Free Culture

Wikipedia Against Gallery Copyright Overreach

For several years, the National Portrait Gallery has claimed
copyright over public domain images in their possession. Wikimedia has
ignored these claims, occasionally laughing. (Bridgeman v. Corel. Sweat of the brow is not creation in US law; go away.) Our official stance in this time has been “sue and be damned.”

So the National Portrait Gallery has tried. Here’s their letter.
A lollipop for every misconception or unlikely or impossible demand.
This was sent after (so they claim) the WMF ignored their latest
missive. The editor they sent the threat to is … an American.

A UK organisation is threatening an American with legal action over
uploading images that are public domain in the US to an American server
— unambiguously, in established US law, not a copyright violation of
any sort. I wonder how the case will go.

The standard of originality in the UK needs raising, but the extent of copyright that English galleries and other institutions claim over public domain works exceeds even that. It is harmful to academia and art, and it is morally wrong. We have long needed a Bridgeman vs. Corel in the UK, and hopefully this could be it. The Wikimedia Foundation is popular, organized, and solvent enough to be able to tackle the state and private interests that claim to sit between the public and the public domain.

The Wikimedia Foundation shouldn’t be fobbed off with an offer of a grant or licence of rights, as there should be no rights to grant or licence. If the Foundation fail and this enclosure of the public domain is formalized in English law it will still have been worth trying, and converting overreach into a legal principle at least opens it to reform.

Good luck to the WMF, and a hint to the NPG – you are a national, state institution that exists to serve the public. You are not serving it by claiming to enclose the public domain.

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