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
    Crosbie Fitch (profile), 23 Jul 2009 @ 1:07am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: UK Copyright Law

    Theft is not to be recognised as being deprived of use, but as a thief taking your possessions (including intellectual works) without authorisation. Only vindictive vandals seek to deprive people of use. Thieves seek to obtain private possessions without authorisation, e.g. payment.

    Let's say a thief takes your used stapler, but replaces it with a new one of exactly the same model. You'll say nothing was stolen because the owner was not deprived of use. The thief is laughing all the way to a secret collector who's offered him $5,000 if he can obtain the very same stapler as used in the movie Office Space (which you just happened to have).

    Theft is simply an ancient word used to describe a certain class of violation of the natural right to privacy. It is that natural right that explains what theft is, and why theft is not infringing someone's monopoly, nor is theft 'depriving of use' or 'denying of possession'. Being deprived of use or possession is simply a typical consequence of theft - it does not define theft.

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