from the art-thou-crazy? dept
Wikimedia has, of course, a somewhat tortured history when it comes to copyright and artwork that appears on Wikipedia. Whether it's political logos, German museum art, and this goddamned monkey, Wikipedia often finds itself targeted over uploaded photos of artwork and copyright claims that too often appear to be either baseless or at cross-purposes with the world of art more generally. When you mix all of this up with a strange sense of entitlement by those who produce public art over how that art is photographed, the result is a Swedish court declaring that Wikipedia has violated copyright by hosting pictures of public Swedish statues.
The controversial judgement is a victory for the Visual Copyright Society in Sweden (Bildupphovsrätt i Sverige - BUS), which sued Wikimedia at Stockholm District Court for publishing photos of Swedish public sculptures and other public artworks without first getting permission from the artists.It also blatantly strains the boundries of common sense. The statues in this case are presented in Sweden in public, by my reading were commissioned as public works by artists who were paid for their efforts with taxpayer dollars, and the images for which were uploaded to Wikipedia by individual administrators for Wikipedia articles. The Swedish court appears to have twisted itself into a pretzel in order to generate this ruling.
“We are naturally very disappointed,” Wikimedia's Swedish operations manager Anna Troberg told The Local after the supreme court gave its guidance to the district court. “We view this as an anachronistic and restrictive interpretation of copyright laws. It also runs counter to recommendations from the European Court of Human Rights.”
In its judgement the supreme court affirmed that Swedish copyright law does permit members of the public to take pictures of public artworks. But, the court said, “it is different when it’s a database where artworks are made available to the public to an unlimited extent without copyright-holders receiving any remuneration. A database of this kind can be deemed to have a commercial value that is not inconsiderable,” the supreme court said in a statement. “The court rules that the copyright-holders have the right to absorb this value. It is not relevant whether or not Wikimedia has a commercial aim.”Just so everyone is clear, the court is saying that artists should receive compensation for the public art for which they've already been paid, so long as we're talking about pictures of that public art being stored in a database, as opposed to a person simply snapping a picture.
But where is the line between individuals taking pictures and creating "a database"? How does it suddenly become copyright infringement for a non-profit entity like Wikipedia to host these images on its servers, but it's not if you or I do so? Wikipedia has said that it will be consulting with its legal team to talk next steps, with the focus being on how to change the nature of the debate to zero in on how outdated the law and this ruling are, but when was it ever acceptable for taxpayer-funded art to be controlled by private interests?