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German Gov't Donates 100,000 Images To Wikipedia 113

Raul654 writes "The German Federal Archive has agreed to donate 100,000 images to Wikipedia under the German version of the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License. These pictures cover a period from 1860 to present. This is the largest picture donation ever to Wikipedia, and possibly the largest in the history of the free culture movement." Apparently, this is part of a project which will eventually make 11 million photos available for public use.
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German Gov't Donates 100,000 Images To Wikipedia

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  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday December 06, 2008 @01:33PM (#26013909) Journal
    You would think that Governments--who exist to serve the people--would constantly look for avenues of already successful community sites as venues for returning information to the public. With privacy & security in mind, I wish that more governments would release this sort of stuff under a creative commons ... even if citizens of the world then have access to it, I don't think the taxpayers would mind. Wikipedia & other Wikimedia sites have shown to be very successful non-profit sites that are community owned and driven. Can anyone think of a good reason why we shouldn't extend the Freedom of Information Act a little further with recent advancements in communications and technology?
    • by TorKlingberg ( 599697 ) on Saturday December 06, 2008 @01:49PM (#26014011)
      To be fair, the US government rule that works by government employees are not copyrighted has provided for a lot of free images used on Wikipedia. European governments, for example, are much more restrictive about copyrights.
      • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot.hackish@org> on Saturday December 06, 2008 @02:06PM (#26014115)

        I can't say if it was a decisive factor in this particular image donation, but that's one of the arguments free-content proponents have been using to try to get other governments to open up at least some portion of their images: pointing out that since there is this large public-domain repository of US government images, if they want to promote their history and culture on par with that of the US, they need to provide us with a similarly high-quality, free-licensed collection of images.

        Otherwise a large portion of generic examples are going to be US-based ones, simply because they gave us the images whereas other countries didn't.

        Sometimes it leads to almost comical results, where dozens of other countries' leaders, ministers, and other figures are illustrated on Wikipedia by a photograph of them shaking hands with Reagan or Carter or Kissinger or whoever, because that US-visit photograph was freely released by the US State Department, while their photographs from back home are under a more restrictive copyright.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by geniice ( 1336589 )
        Yes and no. A lot go for the equivalent of a no commercial use license. In other cases there is significant amounts of PD material around (crown copyright expired for example) but no one is prepared to pay the cost of digitalising.
      • To be fair, the US government rule that works by government employees are not copyrighted has provided for a lot of free images used on Wikipedia. European governments, for example, are much more restrictive about copyrights.

        Actually, that's just because Europeans are better photographers.

      • Am I the only who thinks that 100,000 is not that much to be considered the largest donation. My mom has easily seven times that amount of pictures on her personal computer.

        If it's a question of quality, sure, I get that, I'm sure Wikipedia is appreciative of not having to wade through millions of images to select the better ones. But personally, I would love to have as many pictures released under the Creative Commons as possible, even if they're not all that well taken, or even if they're partially damag

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Thaelon ( 250687 )

      But doing that wouldn't give the people in power any additional power!

      Remember, governments only ever grow.

    • by plasticsquirrel ( 637166 ) on Saturday December 06, 2008 @03:28PM (#26014567)

      You would think that Governments--who exist to serve the people...

      I think this is where it starts going wrong. Government institutions are basically working in their own self interest, and the only thing that makes government in check is the pressure put on it by people.

      When legislators are looking over bills, in the back of their minds, there is the question, "Will this help me get elected again?" If it doesn't give them money or support, it's a bad move for them politically. How can any good government exist in such a system, except through constant pressure from voters?

      • by DrSkwid ( 118965 )

        Won't more electoral pressure increase the pressure of the question "Will this help me get elected again?".

        Under your scenario increased electoral pressure would decrease the quality of govt. service.

    • Since you refer to "Freedom of Information Act" I'm assuming you're speaking in an American context.

      We already do this. Look here:
      United States Library of Congress []
      The National Archives []

      Perhaps I'm not giving enough credit to Wikipedia/Wikimedia, but I haven't heard much about involvment by professional preservationists who know how to catalog and preserve the stuff, even in a digital context. I speak of the hardcore phd librarian and historian/librarian hybrid types who know how to do this stuff.

    • by mrmeval ( 662166 )

      We have local governments copyrighting LAWS and REGULATIONS in the US

  • Nice (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Midnight Thunder ( 17205 ) on Saturday December 06, 2008 @01:38PM (#26013939) Homepage Journal

    With all the stories over various entities trying to screw everyone over fair-use, such as the one over a state claiming copyright [] over their written laws,, this is a nice change. What I like about creative commons is that it is one way for a content holder to hold on to their 'rights', yet allow the material to be used by the general public. This saves our culture being lost in the cellars of town hall or of those of some other 'IP owner'.

  • Is there any way to get direct access to these images without going through the Wikimedia webpage, i.e. a torrent containing them all or so?

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Is there any way to get direct access to these images without going through the Wikimedia webpage, i.e. a torrent containing them all or so?

      Right here [].

  • by Raul654 ( 453029 ) on Saturday December 06, 2008 @02:00PM (#26014065) Homepage

    For any German speakers out there: Most (all?) of these pictures lack English captions. I'm sure the people on Commons could use all the assistance they can get translating the German captions (especially into English). You can register an account on Commons [] and help.

    Also, props go to Wikimedia Deutchland [], which arranged this donation.

    • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot.hackish@org> on Saturday December 06, 2008 @02:18PM (#26014175)

      Some of the captions are in need of being rewritten into a reasonable form even in German, especially older ones that are either out of date or hilariously biased. The worst are probably those that were apparently entered during World War II and never updated.

      For example, this one [] (which has in fact been updated), originally came with a caption that reads roughly:

      Poland, Jew ordered to perform hard labor

      For the first time they can make themselves useful. These Polish Kaftan-Jews (?), whose activity so far has only consisted of working against the volk-conscious German nation in the most detestable and conniving manner, receive the opportunity on the eastern front to make themselves really useful for the first time in their lives. Here they can be seen ready to embark on their work orders.

      • by LandDolphin ( 1202876 ) on Saturday December 06, 2008 @02:27PM (#26014233)
        rewriting is fine, as long as you save the original too. The propaganda that was written on there is a much a part of history as the picture itself.
        • by matt4077 ( 581118 ) on Saturday December 06, 2008 @02:40PM (#26014321) Homepage

          There is a disclaimer to that effect. Add a better (correct) description, but leave the original unchanged for documentary purposes.

          It's quite a task to translate these descriptions. Those that I looked at all contained words or even concepts that people don't even know anymore ("Institute for Race Hygiene and Crime", wtf?)

          • by ljw1004 ( 764174 ) on Saturday December 06, 2008 @05:07PM (#26015131)

            "Institute for Race Hygiene and Crime".

            It was sort of cross between the DHS and the guantanamo "Combatant Status Review Tribunal".

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              Tss. You know, the thing people have about Godwining threads is that comparing Nazi institutions to modern ones trivialises a system that caused a world war and directly killed 6 million Jews, 250,000 Romany people, thousands of homosexuals, mental patients, mentally handicapped persons and opposition figures. While certain innovations of the Bush administration make its propaganda abroad about human rights and freedom look silly (various dictators have taken to quoting Bush phrases when justifying atrociti

              • by ljw1004 ( 764174 )

                I think your comparisons miss the point. Hitler didn't come to power in a revolution that set out to overturn the old order, like Cambodia or Mao's Great Leap Forward. He didn't come to power in a genocidal massacre like Darfur, or a genocidal land-grab like Bosnia.

                No, he came to power through normal democratic platforms on normal democratic grounds by claiming that the alternative politicans were ineffective, and the existing institutions (like the weimer government) weren't protecting the german people.


                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by Derleth ( 197102 )

                  Hitler came to power because he had a street gang, called the Brownshirts, ensuring he would. The existing Weimar government was “blind in the right eye”, meaning it came down hard on left-wing gangs but ignored right-wing gangs like the Brownshirts. Hitler’s rise to power came because the existing German government was broken and allowed intimidation to beat (literally) democracy.

                  But this information will never make much of an impression on people because people need A Moral Lesson. The M

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by jalet ( 36114 )

        Isn't changing the original caption a form of "politically correct" motivated revisionism of history ?

        If the caption is part of the picture, I can't see why anyone would want to modify it, unless this person wants to hide something.

        Translating them is another matter, but real translations should be done, not edulcorated ones.

        • I agree the original caption should be retained for historical purposes, but Wikimedia Commons images also have captions, which are intended to be neutral and descriptive. So one of those should be written as well, if the original caption doesn't fit those criteria.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by spazdor ( 902907 )

          I know when I read a modern encyclopedia, I expect to see captions like A Rumanian Jew and his family, 1938, pictured mid-scheme. In the glistening of his eyes is discernible a vile contempt for the purity and virtue of the German nation.

          Y'know, they gotta keep it authentic.

          • by jalet ( 36114 ) <> on Saturday December 06, 2008 @04:32PM (#26014939) Homepage

            Personally whenever I read an encyclopedia I want to see the original caption, or its translated version, as well as some lengthy textual, factual and neutral explanation about the context this picture was taken in. And if Hitler or Staline had mustaches when the picture was taken, I want to see them on the picture shown to me 60 or more years later.

            If we begin to rewrite history by modifying original captions, instead of explaining why they were written this way, what's to stop us from modifying pictures themselves ? After all many countries used (haha !) to do this. I propose you put "Painter of the XXth century" as the caption below every picture of Hitler, instead of "German politician who inspired and directed the extermination of millions of people for dubious reasons"...

            Not sure if you understand this point of view, but historical artifacts like pictures are what they are, and have to be used as historical artifacts, nothing less, nothing more, and despite their content being "shocking" for some people.

            • by spazdor ( 902907 )

              I'm not talking about historical revisionism. The original captions are of course an intrinsic part of the primary source documents.

              But when images are captioned in documentary stuff, the captions are not, by convention, part of the source itself. They are generally used as a meta-narrative, and so their tone should reflect that.

              The original captions themselves certainly belong with the picture (perhaps they are part of the picture) but in secondary and tertiary documents, they ought to be inside the pictur

            • Photos on Wikipedia are rarely analyzed (except on articles about specific photos). When photos are included in an article, they're just filler to say "This is what this subject looked like."

              Wikipedia is rarely so specific as to address a single photo, on a subject as broad as WWII. That would be the artistic domain of a dedicated history book, not an encyclopedia.

            • by DrSkwid ( 118965 )

              > the extermination of millions of people for dubious reasons

              Do you have any non-dubious reasons for the extermination of millions of people handy?

        • It depends on what you're using the photo for.

          On Wikipedia, the original caption of the picture doesn't really relate in a sensible way to the rest of the article. The article's not about the picture, the picture is about the article's subject, so its caption should be factual, understandable, and neutral. If you include what the picture's caption was in the 1940s, you're just drawing attention to the photo itself, which takes away from the article.

          On the Commons gallery itself, the original caption should

      • Some of the captions are in need of being rewritten into a reasonable form even in German, especially older ones that are either out of date or hilariously biased. The worst are probably those that were apparently entered during World War II and never updated.

        If one of these pops up, [], we will need to be very careful about the translation!

        Each translator should only be exposed to two words, each.

      • by Deadstick ( 535032 ) on Saturday December 06, 2008 @07:33PM (#26015895)
        These Polish Kaftan-Jews (?)

        Kaftans were a common item of apparel for Central European Jews in those times, and served as an ethnic stereotype. "Kaftan-Jew" would be a pejorative comparable to, say, "towelhead" for an Arab.


      • by DrSkwid ( 118965 )

        And they look pretty happy doing it too!

    • by molo ( 94384 ) on Saturday December 06, 2008 @02:38PM (#26014309) Journal
    1. Non-notable?
    2. Attribution?
    3. Images that are unused, obsolete?
    4. other
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by teslatug ( 543527 )
      Bollocks, this is not Wikipedia, but Wikimedia. Almost any picture gets accepted as long as the copyright stuff is in order.
      • not true. evidently, a lot of guys upload dicks pics. They reject most of them. Sadly, girls don't seem to upload beaver shots as often.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Raul654 ( 453029 )

      Commons has different image policies than Wikipeida. It will take pretty much any picture as long as it is of passable quality and acceptable copyright status.

      • by amake ( 673443 )

        Yes, Commons doesn't have any "notability" or "relevance" requirements. But Wikipedia is, in a way, more lenient in that you can post "fair use" images if no truly free alternative exists, and it meets some other requirements (not too large in resolution, doesn't infringe on owner's blah blah blah).

        So for instance the Journey self-titled album cover art [] is acceptable for use in the article about same in Wikipedia. But this image would not be allowed in Commons because it is not a truly free image.

  • Well, its the government, what else do they do? :)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    While CC is far better than not available under any simple terms, it is far from ideal imo.

    What if I want to use an image as a wallpaper (cropped, maybe gamma dimmed)? Do I need to provide a webserver where all the working versions of the image are downloadable?

    Or if I use an image in a computer game? Where it's appearance dependes on the state in the game? What versions of the images do I need to give out? In any form as it *can* appear in the game (this could be thousands)? Must the game be released

    • by grumbel ( 592662 )

      CC isn't the GPL, there is no requirement to include the source for a CC piece of work.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by AlXtreme ( 223728 )

        CC isn't the GPL, there is no requirement to include the source for a CC piece of work.

        Correct, because the CC doesn't make the distinction between binary and source versions of a piece of work. Which makes sense, as it's rather difficult to demand the negatives of a photo made 50 years ago (and you would gain little from doing so).

        CC-SA-AT however does come very close to the GPL IMHO. In most cases with data you can modify the 'binary' directly without needing a 'source' version and for many kinds of data

    • by spazdor ( 902907 )

      No. You're not required to do any of those things. Personal use is utterly unrestricted. If you wish to share or redistribute the image or a derivative, then you do so under the terms of the license.

      But the terms of that license are way looser than most Free Software licenses.

  • Nazi Era (Score:3, Interesting)

    by terraformer ( 617565 ) <> on Saturday December 06, 2008 @04:12PM (#26014841) Journal
    It is good to see they are not excluding things from the Nazi Era. That is as important historically as any other period and should not be forgotten.
    • by mqduck ( 232646 )

      I'm sure you and I aren't the only ones who looked for Nazi pictures before looking at anything else.

      I wonder if, one day, "German history -> Nazis" might *not* be imprinted into the minds of our children's children.

  • They seem to be missing images between 1939 and 1945...
  • The US government releases its stuff as public domain material.

    The EU governments do not. UK government has Crown Copyright. Other governments have normal copyright. (IANAL).

    This means that as free culture gets more popular and people spend more of their time reading free publications rather than proprietary publications, the US government has a hige advantage in being able to provide these free publications with free content, effectively projecting the US culture to the world.

    But the EU governments do no

  • So, what's going on in this picture from 1936? here []
    • by DrSkwid ( 118965 )

      They are taking a cast of his face at the Centre for Criminal Biology as he is considered race-pure and crime free so they can compare it's shape to other individuals in order to persecute them.

    • They're making a cast of his face, probably for some "racial hygiene" reason. The original caption in the archive speculates that the man might be a Sinti or Roma, which would explain why they're so interested in his face.
  • I wrote about this at length here:
    "Re: Do artifacts (even money) have politics? (German WWII example with Hans Posse) []
    but this goes to show the unexpected creative sparks that can fly from these sorts of efforts.

    From there:
    So, yesterday, I looked at probably thousands of thumbnails, just flipping
    through page after page of the uncategorized ones for over an hour,
    occasionally looking at enlarged ones. I saw smiling faces and people

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson