Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wikipedia vs. the National Portrait Gallery

As big an advocate as I am for making art as widely viewable as possible to as big an audience as possible, I have some problems with Wikipedia's arguments in the brewing legal quagmire they're in with Britain's National Portrait Gallery. The BBC summarized the story as such on July 15 [via]:
The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) is threatening legal action after 3,300 images from its website were uploaded to online encyclopaedia Wikipedia.

A contributor to the popular site, Derrick Coetzee, breached English copyright laws by posting images from the gallery's collection, the NPG said.

But photographs of works of art are not protected by copyright in the US, where Mr Coetzee and Wikipedia are based.

The NPG said the breach undermines its £1m project to digitise its collection.

So far, 60,000 hi-resolution photographs of paintings held by the NPG have been added to its website for use by the general public.
Flash forward and a bit of a philosophical riff (read: Wiki is building an argument for their right to build an empire) enters the fray. Again, from the BBC:
The battle over Wikipedia's use of images from a British art gallery's website has intensified.

The online encyclopaedia has accused the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) of betraying its public service mission.

But the gallery has said it needs to recoup the £1m cost of its digitisation programme and claims Wikipedia has misrepresented its position.

[...]Now Erik Moeller, the deputy director of the Wikimedia Foundation which runs the online encyclopaedia, has laid out the organisation's stance in a blog post [see here].

He said most observers would think the two sides should be "allies not adversaries" and that museums and other cultural institutions should not pursue extra revenue at the expense of limiting public access to their material.

"It is hard to see a plausible argument that excluding public domain content from a free, non-profit encyclopaedia serves any public interest whatsoever," he wrote.
I've always thought it wise to be a bit skeptical of anyone claiming the high-road in serving public interest, especially when they're potentially being sued, but....
He points out that two German photographic archives donated 350,000 copyrighted images for use on Wikipedia, and other institutions in the United States and the UK have seen benefits in making material available for use.

Another Wikipedia volunteer David Gerard has blogged about the row, claiming that the National Portrait Gallery makes only £10-15,000 a year from web licensing, less than it makes "selling food in the cafe".
This is the strangest argument in all this to me, as it implies there's an urgency to getting the images on Wikipedia (that is, if Wiki waits until the £1 million is re-cooped at the rate of only £10-15,000 a year, the public will suffer). This reminds me of the argument people are constantly making about how they "need" this or that technology. "I need to fly to Pittsburgh. I need to use my cell phone. I need to check my email."

No, actually, I always think in don't need to do any of those things. You may want to, but you most definitely do not need to. The fact that mankind managed just fine without any of those things less than a Century ago proves you don't need them.

Moreover, arguing that the public needs these images housed on a free online encyclopedia is like arguing the public needs flying cars. How can you argue anyone needs something that has not yet ever existed? You can imagine it will be good for the public, but perhaps there are unforeseen consequences to such things.
But the gallery insists that its case has been misrepresented, and has now released a statement denying many of the charges made by Wikipedia.

It denies claims that it has been "locking up and limiting access to educational materials", saying that it has been a pioneer in making its material available.

It has worked for the last five years toward the target of getting half of its collection online by 2009. "We will be able to achieve this," said the gallery's statement, "as a result of self-generated income."

The gallery says that while it only makes a limited revenue from web licensing, it earns far more from the reproduction of its images in books and magazines - £339,000 in the last year.

But it says the present situation jeopardises its ability to fund its digitisation process from its own resources.
My number one objection to Wikipedia's argument is tangential to the central question of whether images in a publicly funded museum should be as widely accessible as possible to that public. I tend to think they should (we'll just skip over whether a US-based encyclopedia should be arguing so strongly about British taxpayers' rights, but...). But how Coetzee retrieved those images (unlocking the NPG's security measures) strikes me as a dodgy way of going about it. If you have a solid legal argument for posting the images, then take the organization locking them up to court. Don't go to such lengths to hack through their security system that to many folks it will look as if you have stolen them. That complicates the entire "public interest" issue to my mind.

The overarching answer here seems simple enough to me. Wikipedia can help raise the money to reimburse the NPG for the £1 million it spent digitizing its collection. That way everyone is putting their money where their mouth is and everyone is being well served. In fact, Wikipedia's champions should IMO be at the forefront of helping organizations raise money for digitization projects. If it's the public interest that they fighting for, it shouldn't always cost others so much to make Wiki look so altruistic.



Blogger jami said...

NPG is fighting a losing battle when they expect people to pay for images taken from the web, just look at the music file sharing arguments. Apparently they realized this when they said they would “be “happy” for the website to use low-resolution images”. I can see how they are upset over the deceptive manner in which their high resolution images were pilfered.

7/23/2009 09:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

yeah, i originally though this was about copyright which had expired, but to actually pilfer restricted data then it is appears as simple theft and not so much plagiarism nor essentially copyright infringement.

It gets so convoluted when wiki is a platform and it is a user positng the images. Then the case of whose laws apply and where is Wiki actually located and whose jurisdiction applies and what fun!

7/23/2009 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Theft is theft. The techno-utopians don't get a pass on morality, and I have a little bit of trouble with any argument that says one can do something bad because one is doing a greater good. Waterboarding, anyone? (An extreme example, I admit.)

7/23/2009 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger joy said...

Actually, as the law stands now, it's not theft if the objects being reproduced are in the Public Domain, which they most certainly are. That's the issue: The National Portrait Gallery is challenging the legal status quo in a radical way. What's at stake with such a challenge is how do we continue to protect the Public Domain from such proprietary incursions in the digital age, where every "copy" reverberates in ways that signal "theft" to some, even when no actual theft has occurred (see Locke's proviso: you can establish a claim of ownership by the application of your own labor to Nature's Bounty, but you can only take so much of Nature's Bounty as leaves as much and as good for others to exploit. In other words, if you graze your sheep on the village common, you can do that and own the result so long as you do not keep any of the other shepherds from grazing their sheep as well), and whether the law can continue to protect the PD from institutions such as the NPG that would -- brazenly, I'd say -- pull objects from the Public Domain (in this case, objects that have been part of the commons for centuries) and back into institutional ownership via the copyright of reproductions, in order to close the gap in their own revenue stream. This problem was settled in favor of protecting the PD against such actions in the late 90s by the "Bridgeman" decision.

In brief, Bridgeman established that museums and image banks (etc) may NOT remove objects from the PD simply by photographing them and copyrighting the reproductions -- that the reproductions are merely that: accurate representations of the original objects -- public domain objects in this case. In other words, there is nothing inherently new or original in the reproductions that would require (or justify) a new copyright.

A Canadian lawyer friend, pissed off at the club footed actions of the NPG against the PhD student and Wikimedia writes:

"...Historically, copyright was born as a tool of censorship
even if it was enlisted to ensure compensation for authors. It is a blunt tool for the encouragement of innovative expression, and the collision with the Internet and Digital Universe has demonstrated that its old roots in censorship
are not far beneath its surface. The continuing contest of the day seems to be who will control the tool and how will authors/artists be compensated? TRIPs and the WIPO Copyright Treaty notwithstanding, international harmonization of
copyright law is not, just around the corner. The struggle between creator rights and user rights and the protection of the common property that is the public domain is only just begun...."

He goes on to say:
"...The return of the free use of the expression to the public domain after a limited period of time of exclusive control over the new use is fundamental to the operation of copyright as an incentive to innovation. The new expression is the property of the commons, used temporarily to compensate the author or artist who fashions it, but it is held in trust for the society, the culture, that spawned it. As in trust law, to change the terms of exclusive ownership and exemption from the public domain must be achieved only with the consent of all of the beneficiaries of the trust. Recent developments in copyright law may not have that justifying consensus..."

In this case, it will be interesting to see whether Bridgeman will again be tested...

7/23/2009 11:03:00 AM  
Blogger Sage said...

This isn't about whether the NPG can re-coup its digitization costs. What the gallery wants to do is to essentially extend perpetual copyright over public domain works; their copyright claims don't just extend until they make back their investment, they would extend for a full copyright term. And meanwhile, they don't allow any other photographers to take photos of these public domain portraits.

All the image data uploaded to Wikimedia Commons was publicly available to any visitor of the NPG website. And if the reproductions are not copyrightable, then it's perfectly legitimate to piece together tiles to recreate full images.

7/23/2009 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger joy said...

PS: Essential reading, if only to get a handle on what it would mean for a chunk of the Public Domain to be sacrificed every time a museum felt it needed to pull a revenue stream out of it's ass: James Boyle, The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind.

7/23/2009 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


I really need a remedial spelling course.

7/23/2009 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger joy said...

Sage is right -- and said it shorter and sweeter than i did.

7/23/2009 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

Where are the damages? If they spend 1,000,000 pounds to digitize, and they, at best, would get 10,000-15,000 pounds per year from the UK (given they do not have any rights outside the UK?). Given simple interest on the present value of 1 million pounds, it would take 120+ years to recoup the costs (and depending upon prevailing rates of return, they may never recoup the costs). As far as financial solvency is concerned, they have done more damage to themselves than anything than Wikipedia could do (since at best Wikipedia would eliminate a portion of the 10-15k income they claim).

Such financial recklessness would get a CEO fired. And if they are happy with this project, the question really is, what was the purpose of these high rez images?

7/23/2009 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I agree that there's precious little argument to make that the images of works the public essentially own are someone else's to keep, but my objection to the means by which the images were secured remains...sneaking in and taking them strikes me as equally problematic.

7/23/2009 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm afraid what you're left with here, though, is a strong motivation for institutions NOT to digitize their collections in high-res formats. It is obviously expensive to do so, and the argument seems to be their is no way for them to re-coup the costs.

I'm looking for a means to satisfy both desires: Wiki's to share the images and the museum to pay for their digitization.

7/23/2009 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

Ed -

I'd say the financial maths do not add up - the expense of digitization compared to the possible revenue obtained thereby is much more of a deterrent than anything Wikipedia could do. Especially when you make the result available to the general public.

There was no viable plan to be able to make back the money spent, which really speaks to the relative financial incompetence if their plan was to generate a stream of income to the tune of 10-15k/year on a million pound investment. That's a 1-1.5% return. Would be better off depositing it in a Money Market account or Certificate of Deposit which would not require lawyers!

Since they were already sharing them, and any copyright stop at the border of the UK, either we are not privy to the whole story, or people are being very very stupid.

7/23/2009 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

Ed - Yes, there is no good way for them to recoup the costs. SO the only reason to do it is to make it available far and wide, in which case, Wikipedia would be the perfect vehicle if not on your website itself.

The financial side simply is not there. And this is why the Louvre and all the other museums are not aggressively digitizing - it is expensive, and there is no significant revenue in it for them.

7/23/2009 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger joy said...

Definitely, museums need to find new business models, as we all have had to re-think everything in light of digital technology. Past attempts to "lock things up" have shown us how ineffective that line of thinking can be. But we've also seen museums - major ones - buck the proprietary trend by opening their galleries to flickr pools (etc). Outsourcing reproductions of the objects in a collection seems a good move on many levels:

Metshare; "It's Time We Met"; also here;

There's also The Brooklyn Museum, MoMA.... Here's a piece I posted in 2007 - so much has changed since then. The NPG needs to get on board, or at least use their heads.

7/23/2009 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Copyright and public domain are not the issue - morally. The reproductions that were stolen were reproductions that the NPG digitized at its own expense. So it's the NPG's labor and investment that was stolen.

If you want reproductions for your site, find a free source. Or make your own reproductions. And if the NPG won't allow you to photograph their collection, then that's just too bad. Live with it. You don't have a right to others' hard work.

Wikipedia should have tried to work out a mutually beneficial agreement with the NPG - as their first step. As far as I know, they didn't bother to try. That's just laziness born of the internet's instant gratification mindset.

7/23/2009 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger joy said...

Also, just wondering: how much has this story been spun to make it look like Coetzee used a "deceptive" or "special" software to "unscramble" the Zoomify images. Honestly? Anyone tinkering on 'puters long enough has had to establish workarounds for all manner of would-be obstacles. (er, some people would call a screen shot devious). I think we need more information before we jump to that conclusion. And even so: "hacking" is traditionally a question of principle, not monetary gain. If the Zoomify software makes it difficult to grab an image, (which, btw, is not what it's meant for -- it's not a security tool, merely a magnifying tool), it's just begging to be hacked. Any geek worth his/her salt would make it their business to find a work-around. Also, let's remember that Coetzee is not involved in some clandestine act of corporate theft, he's not being paid by Microsoft, or Google, or Wikimedia! He's a highly motivated Wikipedian, and we need more like him. ;-)

7/23/2009 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think that's the real social question here Joy.

If, as Moeller is arguing, these images should be readily available for Wikipedia, then the appropriate way to get them there is via the courts, in my opinion.

7/23/2009 11:55:00 AM  
Anonymous enda said...

I must say that I find this a real tricky one and mainly because of how Mr.Coetzee acquired the images. In one way it has exposed the NPG's claim over the copyright of these images which is a quagmire of an issue.
But I don't think anyone would complain about the fact that the NPG sells postcards of their art works in their museum.
And if I walk in and just took some postcards then I would have committed a clear criminal act. Even if I claim that these images are in the public domain, I still cannot steal a postcard but to steal a file is that all that different?
The problem is the way the NPG are pursuing this.

7/23/2009 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger Bromo Ivory said...

One thing to keep in mind - labor and work do not automatically convey rights. I could work really hard mowing my neighbor's yard and weeding his or her garden. That does not give me any special rights of access to the property unless there is a written or verbal contract with the owner of the property. (As with things in the Public Domain, there is no particular rights owner, and therefore work done for this sort of thing, needs to be done for the public good. So terrified of this prospect, that Disney "donated to the reelection fund" of enough Congresspeople that they got Congress to extend the copyright laws to some ridiculous length of time because their earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons were going to go to the public domain in the US. They didn't get the rights anywhere else and hence it IS in the public domain outside the US)

But I contend that the NPG didn't think of internet sales. They couldn't have, as they would need to make over ten times the revenue they contend was at stake for it to matter at all.

I think they are worried that people will stop coming to them for images for the books and other media that make them the 300k or so a year. They cannot _say_ that, since I suspect that the 1M budget for digitization was supposed to be for British taxpayers and the result was supposed to be made available to the general public. To then say that they want to hold onto the expensive part of the images because they have a number of booksellers that want to put together some books for sale, would be viewed rather dimly.

I agree, this is likely why museums are not quick to digitize - the present value of revenue is several orders of magnitude larger than the cost of digitization I'd wager. And if the works rights of reproduction are in the public domain, they would have a hard time to justify trying to charge for electronic scans of the works that could be used for commercial purposes.

Such is the tragedy of the commons.

7/23/2009 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger joy said...

enda wrote: "I still cannot steal a postcard but to steal a file is that all that different?"

You said it, a perfect example of both how different the two are, but also of why digital media has all but destroyed the traditional means of generating revenue. Postcards are an example of "rivalrous goods" -- if you steal mine, then I can't have it; the monetized value of that postcard is drawn from that.

Digital media otoh, are inherently non-rivalrous. Your copying mine doesn't deprive me of mine. And so forth, hence the entire conundrum of how to generate revenue in a digital age where technology has made possible such a high degree of sharable, non-rivalrous commodities.

Ed: I think that the problem with the courts, as pointed out by my progressive Canadian lawyer friend, is that there are very different concepts in play across borders, a veritable babel, a profoundly contentious international dis-harmony when it comes to decisions of ownership and IP.

In fact, I'm told that Bridgeman itself was two separate decisions, one decided under U.K. law (but by a federal judge sitting in New York!) and the second (after the NY judge concluded that U.K. law was not applicable) under U.S. law. The first Bridgeman decision has met with some criticism in the U.K. as not being acceptable under British law. You see the problem...

In any case, since Wikipedia's servers are not located in the U.K., (as was previously erroneously reported in The Independent), this complicates the ability of NPG, if it were to sue in the U.K., to get jurisdiction over the Wikimedia Foundation. Not having jurisdiction, they probably won't sue.

7/23/2009 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

joy, you said, "Any geek worth his/her salt would make it their business to find a work-around."

What we're talking about here is techno-greed, techno-theft and techno-gluttony. Supposedly justified by a some nebulous "social good."

Really, I'd be more impressed if high-minded hackers - like other activists who employ civil disobedience - were willing to suffer the consequences of illegal actions in order to advance their cause. Sitting comfortably at home in front of a keyboard is just playing at making the world a better place.

7/23/2009 12:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Digression, on a point raised by EW:

"The fact that mankind managed just fine without any of those things less than a Century ago proves you don't need them."

By that argument (give or take a few decades in each case), we don't need automobiles, radio, telephones, refrigeration, computers, airplanes, electricity, television, phonograph recordings, or etcetera either. The problem is that technologies change us and change our needs. The question to my mind is whether the change meets an indispensable need or seems relatively frivolous.

7/23/2009 12:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the tangential point as to whether disseminating these images is good, as historical record, the more places they are lodged, the safer they are. It's the museums duty, as much as is feasible, to obtain the highest quality images for this purpose. But the parasitic relationship here needs to be redressed.


7/23/2009 12:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

I was arguing somewhere that I was upset that the BFI was limiting its online broadcast of its collection of old silent films to uk schools only (through Screen Online).

A replier said "so what? Do you live in the uk? Have you paid taxes for the conservation of these films?".

I had to point him to sites in USA and Canada that have archives of ancient films freely available to everybody, but... Yes, it seems the UK institutions have some problems with figuring out their position toward global culture, and I tend to not fall on the side of people who would give them more reasoning than they need in being so stiff about their cultural posessions.

At any rates, there's a lot of things going on here.

1) We're talking 3000 images out of 60 000, so I presume only the most important works get on Wikipedia. I don't think wiki will ever be about "all the works", only about the "best works", but eventually the "best" (most popular) should be allowed to be on a similar "melting pot" platform of knowledge, because if you want to know what are the 5 most important paintings by James Ensor, you don't want the hassle of having to know at which museum sites you can find these images.
This doesn't take away that museum sites usually have more complete and detailed information.

2) I don't understand why there isn't a couple uk collectors who can help with these digitalization funds, just for the sake of helping a good cause (Smithsonian way). And does it have to cost
1 millions? Can volunteers do the digitalization? It's just one quick snapshot per painting, you recycle the cartridges, and send the results to people who don't make fusses for keeping archives on their digital drives for free (Wiki?). Basically I'm saying: digitalization doesn't have to be costly.

3) I "need this". I need this because I need A, and my neighbor needs B and some other neighbour merely wants C, and most people will never even give a thought about needing Y, while millions others will be wanting X. But the point is, I still need my A, and in a perfect society, A would be rightly available to me, whenever I need it. As for why I would need A: Art is my sex life, not a day job.

4)Did I pay for it? No. I paid
for Cybermusée in Canada and they are doing a great job. They're not arguing about only showing to canadians either. They'd be glad if you visited their sites, but let's no kid ourselves: most people will visit to look at the same 500 most popular images. If you have 60 000+ images, the majority will only interest a few art specialists. People just don't have the time to consider fine art, really.

5) Copying is not theft. Our DNA do that all the time, copy itself. It's not stealing anything from your cells. Copying is the basis for life. It is where God keeps its garden of Eden, a reality of abundance.

What we fear is being deprived.
But copy doesn't want no one to be deprived. It only wants to copy more and more things.

People think Wiki are stealing NPG, but they aren't considering the billions images Wiki offers in return as payback to NPG and their users. What about that part of the economy? Or is that NPG are knowledgably self-sufficient and don't require wiki?

The public did great with Wiki, and I suggest that public institutions let the public take care of their archives. If everybody help it won't cost
a million pounds: just let people take snapshots in museums.

Cedric Casp

7/23/2009 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Cedric said, "Art is my sex life, not a day job."

I don't know if you're quoting someone else or if you came up with that yourself, Cedric, but it's a gem - a priceless jewel. :-)

7/23/2009 01:10:00 PM  
Blogger joy said...

Tom wrote: What we're talking about here is techno-greed, techno-theft and techno-gluttony. Supposedly justified by a some nebulous "social good."

I don't see any greed or gluttony in putting images of paintings in an encyclopedia to make them more widely accessible for those who wish to learn about art. (esp. since these paintings have long dwelled in the public domain -- that means they belong to us all). I don't think the social good in that can be disputed.

Mr. Coetzee's deed was very much in keeping with the mission of libraries everywhere: that of providing free public access to information, wherever possible.

If anything, Wikipedia needs beefing up of its art entries, not more restrictions on them re: reproductions -- they already have quite a few self-imposed restrictions on using copyrighted images. As far as costs, I daresay this little project must have cost a lot of free labor on the part of Mr. Coetzee (as in: unpaid), whose activity was no doubt motivated by joy.

Gotta run out now on multiple errands... so i guess I'll have to sign off now, and with that same word.


7/23/2009 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger Ian Aleksander Adams said...

I have to agree with Joy on this one - Wikipedia may be US based but it's also the most accessed database of knowledge worldwide. Saying that any other institution should instead just put images on their site ignores the good that comes from easily accessible reproductions from one already understood hub. I think that if the original pieces are already in the public domain, there is a lot heavier argument in favor of free use by any publicly accessible site.

Of course, I do think the idea of having funding drives towards digitization of archives is a great idea, one I hope that a large variety of sites will get behind. As a photographer, I'd rather be doing copywork for a large public archive than for someone else to use my work as work for hire on something that they don't own the original rights on anyway.

7/23/2009 02:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the easiest resolution is for the NPG to allow non-flash photography. The public then has a right to take their public domain copies, admittedly not under ideal conditions for reproduction. For commercial use the NPG can license their professional photographs as they do currently.

7/23/2009 04:28:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

joy, the fact remains that Coetzee stole: he took something without permission - permission he could have sought first. If he had wanted to. At the very least, this indicates an "I have a right to everything" attitude on his part. Including the right to work that other people do to better their own situation, or the situation of the organization they belong to.

He harmed real people. Not just an institution.

What is the "social good" we are talking about here - that supposedly justifies theft? Not an increase in world peace, or of food for the hungry, or of health care for the poor. But rather an increase in internet access to art images. Something awfully small in the big scheme of things.

Is it worth harming others to get it?

7/23/2009 06:13:00 PM  
Blogger joy said...

You are mistaken: he didn't "steal" anything. And he doesn't need to ask permission, this is a false asumption on your part. Those objects are all public domain, and the law -- the Bridgeman decision specifically -- protects people like Coetzee so that he may post non-copyrightable images of objects that we all should have access to. Images that are both legal to share, and that are meant to be shared.

ovr and out.

7/23/2009 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

So there are three issues I like -

1)Can you steal something that is in the public domain.

2) Can you distribute something that was stolen if it is the public domain.

3) the right of the archive to exist, as an autonomous country, is also interesting. They serve the public trust!

If they fail to hold these images in a geographically distinct area, what will happen to the cultural identity of the people who own them? WHo see them every day on the billboards that line their highways? That are deluged with these selfsame public images, these beautiful relics that so inspire the daily life of the citizen that to share them would be death.

I fear lives are at stake?
A final thought: maybe these images are salacious. Maybe they contain nudes or worse! Maybe the very brand of the archive is at stake!

I, for one, would gladly hand out the pink slips for free.

7/23/2009 09:40:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

joy, you said, "Those objects are all public domain ..."

You fail to distinguish between the original works, which are public domain, and the digitized reproductions, which are the work and so the property of NPG.

British copyright law protects copies of originals even though the originals' copyright protection has run out. You may not like that British law, but it's their country, and Coetzee stole from them.

It's really flabbergasting to hear US tech devotees justifying their "right" to do whatever they want with things that another country considers its property. I guess the arrogant Ugly American isn't a thing of the past yet.

7/23/2009 10:11:00 PM  
Anonymous overton said...

Its a bit much for the wiki-theft apologists to to what other galleries are doing, when those galleries are at best only making available images a fraction of the size of those stolen from the NPG.

Some one from the WMF was extolling the online behaviour of a Dutch gallery the other day. Maximum size pics available 600px, NPG online images stolen 3200px.

7/24/2009 04:43:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Let's say I'm a multi-billionaire. Really deep pockets. I buy a couple of hundred servers, hire a staff of fifty, locate my operation overseas in Corruptistahn, and put my own Wikipedia online. It's exactly the same as the original Wikipedia - same articles, layout, graphics, logo, name, etc. I've lifted everything from them - and will continue to lift everything as it appears.

The only difference is my Wikipedia has advertising, and I pay new contributors from the revenues. Out my really deep pockets if I have to, to stay afloat. New contributors have checks coming in, on a regular basis, because they write for my Wikipedia. They make money.

It wouldn't be long before I blew the original Wikipedia out of the water. It would take even less time for the Wikimedia Foundation to try and haul my ass into a US court, claiming I stole their property - that they worked hard to create.

"But guys, I thought all this stuff was free for anyone to use in any way they wanted to."

7/24/2009 09:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

They are already sites who copy all Wikipedia content and use another name, but they are not popular.

I think countries should all allow a certain budget for digitalization and put it for free on the net and not make such hassle. It's a NATIONAL museum, for christ's sake, not a private enterprise. All NATIONAL museums worldwide are usually enthousiast about disseminating information. I think the NGP is self-fish because it has a mandate. It would be different if it was a private museum. We have to think of that million as UK's money, not NGP's money. I don't how the hell NGP succeeds at making people conceive of this million sa THEIR money, they are a public institution paid by taxes, they owe this service to at least the UK people, each and every one of them.

Cedric C

7/24/2009 10:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

And if some employee thinks "Oh, there is too much problems, let's stop digitalization". You know what to do? You fire that person, and give the post to someone more enthousiast about disseminating information.

Really I think the bugger is whoever is the boss at this museum at the moment. A different person would see things differently. Public museums are not OWNED by their directors. If I was on the board I would probably think "let's change that director because he's really annoying". Normally the government should give them a fund for digitalization and they should not come up like this as if it was THEIR money. They receive funding to make this information available. The director should find other means to gather extra funds to the museum than worry about these shenanigans. 1 million is NOT a lot of money when you are talking in art museum terms, allright? A lot of millions are pulled each year to buy nre works. This million should be total gratuity, considering the position and mandate of this institution.
I can't believe they make such hassle for 1 million.

Cedric Casp

7/24/2009 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Let me make this easy.

The world economy is such that all art institutions are having to make cuts. You're the director of such an institution and you had a plan in place that would let you digitize your collection AND keep as much of your staff employed as possible during the recession. Then someone comes along and puts the files you were hoping would help you re-coup the costs of the digitization on a free website, eliminating the potential revenue, and you are left with the option of stopping the digitization of the collection or letting staff go....

Does it seem so selfish a concern now?

7/24/2009 11:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Edward, all they have to do is not buy works for a certain time. It's only a million. They will recoup that cost from simply not buying for a full year.

Times are tough, but museums have at least 2 or 3 millions each year
(some for the staff, and an extra for digitalization). You were asking "do you NEED this". What a museum don't NEED is 1 or 2 new pieces for a year or two. The digitalization is more important.

Cedric Casp

7/24/2009 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

What a museum don't NEED is 1 or 2 new pieces for a year or two.

That's highly debatable if their mission is to assemble the best possible collection. Certain works are forever lost if you don't move on them at the right time. Not buying so that you can digitize seems a lopsided set of priorities to me.

7/24/2009 11:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Fair enough, but then the debate situates itself in what the museum prioritizes between assembling the best collection possible and educate the public the best possible about fine art. Sometimes that sums up the difference between a private and a public institution, but, very much debatable indeed.

Cedric Casp

(oh but come on, at their level we're talking one work less out of 10)

7/24/2009 11:34:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Cedric, please note the argument that actions affect real people in the real world, and that one has to consider how real people might be harmed. You might not like the way those people run things, or their institution's programs, or their country's laws. But they have a right to the fruits of their labor, and anyone who sabotages them is a destroyer - even if they see themselves as the vanguard of a wonderful new world. It's just too easy to ignore the pain you're causing others when you're living in a dream. That's always been the problem with utopian activists. And it's the problem with today's techno-utopian activists.

7/24/2009 12:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

The techno-utopian in me finds that I'm also talking some basic common sense. I would have to take a look at the last year's museum budget before I make a final opinion, but I think this dramatization about recoup is forcefed. I don't think this is about money, not for a museum of that level. I think what they want is internet statistics, hits on the museum's website. Or if they really think that people will pay to access these images then they have a bizarre marketting director (unless their figures implies a strategy where the least denominator pays the most amount possible).

I'm not quite sure in the case of a public institution, if a director should prioritizes the institution's right to their labour or the public's right (or access) to their labour. I'm trying to go back to the reasoning behind the implementation of public institutions: why exactly are we setting them up? What's the point?

Maybe we shouldn't have public institutions in the first place because we don't seem to yet be able to really grasp that concept (working for the public).

Cedric Casp

7/24/2009 01:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, edward and others defending the commercialisation of the public domain, the Bridgeman vs Corel case in the United States was tried twice, once under UK law and once under US law. In both cases the result was the same - photographs which are slavish reproductions of the original public domain work lack sufficient originality to be entitled to copyright. If the NPG is so adamant its position is correct, it should take it to a UK judge. No doubt it would be verified again as in the Bridgeman case.

7/24/2009 11:48:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Anonymous, I may be inadvertently defending the commercialization of the public domain but my central assertion here mirrors yours, only in reverse. If Wiki wants to post those images, they should indeed take it to a UK judge and NOT simply work around the NPG's security measures and post the images anyway.

7/25/2009 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Middlesex University (London) guide to UK copyright law.

See "Databases" and "Internet & Electronic Media."

7/25/2009 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7/25/2009 11:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

If people give rights to reproductions, people can take a picture of your art and resell it as their own.

I think the UK law is wrong, and I would never defend it or promote it unless I thought it was right. So I'm taking the side that the people who wrote this should be challenged:

"Database right could be indefinite as the protection covers the entire work, not just the amended sections"

This is saying that an internet database of reproductions, wrether it is of public domain images or not, can be forever copyrighted.
I'm actually glad if Wikipedia can shake these people. We'll see.

Cedric Casp

7/25/2009 01:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Edward you are incorrect that the NPG applied security measures. The product they used was called Zoomify. From the Zoomify site at

Can I save a Zoomify Image?

No. Zoomify images are protected in that they cannot be saved the way that JPEGs in a browser page can: right-click Save As. Screen captures are possible but will only capture the current view (along with the toolbar and navigator window). While Zoomify is not presented as an image security technology, it does offer the benefit of making acquisition of images from a site much more difficult.

NB _not_ presented as an image security technology.

7/25/2009 11:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The other issue here which is overlooked is jurisdiction. A US user uploading public domain images (in the US under the Bridgeman vs Corel decision) to a US server. In terms of US law under whose jurisdiction the user is subject, the user has done nothing wrong.

Even if the NPG does take its specious and likely frivolous claims to court in the UK the decision will be of no benefit in enjoining the US user's behavior or recovering damages, as the judgement will be unenforceable in the US.

7/25/2009 11:46:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Anonymous 11:48 PM said, "... photographs which are slavish reproductions of the original public domain work lack sufficient originality to be entitled to copyright."

Under UK copyright law, the NPG's online collection is protected as a database. The fact that the NPG's database is composed of photographs is irrelevant - as is any question of originality.

Anonymous 11:46 PM said, "In terms of US law under whose jurisdiction the user is subject, the user has done nothing wrong."

What Conduct Does the European Convention on Cybercrime Criminalize?

"The Cybercrime Convention orders member states to criminalize within their domestic legislation ... (a) illegal access. Member states must make illegal the intentional access to the whole or any part of a computer system ... (4) Offenses related to infringements of copyright and related rights. The Cybercrime Convention orders states to criminalize the "willful" infringement of (a) copyrights by means of a computer system ... member states shall adopt measures to ensure that legal persons can be held liable for these offenses."

This treaty of cooperation in the prosecution of international cybercrimes was ratified by the US Senate in August 2006, and went into force in the US in January 2007.

7/26/2009 09:10:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Anonymous 11:46 PM also said, "Even if the NPG does take its specious and likely frivolous claims to court in the UK the decision will be of no benefit in enjoining the US user's behavior or recovering damages, as the judgment will be unenforceable in the US."

Not so fast.

International Copyright on the Web: What Rules Apply to Me and What Court Will Apply Them?

Prosecution in a case like Coetzee's could be very complicated (no surprise). A cyber-offender could be extradited to the UK under treaty. A cyber-offender could even be tried according to UK law in a US court. In short: if you're a US cyber-violator of another nation's copyright laws, all bets are off.

7/26/2009 11:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Is this you, Tom?:

"When I visit the Frick Museum, I think: Oh wow, they don't allow photographs, this is fantastic, just the way it should be."

I really don't understand the motivation behind what you're doing. As an artist, you want your copyrights to remain for 500 years?

If I was an artist from 200 years ago I would be upset about what the NGP is doing. Making their work worth out of MY work would be a big NO. I would rather they stop the digitalization and leave my work in peace. It's not for them to own. Let people have their piece of my cake.

Cedric Casp

7/26/2009 12:56:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Cedric, no, your caricature isn't me.

My argument involves (1.) recognizing that taking something without permission is theft, (2.) understanding that theft harms real people, (3.) respecting the people of other democracies by respecting their laws, (4.) asking permission or working out a deal before you decide to steal and (5.) understanding the consequences if you do decide to commit international cyber-theft. None of this strikes me as hard to grasp.

In your case, if you've decided that anyone can take a piece of your cake, then that's a whole different matter. You're willing to let people take a piece. But see a lawyer and make sure the executors of your estate abide by your wishes.

We're talking about the real world now. :-)

7/26/2009 03:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, in the real world, the UK Extradition Act 2003 has been found to be rather lop-sided. Probable cause is required for an extradition to proceed from the US, however only reasonable suspicion is needed for an extradition from the UK.

Not so fast.

Coetzee can sleep easy. Rather than maligning him as a thief, we should all be recognizing him as a legitimate user of the public domain.

7/27/2009 01:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The NPG's actions are outrageous. The UK taxpayer has funded the digitization of these images and they wish to charge us again for their use! Double taxation.

Let's abolish Crown Copyright while we're at it. Same thing. Double taxation. That's one thing the Americans got right.

7/27/2009 01:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

I shouldn't have to see a lawyer about this. The system that the UK law proposes could have heavy repercussions later on as far as lending all powers of those who hold information.

It absolutely has to change. It has to become the situation where you saying to me that I'm stealing means nonsense. I need to win this, Tom. This means Wiki needs to win.

Anyone can take a snapshot of a JPEG on the web. With a good camera and top-of-the-curve anti-reflect plasma, you have a repro of quality near the original.
Bingo: now you have YOUR reproduction with YOUR rights on it. Because what did I photographed exactly? My computer monitor. That's exactly what I just photographed. Is it legal to take a picture of my fucking computer monitor??

Bottom line is: people should not post anything on the web
if they fear the proprieties of the technology. Because beside my utopy, there is this realness: there is no website in the world where the content isn't copyable in one way or another, and just because some guy worked hours to transfer info to wikipedia doesn't mean that 1000 users wouldn't copy the NGP images for their personal use. The problem is: nobody owns the internet. It's not a private TV Broadcast company. It's not a media slated by regionalities, I really really doubt that whatever 4major countries think of this subject means 300 other countries in the world sign on this "treaty".

I thought Charles Manson was crazy when he spoke of the justice system as a factory for crime, but I see now where that is getting. You can't have a system where you get thousands criminals everyday.
Much more logic to deprive rights on repros, or sending warnings as: your using the net is your risk.

What should be grasped for now is that Wiki are not stealers yet, they are in court. Calling them stealer is just an opinion. I think we should lend legibility to the debate, because there is a lot of good reasons why Wiki should not be stealers in this.
I think it should be more that people stop using the web when they have issues with it. The NGP should publish a DVD and that's it.
I already have some DVD from the Louvres or elsewhere. That's neat.
Don't use the web if you are going to bring shit about what people can do or cannot do when they browse sites.

Cedric Casp

7/27/2009 04:34:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

If someone is stealing something, and he's stealing it for me, then he's not stealing. Brilliant argument.


Cedric, most copyright laws allow you to make copies for your own, private use. What's the problem?

Good grief, my friend, if I knew you were going to turn to Charles Manson for support, I would have let you "win" a long time ago. But then, I didn't know this discussion was about "winning." I thought it was about having a good time, throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks and what doesn't.

7/27/2009 07:56:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I thought it was about having a good time, throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks and what doesn't.

I think I've found the blog's new motto.

7/27/2009 08:05:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Ed, you said, "I think I've found the blog's new motto."

Licensing terms are available. Contact me for details. ;-)

7/27/2009 08:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

++If someone is stealing ++something, and he's stealing it ++for me, then he's not stealing. +++Brilliant argument.

Yes, it is a brilliant argument.
It's the "1 + 1 = 3 argument".
It's the steal where you realize that you actually lost nothing but gained something else in return.

I say "winning" because this is how I see it: it's like a sport in which only one is going to turn out the winner (wiki or NGP). The reason I "need to win" is because I'm aware of broader future consequences if NGP wins. Your kids need to win. I have Orwellian nightmares when I think of the possible ways one could control what is going on through the internet.

Charles Manson was a sick man, suffering Paranoia Psychosis, and the judicial system haven't treated him fairly. Somehow his name comes up when I'm faced with judicial cases where I find people are not entirely understanding what is going on.

Cedric Casp

7/27/2009 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Cedric, if you're worried about a nightmarish Orwellian scenario, isn't "internet freedom" the dumbest way in the world to combat it?

I mean, there isn't one bit of information on the internet that governments can't see and track. You're better off sharing reproductions of NPG paintings by carrying them on donkeys and using secret trails through the mountains.

Watch out, though, for Predator drones with Hellfire missiles!

7/27/2009 10:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

The government doesn't care about my presence on the net unless a judicial system is implemented to a degree where it doesn't have any other choices but to care. This is what I'm retiliating against.

Cedric Casp

7/27/2009 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Cedric, the idea that governments first need to "care" what you, personally, say or do is silly. Every electronic communication you engage in is already being scanned for keywords of interest.

As for judicial systems: as our economies become increasingly global, our judicial systems are becoming increasingly global too - in part as a response to the legal difficulties caused by the internet. No stopping that.

7/27/2009 12:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

I'm talking of a system where any keyword of interest leads to my identity and data of my electronical whereabouts, and not for mere commercial statistics, but a system where that information is primordial and matters.

The reason I worry is exactly because the judicial system will be looking for global solutions, and I don't want things to be like this little UK guide that you're pushing. It's not too late to influence these "global" laws, as you say, toward the US system or any that's better. Your insistance here let me presuppose that you would prefer these global laws respect the UK model, but really, in the end, the debate is still wrether this precise case should be considered by the UK court or the US court. If it was so evident that it was one way and not the other we wouldn't be here discussing about it. You say you have the answer, others people here are seem to not agree. The only thing left is to wait and witness how things unfold.

Cedrc Casp

7/27/2009 12:56:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Cedric, governments aren't scanning your communications and transactions for commercial reasons. Sure, they probably don't know you exist in any personal way (one human being taking notice of another), but the right keywords will flag you, and then the computer programs will keep an eye on you. Your cell phone reveals where you are (GPS), and your credit card reveals where you are. Hell, the transaction you make at the supermarket with your membership discount card reveals where you are. In real time.

Am I "pushing" the UK's copyright laws? In one sense, yes. Look at it this way: As the world grows increasingly interconnected, and it becomes increasingly impossible for you to live apart from the world (even for a moment), it's going to become increasingly important that we all get along with one another. How are we going to do that if we steal from one another, or disrespect each other's laws?

On the other hand, at some point in the near future, there won't be any laws of this nation or that nation - for all practical purposes, anyways. Just as hackers look for work-arounds, the increasingly globalized justice system will find ways to work around little things like citizen rights. It's already happening (as I pointed out in a previous post).

So you have two choices: respect others in order to keep peace in an interconnected world - even if you don't like others and their laws - or drop out. But your choices with the second option are growing fewer by the minute.

I remember when I was a kid, the world was such that you could move to the next town - thirty miles away - and start a new life. Now you can't even go to the other side of the world and start a new life.

The option to drop out completely - like one of the savages in Huxley's "Brave New World" - simply won't exist in the future. There will be nowhere you can run that technology can't find you - not a step you can take that technology won't know about. Sure, for the moment, a guy like Osama bin Laden [ I just got flagged! ] can remain hidden. But how many people, how many resources, how much time and effort does it take for him to do that? Who else has all that at their disposal?

One last thing: In a previous post, I put the words "internet freedom" in quotation marks. The reason was the issue of privacy. Charles J. Sykes, in his book "The End Of Privacy," made the point that just as you can't know privacy unless you have freedom, you can't know freedom unless you have privacy. There is no privacy on the internet. None. Absolutely everything you say and do is available to governments. Without your permission. So the concept of "internet freedom" is an illusion. And arguments for protecting "internet freedom" are delusional.

7/27/2009 02:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting Tom that this discussion has turned to privacy because I think changing notions as to its value create the ideological split here. What's wrong with having to pee in a cup to attend school? What's wrong with spreading around images of things that don't belong to you without permission. My gut tells me these are violations but I'm in the minority.


7/27/2009 03:00:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

And the irony is, Cathy, that we will have stop violating others in order to coexist in a world that increasingly violates us (from the top down). I'm not sure how we'll hold on to our sense of dignity in that situation.

Now I've brought up the "D" word too. ;-)

7/27/2009 03:15:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Maybe we just put up with it, make art, and wait for the global surveillance society to crash under its own weight. It will happen. The human race isn't good at maintaining anything for very long, as our history reveals.

7/27/2009 03:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

+++How are we going to do that if ++we steal from one another, or +++disrespect each other's laws?

It's not each other's laws. This is not about each others laws, because "each others laws" is proving right now that it's
not functioning well. It's about which camp will win when we decide what should be the rule for everybody. I don't agree that
the Wiki fellow "stole". This is not yet defined by the case, as it is going to court. You are saying that he stole. That is your opinion. If the case settles in Wiki's favor you will be left with that opinion. You favor the rights of the people who worked on making reproductions. I favor the rights of the public domain. I want the guy who is trying to make money out of his public domain reproductions be cut the grass under his shoes. I want this for the benefit of everybody in issues of public domain. The opportunity of this case lends an open call for waving all opinions.

As for privacy, the access to information is not the problem. The problem is what you are allowed to do with the information.

+++What's wrong with spreading ++around images of things that +++don't belong to you

What's wrong in having the monopole on reproductions of things that are in the public domain? Why isn't this considered abusing the non-copyright status of original objects? Why are UK people allowed to download books on Gutenberg but we shouldn't
download UK content (provided by the UK) because these PDF are copyrighted reproductions?
As it is, every PDF of public domain books on the net coming from the UK are copyrighted.
They could sell you the PDF is what I'm understanding.

Dignity is also respecting the ancient artists by not attempting to make a penny from their output by controlling the broadcast of information. I know something similar is going on with Mickey Mouse, I'm not sure exactly what.

Cedric Casp

7/27/2009 04:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cedric, my thought wasn't specific to this NPG thread (I haven't connected the dots as to how privacy applies to it) but to the idea of privacy when it comes to images. For example, I don't believe my spirit is stolen when my picture is taken but I do feel that something has been taken and that it is wrong to take it without permission. I don't think I owe my image to anyone for any purpose and wonder how notions of personal privacy translate to the dividing line in this thread. Maybe the boundary between self and community needs to blur because we are increasingly isolated from each other in other ways.


7/27/2009 06:21:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...


Public domain isn't a natural right.

Public domain is a legal right.

Public domain is created by the law and defined by the law.

The legal definition of public domain varies from one place to another.

The public domain created and defined by UK law is as valid as the public domain created and defined by US law.

You are going to have to prove that some abstract, universal standard of public domain exists - one that proves the UK definition is wrong, and a crime against humanity.

Even if you should succeed in this impossible philosophical task, who is going to enforce your conclusion in the UK? The International Philosophy Police Force?

7/27/2009 07:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

++Public domain isn't a natural right.

Says who? This is merely your religious belief. What if I believe in a God out there that find any pretention to privacy and copyrights ridiculous. I could also drag it down to philosophy. Life is an homeostasis, and I don't believe we are ever entirely cut off or private from it. This is all about your values against mines. Wrether your values are officially accepted everywhere as the "right ones" shouldn't imply that they are the universal truth.

+++You are going to have to prove ++that some abstract, universal ++standard of public domain +++exists - one that proves the UK definition is +++wrong, and a crime against humanity.

Well criminality is a big word that is waved too often (like calling people thieves) so I am not interested in it. But yes, in matters of public morality I believe the situation in the UK can lead to problems. If a person in the UK takes snapshots at the US National Museum, they can post it and ask a fee for it, because of the UK laws. I find the UK are abusing from the free rights countries because they can take what they want from the free public domain of these countries and then own the rights of the reproductions. This is the sort of situation where I think it's important to come up with international legislations about the use of internet that could crossover any specific country legislations. If we cannot stop the UK fellow from publishing a book of his snapshots of public domain works, at least we should stop him from profitting of them over the internet. Basically I think the UK should be deprived of Wikipedia for waving those regulations. There would be no Wikipedia if the same legislations existed everywhere, and it's not morally fair that UK are profitting from everyone else's gratuitous work and builds an iron wall around them in return. To me this simply involves issues of global humanism and morals.

A standard for universal public domain... Oxygen? The Sun? Water? (maybe not water).

Cathy, I know what you are referring to: you don't want people to post on Youtube a funny video of you. The rights to your body and that it should not be "publicly declothed" or ridiculed without your consent should be separated from media rights. International rights about this (which don't exist now) could help you ask Youtube or whatever sites to remove the images, but the arguments would have nothing to do with copyrights. But unfortunately once someone is dead there is not much to prevent these images from circulating. I agree with Tom that privacy is increasingly becoming an illusion, and more and more outside of the net as within. The rights to the body would involve issues like humiliation, calomny and diffamation.

Cedric Casp

7/28/2009 12:26:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Cedric, you said, "To me this simply involves issues of global humanism and morals."

Isn't it nice when we finally agree? ;-)

7/28/2009 10:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cedric, you're right that personal rights should be separate from media rights but I think that how we perceive individual privacy rights strongly influences how we see outside of them. Like you infer that a person should be able to have an image removed that disgraces him or her thus putting the burden of proof on the individual. Maybe you believe that society's rights to exert control over an individual's body or life (in this case a digital image of such)should trump the individual's rights of self-ownership when such control is deemed to contribute to the happiness of all people. I believe the person should have an absolute right (though it is an impossible task) to decide if they want any digital images of them (or their artwork) displayed at all. Technological change seems to be the driver changing standards of decency - not the other way around. Arguing against it as I am is pointless no doubt. And you are perceptive that personal youtube sorts of experience flavor my opinions - loss of control is not my thing. So I can empathize with institutions like the NPG that are having their sphere of influence carved into. But who should ownership belong to? I honestly don't know.


7/28/2009 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Cathy, you asked, "But who should ownership belong to?"

My guesses. The NPG would say both the specific reproductions they made and their database containing them belong to the NPG. Coetzee would say both the specific reproductions the NPG made and its database containing them belong to everybody - because both are mere copies of public domain works.

The NPG's claim would be based on the work they performed. Coetzee's claim would be based on his own country's legal definition of public domain.

Who's claim to ownership is right?

Well, from a legal standpoint, the two parties' claims conflict because they are based on two different countries' legal definitions of public domain. The matter would have to be settled in a court that the judicial systems of both countries agreed upon.

But from a moral standpoint, I think the claim of the NPG is superior, because it's based on the work and investment of living persons. More harm would be done to these living persons if their claim was denied, than would be done to dead artists. Or would be done to the public - whose NEED to own the work and investment of the living persons at the NPG is highly questionable.

7/28/2009 11:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, from a moral standpoint, instead of looking at it from the greatest harm standpoint, let's look at it from the greatest good standpoint. If this art is deemed important to humankind then what's most important is that it be preserved for humankind. The NPG, as steward, is taking the digital images with what I'm assuming to be preservation, rather than coffee mug sales, as their end purpose. If widely disseminating these images betters their chances of preservation in our collective memory, is the NPG working in good faith towards this goal or are they putting up roadblocks? I don't know. But I'm uncomfortable with Wiki playing Robin Hood and think the NPG, at the very least, should be compensated for their efforts.


7/28/2009 12:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

I think the digital world emulates the homeostasis of nature with such velocity that it's not a medium that anyone who fears subjects like duplication, reproduction, mutation, heredity, spreading pandemia, etc.., any sort of word that you can attribute to organicness, should use. Digital circulation functions like a virus that doesn't know a frontier (an image can originate from a uk website but their server might be in Thailand).

An artist can still prevent their art from spreading into digital (I have a hard time finding images from Franz Ackermann works that I'm looking for, even in books), but as for intellectual legacy, I'm not sure I understand the point of the artist not wanting to let things go off their creation after a couple centuries. I'm sure the Egyptians Pharaos didn't want to end up in museums, though. I understand this emotion, but, they couldn't foresee the future, could they? Would you prefer to die with the satisfaction that some treaty has been signed mentioning your copyrights will last for 4000 years? Yet you have more chances to end up in the museum you hate the most in the world (or the earth might turn to dust before that happens too).

I would advise someone to destroy all their data before they die, if what they want is to retain absolute control (it happens. Emile Reynaud destroyed most of his work). But in the end, I believe this questions relate to a conflict between personal ego and the status of nature. I find important to grasp how the ego of man works against the homeostasis of nature. The ultimate version of this ego is a powerful religious leader who press a nuclear bomb button and end the world because he doesn't want his followers to adorate an image of him dead. It's a caricature, but that's where thinking about yourself can lead. I would be more of the sentiment where we need to re-learn how to live in communities because it seems to me that what has served to glorify personal means as of late has not proven very fructuous

What the NGP is doing is still about a benefit of the few versus the benefit of everybody, and I don't think this is going in the direction that I believe the younger generations, bereft of individual work-value (robots are coming) and jobs will be going for.

The NGP is a public institution.
It cannot be harmed unless the public harms it. The UK public should decide what the NGP should be doing. They shouldn't agree with NGP decisions with their mouth shots. They want to see those images? They have a right to request it. The employess are only payed by the public to service them, and they are not loosing money off their jobs if the public agrees that they can loose 1 million to have works available for everyone online to see.

Those artists in the NGP catalog never signed any contract stating that the NGP should own the reproductions of their art, so stipulating that NGP is working for the protectorat of artists's controls of their rights is not understanding the problem. This is not about the rights of a current living artist, but about a zillion of "abused souls" whose work is being bestowed from public appreciation in return of the gain of a few individuals. Talk about absolute control: I would not want to be one of these artists whose history has fooled.

Cedric Casp

7/28/2009 01:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finally we are examining the moral standpoint.

Copyright is not just a right to protect creators, it must also be in balance with the promotion of innovation and creativity.

Copyright was never intended to be perpetual. And yet the policies of the NPG are trying to make it perpetual. Their position that the images acquired by Coetzee are subject to copyright would have more moral weight if they would allow others to photograph these public domain works. However they don't. These actions effectively deny the public right to a public domain for these works. This is out of balance with the public interest and also immoral.

Tom, it seems like what you are proposing is that these images should be locked up forever. That would be a return to the dark ages. It is in all our interest to encourage a new renaissance in art, and every other endeavour, by allowing the public domain to exist and to flourish.

7/28/2009 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

How are the NPG's images "locked up"? They are available on their site, for the whole world to look at for free. Digitized and maintained with no help from self-appointed defenders of the public domain.

I mean, really, if anyone is encouraging a new renaissance in art by making images of historic art available to the public, it's the NPG, and institutions like the NPG.

It's a wild fantasy to believe that if only the NPG would allow it, then the public would go in, photograph all the works, and put them up on the internet. And even if they did, all you'd end up with is a highly incomplete mess of low quality images scattered all over the internet.

7/28/2009 06:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom says: all you'd end up with is a highly incomplete mess of low quality images scattered all over the internet.

How true! It would be like smoking homegrown until some stonerpreneur figures things out (which could take a while). And since one can get high on art, someone, at some point, will work on it.


7/28/2009 08:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Tom Hering:
++even if they did, all you'd end ++up with is a highly incomplete ++mess

I think I respect the common level of intelligence more than that. Actually there would arguably be people who would do a better job than the NGP. Why? Because there is just always "better". The Wiki guy would arguably do the job himself he is has that much free benevolent time that he dedicate it to transfer 3000 images. I certainly would have the time and means.

James Kalm videos are not always the highest quality but he's doing a terrific job at showing an art show from the point of view of a visitor. You can sense that he's passionate about this. Sometimes the passion informs me better than the high quality transfer of someone who did his day job.

I think you are not using flicker very much. I just saw recently fantastic pictures of some church in Ethiopea made by tourist amateurs. Or a Gauguin, one I was looking for a Gauguin, and the colors varied widely from an official site to the other. But some "amateur" took a good quality photo of the "object" itself (with wood frame and all) and it looked more real than any artificial take from the official museum.

I would like to test this, what you say. Have the NGP present me their own digital image and test if I can do it better. One painting. I say: allow public photography for one painting, and let's test that. Let's see how dumb the results look.

They are tourist videos of the artifical sun from Eliasson that look so much better than the video they have up the Tate website.

I want to give kudoes for Yoko Ono who let everyone photograph and videotape her museum show in Montreal. I thought that ethically, it was a human gesture, regardless of what one thinks about what other people than themselves should NEED.

Cedric Casp

7/29/2009 12:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, the quality of the images on the NPG site is all but worthless other than to identify an image now they have disabled the Zoomify feature. Impossible to see the texture of paint, brushstrokes, or intimate detail which are of interest to art students, art connisseurs and art lovers. Have you looked at one of their images lately? Let's not forget who paid for these images. Us. The British taxpayer. They have better quality images but want us to pay for it again. We already paid for it the first time!

You are right that the NPG should be encouraging a new renaissance in art, indeed that should be its mission, but its actions demonstrate otherwise in trying to kill the public domain.

It's not a fantasy to expect interested persons to photograph these images at the NPG. Such persons would range from photography or art students to volunteer retirees. Hardly likely that they would end up scattered all over the Internet. Look at similar photographic sites such as planespotters or train enthusiasts. Very structured, searchable and useful. Wikipedia itself is amazingly organized considering how it is put together.

7/29/2009 01:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Hugh Laddie, senior judge, who wrote The Modern Law Of Copyrights (this from an article at AllVoices):

"[…] it is submitted that a person who makes a photograph merely by placing a drawing or painting on the glass of a photocopying machine and pressing the button gets no copyright at all; but he might get a copyright if he employed skill and labour in assembling the thing to be photocopied, as where he made a montage."

TADA!! If the NGP tries to fool everybody that they are doing a montage on old non-copyrights art, I demand the test that I can do better without having to resort to "creativity". The "creativity" of technology is NOT creativity. High resolution is NOT creativity. It is technology.

Further in the article:

"The commonly cited legal case Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp. found that there is no originality where the aim and the result is a faithful and exact reproduction of the original work. The case was heard twice in New York, once applying UK law and once applying US law. It cited the prior UK case of Interlego v Tyco Industries (1988) in which Lord Oliver stated that "Skill, labour or judgement merely in the process of copying cannot confer originality."

The case that won for reproduction rights was when a man wrote by hand speeches told by other journalists, but this is different. It is a drawing of a speech. Not a snapshot.

Let's move futher in the article
(link below):

"The Interlego judgement had itself drawn upon another UK case two years earlier, Coca-Cola Go's Applications, in which the House of Lords drew attention to the "undesirability" of plaintiffs seeking to expand intellectual property law beyond the purpose of its creation in order to create an "undeserving monopoly". It commented on this, that "To accord an independent artistic copyright to every such reproduction would be to enable the period of artistic copyright in what is, essentially, the same work to be extended indefinitely... "

Bingo said the Oracle.

Want to go on? Here's the Digital Policy Director (wow, nre titles)
for the Getty Trust:

"In restricting access, art museums effectively take a stand against the creativity they otherwise celebrate. This conflict arises as a result of the widely accepted practice of asserting rights in the images that the museums make of the public domain works of art in their collections.
....Indeed, restricting access seems all the more inappropriate when measured against a museum's mission — a responsibility to provide public access. Their charitable, financial, and tax-exempt status demands such."

More power to my side:

"Mike Masnick, founder of Techdirt, asked "The people who run the Gallery should be ashamed of themselves. They ought to go back and read their own mission statement[. …]"

I hope the world wins against NGP, and for bringing this story up, I'm really looking down on whoever is in position there that think they are doing their job. Shame, shame, shame.


Cedric Casp

7/29/2009 07:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

I stupidly forgot to mention that Hugh Laddie is a senior UK judge.

Cedric Casp

7/29/2009 07:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Oopsy...I've been fooled. The article is actually an exact copy of an article by Wiki News, which might be considered biaised. Did someone post it already? If so I have missed it.

(I saw this in a place called AllVoices by googling about the case.)

7/29/2009 07:34:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

So, we smash the online tyranny of the NPG. Hurrah! Their site, where you can view 120,000 high quality images for free, is gone. Hurrah!

Then, the dedicated defenders of the public domain drive to the NPG from all over Britain, and fly there from all over the world. (Whenever each of them can manage to find the time and money to do it, of course.) The happy staff of the NPG - at any time, on any day they're asked to do it - pulls piece after piece after piece out of storage for the triumphant defenders to shoot.

The defenders go home and put their images - of widely varying quality - up on Wikipedia or some new, project-specific site. Again, whenever they can manage to do it. A number of defenders (we must imagine) have deep pockets, and are always ready to head back to the NPG, every time there's a new acquisition to shoot.

And we end up with: Less than we had to begin with. No consistent quality of images. No consistent posting of images. Plus, the project might end up having to charge for access, so all those volunteers can recover the costs of their time, travel and equipment.

But it's a triumph of Liberty! Humanity advances! Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!

7/29/2009 08:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

++Their site, where you can view
++120,000 high quality images for ++free, is gone. Hurrah!

Oh that's just temporal, until those people are fired and others that don't see the museum as their personal property are hired.
I bet 50 years max, and you'll get all the resolution you can dream of this museum's works on the internet.

Generations, my friend, people change.

Cedric Casp

7/29/2009 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

Cedric, everything will change because certain people in the UK will simply be fired? Really? Don't underestimate (1.) the will of content providers, (2.) the strength of feeling behind national integrity, i.e., the desire of a nation to stop illegal foreign intrusions - including virtual intrusions like Coetzee's, (3.) the ability of a nation's copyright laws to morph in response to new challenges, (4.) the development of new technologies that will defend against infringements.

7/29/2009 11:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

There is no intrusion until it's being affirmed as such by law.

I really need to repeat what a UK court judge concluded above in a similar case where people imagined being "intruded": He mentioned the "undesirability" of plaintiffs seeking to expand intellectual property law beyond the purpose of its creation in order to create an "undeserving monopoly"".

I estimate that

1) by principles I'm willing to risk that private content providers remove all that belong to them. I'm not going to suffer a demoralizing of the state because of the vanity and pride of a few.

2) each nation has their own sense of desire and integrity, but the internet has its own desires and integrity as a medium. Besides, the only british person that spoke in this thread sounds pissed off enough that I'm willing to bet that the pride of the uk nation will win over the desire to deprive the rest of the world from their cultutal legacy, and this pride will constitute or be regarded as their integrity.

3) The justice consensus doesn't seem to be interested in bending the laws toward your direction, Tom. If the law morphs it might be to eradicate tentative like the NGP's. You're just throwing me the argument I used 10 posts above. Yes, laws can change Tom. It's your argument against mine. Day job work value against public rights and access.

4) Number 4 is Impossible. Resigning from the digital is the only door out. I pictured above the example of the high-resolution snapshot taken on the giant anti-reflective plasma screen. If I can see it, I can snap it. I can send it to millions people in fractions of a second so that you will never be sure if an image was ever eradicated from existence.

Cedric Casp

7/29/2009 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

"If I can see it, I can snap it. I can send it to millions people in fractions of a second ..."

An image of artists with pinhole cameras in their neckties comes to mind. NPG security guard: "Excuse me, sir. Is that an antenna in your pocket or do you just like the art?"

Well with that - Cedric, Cathy and anonymous British friend - I'll note that we're about to fall off the front page. The death sentence (according to past experience anyways). Any final thoughts?

It's been a good time as far as I'm concerned.

7/29/2009 12:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Yes, final words:

A fave quote of mine from an american architect I keep forgetting the name but
heard at some post-911 symposium on security and architecture: "security creates the threat".

The nectie cam was irrelevant at the Yoko Ono show, and her work has not diminushed in value since.
But similar to how painting adaptated when confronted with the emergence of photography and cinema, future artists will adapt to the new reality of facile reproduction, and make works which are not so easily transcribed by their copy. Unless they simply don't care (not everybody is in this for the money or to build an ego).

Also, the future of art careerism I envision as being more about commissioning, sponsoring and troubadourism than product manufacturing or publishing. The youth of today are too used to everyday easy online access that I doubt they'll be building iron walls around the internet. Other models will come up.

Thanks for participating, can't wait to see how the case unfolds

Cedric Casp

7/29/2009 02:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Final words:
A digital life everlasting - that just pisses my mortal self off. I haven't spoken to one dead artist who likes it either. What to do? Grind pigment or something.


7/29/2009 05:07:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Hering said...

The internet is where artists go when they die? That IS a creepy thought.

7/29/2009 10:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Sarah Bernardt hated cinema until as she grew older she realized it was her only chance to leave a testament of her art. So that's one artist who probably wouldn't mind about the digital.

What to do is don't do art. That's it. Stop. Ot make performance and in Antarctica to make sure no one photographs it. For 99.9999 of people, a digital afterlife means oblivion: nobody cares.

The world, the universe itself is not eternal. The conception of universal time compared with eternity is a flash. But consider this: everything you do in life is imprinted in time. The rays that you emit (light, vibrations, etc..)
are imprinted in time. A big radar at the other side of the universe (God?) can perceive this information, and maybe record it.
The posibility of time travel one day might be simply the possibility to invision the world as it once was by capting a "plasma" of the rays that it emits. So existing implies being
imprinted for whatever is the duration of the universe. There is no erasure. Being born means you are already an imprint, there is no escaping that. All the most embarassing moments you can imagine of yourself are "out there"
for "eternity" (duration of universe). Energy emanates, you cannot stop this process, and the digital doesn't bring anything that is not already a propriety in this universe.

Cedric Caspesyan

7/30/2009 01:40:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home