia should take them up on the offer. The representatives on all sides could then present this as a workable solution to similar future situations without involving courts and lawyers. Everybody wins, including the public.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Yogiz (1123127)

            I don't agree. The paintings are in the public domain. We have the technology to digitalize them. Why can't everybody enjoy good quality copies of something that is part of our culture. Why should a museum be granted monopoly? Because they want so?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nyctopterus (717502)

      The situation is problematic, I agree. However, I think museums need something of a shakeup on this issue. Natural history museums, in particular, need to make photographs of specimens much more easily available for research. Most of these museums have government funding streams, and should see the digital dissemination of their collections as part of their mission, not merely as revenue. Their collections are all to often jealously guarded, which is what making them public institutions is supposed to avoid

      • by Xest (935314) on Friday July 17, 2009 @08:54AM (#28728331)

        Just to add some perspective to your comment though, because it doesn't tell the full story, the reason most museums don't do this is because whilst yes, they receive public funding, they also make a small fortune from gift shop sales from visitors or for charging for special exhibitions.

        Their argument is that government funding alone does not provide them enough to run top end museums.

        I don't know the first thing about their finances, I haven't look into it, but they do have reasonable arguments against doing what you say. Whether their arguments are valid, and whether the reason they need this extra cash is because they're not efficient enough with what they are given I do not know. Certainly in the UK though, most museums I've been too seem to be some of the most well run of all public institutions compared to the jokes that are places like local government and such.

        I agree it'd be nice if you could see more on their websites, if more of the information they have was available free digitally, but the truth is we do not know if this is financially viable or not. If they lose visitors in doing it such that they ultimately lose income and can't afford to provide great exhibits in the first place then the idea you suggest is pointless. If however they can do it without detriment then as you say, they should.

        • It's not just a matter of putting stuff on their websites. If you go to the NHM Libary, they make you sign a form giving them copyright on your own photographs of public domain material. This is a serious problem.

          Further to this, the gift-shops are hardly packed to the brim with high-resolution photos of, say, sauropod vertebra or pterosaur specimens. Nor do they, last time I looked, even sell technical volumes where you might find this stuff. Making high-resolution photos of these specimens available would

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Bent Mind (853241)

          If they lose visitors in doing it such that they ultimately lose income and can't afford to provide great exhibits in the first place then the idea you suggest is pointless. If however they can do it without detriment then as you say, they should.

          Maybe I'm unique. However, I'd never consider a virtual tour as a replacement for the real experience. Having digital images available would only encourage me to visit.

          I a see reply below your post:

          It's not just a matter of putting stuff on their websites. If you go to the NHM Libary, they make you sign a form giving them copyright on your own photographs of public domain material. This is a serious problem.

          Some time ago, I had the opportunity to visit BodyWorks. It is a traveling exhibit concerning anatomy. I was very disappointed that photography was not allowed. It made me wonder if they were trying to conceal the low quality of the exhibit at first. Going through the exhibit was rushed. It was a hot environment

    • by delt0r (999393) on Friday July 17, 2009 @09:12AM (#28728555)
      Museums do not and should not need to turn a profit. Hell in the UK they are all free (at least last time i was there). There purpose is preservation of important cultural and historic items. They get money from tax payers to do this... Digitization is part of their job. Not some new way to create a new revenue stream.
    • But Wikimedia's position is equally valid. The images are public domain (in the US) and they are trying to distribute them as widely as possible.

      So, unless you're suggesting the US change its law to accommodate to UK, your counterargument amounts to "Wikimedia should just be nice and back off so that the museums can keep this revenue stream, which supports their useful work." But this argument has many problems: (1) If it's just based on "being nice", even if Wikimedia backs off, someone else can just (l
    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      Hold up there! Most museums and libraries are non-profits that do this sort of stuff as a public service and WANT the general public to have as much access as possible to their material (that's what Wikipedia is talking about when they mention partnering with other museums and libraries). They make their money through donations, admissions, and selling physical goods in the museum gift shop.

      The NPG is acting here more like a for-profit company. They're basically holding these original works hostage (witho

    • Wikimedia foundation had an income of $7.75 Million last year and retained earning of $8m from previous years. The NPG had an income of £2.24 Million last year. So relatively speaking Wikimedia foundation is the rich one stealing from the poor one.

    • Utter nonsense. As a UK taxpayer, I already paid for the NPG to digitize these pictures.

      Rich.

    • The real problem is the restrictions on photography that are placed by these museums to protect the value of their own digitized images and book sales. There is no need to pay people to come and digitize their gallery. They have to pay people so that they can control the output. I am sure that there are enough volunteers that would be willing to go and digitize the works on display at the galleries and submit them to wikipedia if the galleries/museums didn't prohibit that.
  • by abigsmurf (919188)
    UK law is very clear, photographs, even if they're of a subject matter that is public domain, are subject to their own copyright as an original work.
    • Thanks for clearing that up. Unfortunately, you forgot to cite to the law which supports your assertion. I'm sure you'll get right on that. Thanks again.

      • by abigsmurf (919188)
        Photos are granted copyright by default. There has to be an explicit reason for copyright of those photos to be taken away (such as not having permission to copyrighted/trademarked items in the photo) otherwise it expires 70 years after publication or creator's death. As there is no such exception under British law, the copyright is the same as with any other photo.

        http://www.ipo.gov.uk/cdpact1988.pdf [ipo.gov.uk]
    • by Xest (935314)

      There seems to be conflicting information on what's going on.

      It sounds like the guy didn't take any photos himself but simply copied photos taken by a professional photographer for the NPG off of the NPG site.

      Judging by the original solicitors letter etc. he has simply copied all the images from the NPG site and posted them to Wikipedia.

  • Even though I can see where the problem is since UK law is unclear in this matter, it is still a photo of a painting and will never compare to the real thing.

    I've seen loads of photos of the Mona Lisa, but does that mean if I was in the Louvre* would I not go and see it? Of course I would, because I'd want to see the genuine article.

    *It's in the Louvre isn't it?

  • The BAPLA response (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mdwh2 (535323)

    First off, I can't even copy some quotes from the article at http://www.bjp-online.com/public/showPage.html?page=865802 [bjp-online.com], because they've done that stupid hijacking of my browser (I know, I'm using IE - I'm at work), and they claim "copyright" over it (despite the fact that their article quotes over people...) Nevermind, View Source to the rescue.

    Simon Cliffe of BAPLA says "We understand that other people who have had similar experiences with Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons have been told that they regard al

  • by martijnd (148684) on Friday July 17, 2009 @08:40AM (#28728209)

    Musuems have collected and preserved much of the worlds cultural heritage. But at the same time they severely limit the publics enjoyment of the art and artifacts they seek to preserve.

    I enjoy visiting a museum on occasion, but entry prices are usually extremely high and in the time that I have available I can usually only browse the highlights (from a respectul distance that hurts my eyes and blurs any details). Quick browses of paintings that their authors have spend weeks, or months on. You can ofen buy (expensive) books with again the same highlights of the collection, but not on a 1:1 scale.

    High res scans would make all of this available to a much wider audience; worldwide, 24-7. Let them store that fragile 400+ year old painting in a secure bunker. Its the painting I am interested in, not the canvas.

    Of course this would also make the museum obsolete; and kill off some major tourist attractions -- so expect some resistance from the old guard.

    • by Bashae (1250564)

      Looking at an original painting is completely different from looking at a print or digital copy on a screen...

      As for the entrance prices, they are often necessary to pay for the maintenance and restoration of existing and new exhibits.

      That said, not being british or american, I completely side with US law on this one. A photo of a painting is a copy, no matter how you look at it, and shouldn't be subject to copyright.

    • by notseamus (1295248) on Friday July 17, 2009 @09:01AM (#28728429)

      http://www.spanisharts.com/prado/prado.htm [spanisharts.com]

      http://www.google.com/intl/en/landing/prado/ [google.com]

      El Prado, Spain's biggest museum offers high resolution reproductions of its collection through google earth, and probably elsewhere too. They're such high quality you can get down to brush strokes.

      Although IMO, there's something about seeing the painting/art work in person that can't be replaced by viewing it on a monitor. Something is lost if you see it on screen, especially if the space that you visit it in is repurposed or designed for the piece in question. This especially applies to sculpture.

    • NPG = Free Entry (Score:5, Interesting)

      by RotateLeftByte (797477) on Friday July 17, 2009 @09:02AM (#28728435)

      The National Portrait Gallery in London (Where the original pictures reside) DOES NOT CHARGE for entrance. I have spent many a wet lunch hour wandering around the Gallery enjoying the artwork.

      I sells high quality prints of the Artwork. This is a way of raising funds for the upkeep and towards the purchase of new work.
      As an Amateur photographer who has had their work pirated by someone from the USA and realises the futility of trying to stop them from claiming it as their own, I'm with the NPG on this one. Btw, I would have given the pirate a high quality copy of the picture if they had asked for it and agreed that the copyright was mine. Instead, he stole it.

      • The NPG gets free entry out of taxes. It was a Labour manifesto commitment [bbc.co.uk].

        As a UK taxpayer, I already paid for the NPG free entry and for them to digitize these paintings. Levying a secret tax (ie. copyright) is not the way to get the NPG out of financial staits - if they need more money, get it through the usual bargaining with the Treasury, government and the people.

        Rich.

      • by srealm (157581) <prez&goth,net> on Friday July 17, 2009 @11:01AM (#28730045) Homepage

        There is a difference. Your photograph was still within it's copyright period.

        Copyright extends to 70 years past the author's death (in the UK). Since you are still alive, any photograph you take is obviously still within it's copyright - with one caveat.

        The caveat is exactly what is at issue. You cannot claim copyright on a direct copy of someone else's work. You CAN claim copyright on a DERIVATIVE work. So the question here is was the photograph of the painting a derivative work?

        The goal of the photograph was to reproduce the painting in digital form exactly as it was meant to be viewed in the gallery. No changes were made, and the painting was not used as the basis for a new work (even a person standing next to it within the shot is a 'derivative' work). Which would mean the photographs in question were NOT derivative works, but merely digital copies of the original, and not copyrightable in and of themselves (they would piggy back on the original copyright).

        Which means any digital image of a painting that is in the public domain, is also public domain - as it is not a derivative artwork. And you cannot steal something that is public domain.

        In your case, yes, someone stole your art work, because it IS within it's copyright. And regardless of whether they stole a print, the digital image, or any other faithful reproduction of your photograph, it would still be counted as illegally copying of your work. But 70 years after you die, anyone and their dog can take your image with impunity. They can even take the image of someone else's photograph of your image on a screen (as long as it's not altered in any way).

        So as someone else said, yes, it might take a lot of technical expertise to faithfully capture these images to do them justice, but that does not suddenly give the person taking them copyright on what is, essentially, a faithful reproduction of the original artwork not a derivative.

        By way of example, how about we take the works of Shakespear. Originally released in manuscript form. Someone took that manuscript and typed it into computer text files. Does that mean that person now has copyright on the resulting text file? It certainly took a lot of effort to transcribe the text - but it doesn't matter. Just because it took a lot of effort to do something (it takes a lot of effort to paint a forgery, too) does not infer copyright - if the text is identical to the original shakespear, then it is just a faithful reproduction on another medium and still int he public domain.

    • by delt0r (999393)
      In the UK they are free. In France the Louvre was something like 5EU and others were at similar prices. Here in Vienna many places are free while most are cheaper than a movie ticket. And no digital copy's will not affect museum patronage any more that photos of mountains stop people climbing them.

      The Mona Lisa [blogspot.com] is available online, yet guess what the busiest room in the Louvre is?
  • and i will type in paypal description 'for NPG case'. hehee. dont make fun of me, i do that all the time. my donations may be small, but at least it can pay some snacks for one of the staff. everything counts.

  • Difficult Case (Score:3, Interesting)

    by squoozer (730327) on Friday July 17, 2009 @09:09AM (#28728507)

    I'm seriously torn here about whether I support the museum or the little guy. I don't think anyone would argue that the original pictures are in the public domain but that isn't what is being shown on Wikipedia, what is getting shown there is a photograph of a public domain work. I think it's fair to argue that a non-trivial amount of work went into taking these photographs and therefore they fall under copyright legislation. If you think it was a trivial amount of work ask yourself how long it took a professional photographer to capture all these shots - I'll bet it ran to at least several weeks of work and probably more (at 20 paintings a day it would be 30 weeks work and I doubt they could do twenty a day).

    On the other hand this museum is paid for by the people and presumably the payment to have the photographs taken was also public money. I would say, therefore, that there is a strong argument that these photographs should be in the public domain (at least for residents of the UK). Strengthening the freedom argument, to my mind, is the fact that the museum doesn't allow people to take their own photographs in effect causing a monopoly situation on public works.

  • by haggisbrain (945030) on Friday July 17, 2009 @09:59AM (#28729165)
    Thank you for taking the time to contact the National Portrait Gallery. Please see below the Gallery's position statement: The National Portrait Gallery is very strongly committed to giving access to its Collection. In the past five years the Gallery has spent around £1 million digitising its Collection to make it widely available for study and enjoyment. We have so far made available on our website more than 60,000 digital images, which have attracted millions of users, and we believe this extensive programme is of great public benefit. The Gallery supports Wikipedia in its aim of making knowledge widely available and we would be happy for the site to use our low-resolution images, sufficient for most forms of public access, subject to safeguards. However, in March 2009 over 3000 high-resolution files were appropriated from the National Portrait Gallery website and published on Wikipedia without permission. The Gallery is very concerned that potential loss of licensing income from the high-resolution files threatens its ability to reinvest in its digitisation programme and so make further images available. It is one of the Gallery's primary purposes to make as much of the Collection available as possible for the public to view. Digitisation involves huge costs including research, cataloguing, conservation and highly-skilled photography. Images then need to be made available on the Gallery website as part of a structured and authoritative database. To date, Wikipedia has not responded to our requests to discuss the issue and so the National Portrait Gallery has been obliged to issue a lawyer's letter. The Gallery remains willing to enter into a dialogue with Wikipedia. This statement will be published on the National Portrait Gallery's website in due course. Once again, thank you for your feedback. I do hope that you will be able to visit the National Portrait Gallery both online (www.npg.org.uk - where visitors can freely view more than 60,000 low resolution digital images of works in the Collection) and in person in the near future. Yours sincerely, Helen
  • by benwiggy (1262536) on Friday July 17, 2009 @10:02AM (#28729211)
    If US law is so clear (that copies of public domain works are themselves public domain), then can anyone explain to me why Getty Images charges me full whack for pictures of works of art from days gone by; and gives me chapter and verse about what I can do with the images?

    Anyone care to try posting some images from Getty on Wiki....?

    http://www.gettyimages.com/Corporate/LicenseInfo.aspx [gettyimages.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by _Sprocket_ (42527)

      Probably for the same reason I can go to Amazon and buy a copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

  • Oh dear, another confusing international internet legal kerfuffle. I'm not really clear what jurisdiction the British courts are going to have over this guy.

    I'm moderately sympathetic to the NPG in this case - although, as noted, they are government-funded, it is UK taxes that fund it. They're *also* funded by licensing these photographs, AFAIK and by other donations, grants, etc. Given that, I can understand why they want to keep a revenue stream and also why they don't feel the need to provide images f

  • Low tech solution? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ingsocsoc (807544) on Friday July 17, 2009 @10:19AM (#28729459)
    What I don't get is why people haven't started sneaking in cameras and taking the pictures themselves. The rentacops there can't make you delete the photos, and I'm sure that legally they can only ask you to leave. I think you could take lots of photos before they even noticed. After a while I'm sure we'd get all 3000 images!

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