[intro]Museums Offer Low-Resolution Images but Wikipedia Decided to Take the High-Resolution Ones it Preferred. Here’s Why.[/intro]
This portrait of Queen Elizabeth is one of the images at the center of a growing legal battle between the National Portrait Gallery and Wikipedia. The Independent recently outlined the battleground and each side’s competing point of view:
Yesterday the leading art critic Brian Sewell waded into the row, calling the gallery managers fools. He added: “The National Portrait Gallery has always been managed by fools and this is another example of their folly. I’m on Wikipedia’s side. The only thing the gallery has to preserve are the pictures themselves. The images must, in some sense, be public property already.”
Media lawyer Duncan Lamont, of Charles Russell solicitors, disagreed. “This is the arrogance of new technology which thinks it can trample over rights and say, ‘I’ll have this for free’,” he said. “Copyright law is very clear. If somebody has taken a great deal of effort to get the lighting right to produce the best picture possible then they should be protected.”
The New York Times adds a fascinating wrinkle to the whole story by pointing out that the Wikipedia has an image deficit that it is trying to correct with the NPG’s high-resolution images. It should also be pointed out again that the National Gallery has offered medium resolution images to be used on Wikipedia:
At a time when celebrities typically employ a team of professionals to control their images, Wikipedia is a place where chaos rules. Few high-quality photographs, particularly of celebrities, make it onto this site. This is because the site runs only pictures with the most permissive Creative Commons license, which allows anyone to use an image, for commercial purposes or not, as long as the photographer is credited.
“Representatives or publicists will contact us” horrified at the photographs on the site, said Jay Walsh, a spokesman for the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates the Wikipedia encyclopedias in more than 200 languages. “They will say: ‘I have this image. I want you to use this image.’ But it is not as simple as uploading a picture that is e-mailed to us.”
“In general,” he added, “we need them to know that giving us a photograph from Annie Leibovitz won’t work unless Annie Leibovitz is O.K. with it.”
Photographs are a glaring flaw in the Wikipedia model. Unlike the articles on the site, which in theory are improved, fact checked, footnoted and generally enhanced over time, photographs are static works created by individuals. A bad article can become a better article. A bad photograph simply stays bad.
Wikipedians have tried to make up for this defect by organizing outings where groups of contributors take high-quality photographs of buildings or objects. Likewise Wikipedia has tried to gain permission from large photographic collections to use their material.
Last winter the German Federal Archives released 100,000 low-resolution digital copies under a license so they could appear on Wikipedia. Recently a Wikipedia user, Derrick Coetzee, downloaded more than 3,000 high-resolution photographs from the British National Portrait Gallery — to serve, in essence, as the head shots for important historical figures like Charlotte Brontë or Charles Darwin.
Wikipedia May Be a Font of Facts but It’s a Desert for Photos (New York Times)