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More on blogging, images and copyright

July 15, 2009
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Courtesy of Uncommon Depth at flickr (using Creative Commons Licence)

Courtesy of Uncommon Depth at flickr (using Creative Commons Licence)

Those of you who have read my very early posts will know that copyright on images is an important issue for me – it’s why I often don’t have a lot of images on my posts, much as I’d like to. I’m sure that it won’t be long before the whole copyright situation is blown sky high but, until it does, I’m erring on the side of caution.

Today I was sent two links concerning a controversy at Wikipedia regarding the uploading there of images from the National Portrait Gallery in London. Apparently the Gallery has threatened legal action on a Wikipedian who uploaded onto Wikipedia over 3000 public domain images from the Gallery. The Gallery claims that while the original images are in public domain, their scans are protected by copyright. This is just one of their claims. It is all explained in an edition of Wikipedia’s magazine Signpost.

Another Signpost edition comprises an open letter written by three administrators to the Wikipedia community. It explains the reasoning behind Wikipedia’s philosophy while also recognising where institutions like the Gallery are coming from. It gives examples of other more positively negotiated solutions to the problem. A basic issue is that cultural institutions spend a lot of money preserving and storing their collections, and never have enough funding to do all they need to do. Many supplement their incomes by charging fees for commercial use of their images. Often, in the case of public domain images, they call this fee a “preservation” or “handling” fee. In our new digital world, many institutions are starting to free up non-commercial use of low-resolution images and I have myself obtained permission to upload low resolution images onto Wikipedia. However, the Wikipedian in question downloaded high resolution images from the National Portrait Gallery…a whole new ball-game.

You can see the challenge. The world is full of institutions holding immense and rich collections of material that the rest of us would like to access. These institutions are caught in a bind – the digital world exponentially increases their ability to provide access to their collections but it also hugely increases the risk of non-approved or even illegal use of their collections. And, the rights issue is a complex one. We users are not always aware, when looking at an image, what is in copyright and what isn’t. The issue is further complicated by the fact that we live in a global world but we do not have global copyright laws … I am regularly frustrated in my hunt for images by there being no statement anywhere concerning rights.

They might be juggernauts, but it is organisations like Wikipedia, Google and Flickr which are likely to push the issue to a conclusion. We all know a picture tells a thousand words … and we now have the technology to achieve it. All we need is for our rules and laws to catch up with the technology.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 17, 2009 16:38

    Yes, definitely. I use book covers freely on the basis that I’m giving free advertising and always link to the publishers site in the review (I stopped using Amazon Associates some time ago due to the ridiculously small returns I was getting back from it). Other images are usually my own – I have thousands on flickr and other places anyway. A useful post to provoke thought!

  2. whisperinggums permalink*
    July 17, 2009 17:36

    If you’ve read my first post on the topic you’ll see that I specifically talk about publishers. When I started this blog two months ago I started thinking about the issue – and found very little useful discussion on the topic. In practical terms I’m sure publishers do see it as a bit of free advertising and wouldn’t “come at” individual bloggers, but if you read their websites they give no advice/permission re this. I have now emailed about 7 or so publishers and have only had responses from three (an Australian company, an English company, and the Australian arm of an American company). Those three all gave me approval, but I’ve heard nothing from the others, who include some biggies. I therefore don’t use their images. They miss out on the brand recognition and the attribution that I give to others. Meanwhile, it forces me to be creative in illustrating my blog!!

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