Ding, ding! Seconds out, round one: National Portrait Gallery Wikipedia v Wikipedia

Roll up, roll up, for the next great online copyright bout. In the red corner, weighing in at almost 153 years old, is the venerable National Portrait Gallery, an institutional heavyweight if ever there was one. In the blue corner, weighing in at just over 8 years old, is the upstart Wikipedia, a sprightly bantamweight which has bulked up considerably in recent years and now packs a hefty punch. The fight is over whether Wikipedia has infringed the Gallery’s copyright in recently-created digital images of portraits which are out of copyright. A piece on this by TechnoLlama (Andres Guadamuz) – including the choice of image, though its subject has previously appeared on this blog – is too good to pass up (links in original):

National Portrait Gallery copyright row

Jeremy Bentham, via WikipediaSeveral news sites have reported an interesting copyright case involving the Wikimedia Foundation and the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in Britain. The NPG undertook a £1 million GBP digitisation exercise, and placed high-definition versions of their pictures in a database locked with technological protection measures. Derrick Coetzee, a volunteer for the Wikimedia Foundation, accessed the database, circumvented the protection, and uploaded 3,300 NPG pictures to Wikimedia Commons. The original portraits are in the public domain, so it would be a fair assumption that pictures of the originals would not have copyright either. However, the NPG disagreed, and sent a cease-and-desist letter to Mr Coatzee alleging copyright infringement, database right infringement, circumvention of technological protection measures, and breach of contract. This is an interesting legal issue for many reasons, chiefly because the legal status of pictures of public domain paintings is not clear in UK copyright law.

… To conclude, this is an interesting legal case for many reasons. … I believe that the NPG would have a difficult time in court, with the exception of the contractual case, but as I said, many of the legal issues are completely open in the UK. In a selfish way, I wish the case would be litigated, as it would provide us with some interesting precedent in the case of originality of copies of public domain works, and also on the issue of browse-wrap agreements.

Read the rest of this fascinating entry here (for full value, click through the two links at the end [one of which has now been updated], and read the debate in the comments to Andres’ post). The Register has some background, and – inevitably – there’s now a wikipedia page about the controversy; of the torrent of online news and comment, I’ve found the following most useful: BBC | Boing Boing | Creative Commons | David Gerard | Edward Winkleman |Guardian | IP Osgoode | ORG | Roger Pearse.

I think this one could go the full fifteen rounds, and I shall watch every punch with great interest.

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