National Portrait Gallery Threatens Wikimedia Developer For Downloading Public Domain Images

from the what-public-domain? dept

Derrick Coetzee, a software developer and an administrator of Wikimedia Commons, the media repository for Wikipedia is being threatened by the National Portrait Gallery in London. Coetzee admits that he downloaded about 3,000 high-resolution images from the site, but notes that they are all of paintings that are in the public domain (nearly all are over 100 years old). Coetzee is in the US, where he notes Bridgeman v. Corel suggests that photographs of public domain paintings do not carry any copyright, since the photograph does not add any new expression. However, such issues are not settled in the UK, and the National Portrait Gallery is insisting that the photos are covered by copyright.

On top of that, the Gallery is claiming a violation of its database right. Database rights are an unfortunate mistake in European law, that allows a copyright-like right to be held on a database, even if the entries in that database are uncopyrightable -- such as a collection of facts or a collection of public domain works. Finally, the Gallery is also claiming that Coetzee unlawfully circumvented protection methods designed to keep folks like himself from downloading the content -- and thanks to the UK's own anti-circumvention law, that too could make him guilty of infringement. Of course, that last one shouldn't apply if the content isn't actually covered by copyright, as Coetzee argues.

The whole thing, frankly, seems rather ridiculous, and a huge black mark on the National Portrait Gallery in the UK. Here was a chance to help educate the public and give people more reasons to go to the Gallery to see the actual photos, and they're trying to stomp out that kind of education through abuse of copyright law. The people who run the Gallery should be ashamed of themselves. They ought to go back and read their own mission statement:
Founded in 1856, the aim of the National Portrait Gallery, London is 'to promote through the medium of portraits the appreciation and understanding of the men and women who have made and are making British history and culture, and ... to promote the appreciation and understanding of portraiture in all media'.
How, exactly, does suing someone for getting those portraits more attention achieve that goal?

Filed Under: derrick coetzee, public domain, uk national portrait gallery, wikimedia


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. identicon
    Eo Nomine, 13 Jul 2009 @ 11:35am

    "Bridgman V Corel was decided under BOTH UK and US law - (Bridgman was a British company) so pictures of PD works are NOT copyright."

    Actually, Bridgeman v. Corel was a US case decided by a US court, and consequently it is not binding on UK courts.

    The US court stated the following (at para. 26):

    "While the Court's conclusion as to the law governing copyrightability renders the point moot, the Court is persuaded that plaintiff's copyright claim would fail even if the governing law were that of the United Kingdom."

    However, (a) as the court itself notes, this observation was rendered irrelevent by the court's determination that the law governing copyrightability in that case was US law, so the comment is obiter, and (b) even if it was not obiter, a UK court is under no obligation to follow a decision of a US court, even if the decision is about UK law.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Techdirt Logo Gear
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.