Is The National Portrait Gallery Lying About The Cost Of Its Digital Archives In Fight With Wikimedia?

from the might-be... dept

Last week, we wrote about how the National Portrait Gallery in the UK was threatening a guy who uploaded a bunch of photos from the Gallery's site to Wikipedia and defended his upload by noting that the portraits in question were all in the public domain. The Gallery insists that the photos of the portraits are not in the public domain, and that's where the heart of the legal dispute lies -- though, there are some side issues. In the US, it's pretty clear that a photo of a public domain work remains in the public domain (assuming no additional creative expression is added). In the UK, it's unsettled law. However, as the situation gets more attention, some interesting facts are coming out.

The National Gallery is claiming that a big part of the reason for why it's doing this is that it has cost £1 million to digitize the photos, and removing the ability to license the images makes it less likely that others will digitize their own collections. That's not a bad argument (though, there isn't necessarily a legal basis that copyright should be based on how much it costs to create the work in question). However, someone decided to check on those numbers, and put in a Freedom of Information request, and discovered that the actual costs to digitize and put the collection online was significantly lower than what the Gallery is claiming:
The Gallery spent £18,000 to put its collections online in 1999. During a ten year period up to 2008 another £10,000 was spent on minor developments and adjustments and in 2008 and 2009 a further £11,000 was spent. This gives a total figure of £39,000.
Now, that's not nothing, but £39,000 is significantly lower than £1 million, yes?

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


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  1. icon
    Steve R. (profile), 20 Jul 2009 @ 6:20am

    Wikipedia - It's a Desert for Photos

    The New York Times to today has an article "Wikipedia May Be a Font of Facts, but It’s a Desert for Photos"

    Basically the point of this article is to highlight the apparent lack of images on Wikipedia, which has been caused, according to the Times, by Wikipedia not wanting to pay for these images. Additionally that no photographer would want provide free images because everyone deserves to be paid for their work.

    The article does not delve into the following issue that would seem to be relevant. I assume, that with celebrities, that there would be a large number of photographers both professional and amateur who have taken pictures of celebrities in public locations. I also assume that there must be nearly an infinite number of snapshots of one sort or another. So, I would assume that some professional photographer wouldn't mind if one or two pictures (of the "millions" available) being in the public domain. As for amateur photographers, they may be more willing to freely contribute.

    As to why Wikipedia has an apparent dearth of pictures, I don't know.

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