National Portrait Gallery "prepared for dialogue" with Wikipedia over copyright row

By Culture24 Staff | 15 July 2009
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an exterior shot of a gallery

(Above) The National Portrtait Gallery. Picture © The National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery says it is prepared to enter talks with Wikipedia following the Gallery's threatened legal action for breach of copyright against a man who uploaded thousands of its high resolution images onto Wikimedia Commons, an online repository of free-to-use media.

Derrick Coetzee managed to bypass computer software to upload more than 3,000 images onto the free-to-use archive facility, which is a sister project to the encyclopedia Wikipedia, without permission from the Gallery. The NPG issued a lawyer's letter on Friday (July 10), as the photographs are protected under UK copyright law but not by US law, where Mr Coetzee is a resident.

During the past five years the Gallery has spent £1 million digitising 60,000 works from their collection. Visitors to the website are able to view low-resolution images of complete works and also zoom in on high-resolution sections of images.

"The Gallery supports Wikipedia in its aim of making knowledge widely available and we would be happy for the site to use our low-resolution images, sufficient for most forms of public access, subject to safeguards," said a Gallery spokesman.

"To date, Wikipedia has not responded to our requests to discuss the issue, and so the National Portrait Gallery has been obliged to issue a lawyer's letter. The Gallery remains willing to enter into a dialogue with Wikipedia."

The gallery highlighted the threat of free access to the pictures potentially affecting future digitisation projects.

"The Gallery is very concerned that potential loss of licensing income from the high-resolution files threatens its ability to reinvest in its digitisation programme and so make further images available," added the spokesman.

"Digitisation involves huge costs including research, cataloguing, conservation and highly-skilled photography. Images then need to be made available on the Gallery website as part of a structured and authoritative database."

Nick Poole, Chief Executive of Collections Trust, the UK sector organisation for standards and access to collections, was keen to strike a mood of concilliation.

He told Culture24: "This is not yet a legal action - it's a lawyer's letter to promote an open discussion with Wikimedia and it is important that no-one takes sides until all of the information is made clear. It is really just a conversation, but one that the sector has a strong interest in the outcome of."

For more information on the National Portrait Gallery's collections visit their website.

Find out more about the Collections Trust at www.collectionstrust.org.uk.

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