Sunday, July 19, 2009

Wikipedia and the NPG Fall Out Over Copyright

You can pay to view a picture in a gallery, but even though it was painted centuries ago they are not public domain once the image is digitised. Some say that owners of out of copyright material are not going to digitised works if the derivative works they create aren’t protected and as a result everyone will be the poorer. Others would argue that they are public domain and should be free to all.

Wikipedia has caused a storm in using images from the UK’s National Portrait Gallery (NPG). They say the gallery is betraying its public service mission, the gallery says it needs to recoup the £1m cost of its digitisation programme. The gallery appears to be objecting more to the use of high resolution images which they can earn off. The NPG says that their images in books and magazines generated £339,000 in the last year and that the current situation jeopardises their ability to internally fund their digitisation process.

Other institutions have made significant donations to the non-for–profit encyclopaedia but the NPG wants money and insists that its case has been misrepresented, and deny that it has been "locking up and limiting access to educational materials".

So when is the digitisation of public material ‘private’ and for sale only, and when is it ‘free’? The NPG claim that Wikipedia infringed English copyright laws, which protect copies of original works even when they themselves are out of copyright. They also claim that special software was used to "de-scramble" the high-resolution tiles, allowing the whole portrait to be seen in high resolution.

It’s another case of he who pays to digitise, regenerates copyright on the derivative work and in this case there is only one copy to digitise, so ownership also counts. We wonder why Wikipedia needed high resolution for online use and guess we will all continue to enjoy the real thing in galleries.

1 comment:

David Gerard said...

"It’s another case of he who pays to digitise, regenerates copyright on the derivative work"

- well, no - that's the precise legal issue in question. Digitising in the US does NOT regenerate a copyright - this is established case law. It may or may not in the UK - there are precedents both ways - and anyone who blithely states it does or does not is being foolish.