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, 22 Jul 2009 @ 10:02am

    Re: Re: Re: UK Copyright Law

    If I spend a couple of hours taking a photo of a 200 year old oil painting with my digital camera, and you come along, and whilst I'm not looking whip out my camera's memory stick, make a copy, and then re-insert it, then you have stolen the fruits of my labour.

    The so called "fruits" of your labor are the photos you made. You still have those, so nothing was "stolen" from you.

    Or if you really want to follow your own argument, then you were a "thief" by photographically copying the painting in the first place. Either way, you're still wrong.

    Of course this has been explained over and over and over again here on these forums, of which you are a frequent and longtime visitor, so I don't expect anything anyone could say could change your mind at this point. If you're determined to hang onto that fantasy, I'm sure you will, whether it stands up logically or not.

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