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
    Amonite, 25 Jul 2009 @ 10:51pm

    Sawkins vs. Hyperion

    Also on Sawkins vs. Hyperion, there was an interesting dilemna in that case. There were two musical pieces, quite similar - similar enough that the second could not be considered a new composition, but rather an adaptation perhaps. The question was, did the editor (not really a composer, he studied source music to correct music, arrange it in a sense, but only to make it easier to play and understand and modernize it - he wanted it to be faithful to the original composer) - did the editor copy off a past composer (not the original, but one of the intermediary's who had also adapted the work) - or had he merely arrived at similar conclusions due to the same constaints?

    "The issue which I have to decide is whether the similarities which exist between the Sawkins and the Paillard versions are due to some form of copying or whether they simply resulted from Dr Sawkins, as part of his independent work, coming to a similar conclusion as to what the dynamics of the existing score permitted him to do. I believe that it was the latter. Having heard Dr Sawkins give his evidence and having taken into account the expert evidence, and in particular the limited freedom which I think both experts ultimately accepted the editor had, I am not satisfied that there was any attempt made by Dr Sawkins to copy the Paillard edition, whether consciously or unconsciously. I regard and find that the added viola parts included by Dr Sawkins in his edition of this work were the product of his own skill and labour, unaided by the Paillard edition."

    Now, note this - 'unaided' by the Paillard edition (of the music). He had arrived at the same conclusion, as he had argued from the witness stand, due to similar constraints in the music. Both editions were trying to adapt the original score (a different piece of music) and faced similar challenges, so of nescessity would share many traits.

    But what of copying a painting? As in, taking a photo? How is this 'unaided' by the original painting?

    Now, I could see a similar scenario arising - just recently I came up with an art concept to draw a small girl sleeping on a dragon's back in flight and the girl would have a blanket on her back, and set about drawing it for an art contest - only to find a similar image online just a day later.

    Many fairytales, novels, and stories borrow themes from each other as well, sometimes intentionally and sometimes acidentally. The heroes journey is pretty popular.

    These are not bad- we understand that similar themes will happen, as 'ideas are not copyrightable'.

    But actually copying someone elses expression of their idea verbetim does not constitute a new idea (actually, it kind of classifies as stealing or plaguirism if I remember high school :P Seriously, I don't want to see 'hologram of holofoil of photo of painting of Rembrant's Return of the Prodical Son, copyright NPG)

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