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. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jul 2009 @ 10:36am

    Re: Re: Crown copyright

    Work of US government employees can not be copyrighted, but contractors paid by US tax dollars can certainly copyright their work.

    In the US, unless there is a prior agreement to the contrary, the copyright on a "work for hire" belongs to the entity doing the hiring: For example, the gov't.

    If there is such an agreement in a gov't contract, then the full market value of the copyright that is being given back to the contractor is supposed to considered as part of the payment to the contractor. In other words, the copyright is sold back to the contractor. A problem can occur, though, if the copyright is sold back at less than full market value, as the law requires. This is known as an illegal "kickback" which, unfortunately, happens far too often.

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