Note: an earlier version of this article was erroneously posted on the 1709 Blog, which is already well populated with comments on this issue.
Guardian Online has reported that London's prestigious National Portrait Gallery has threatened legal proceedings for copyright infringement against Derrick Coetzee, who downloaded 3,014 high-resolution images from its website and placed them in an archive of free-to-use images on Wikipedia. There has been no formal response from the internet encyclopedia but Derrick Coetzee, who downloaded the images, has apparently uploaded the letter from the London lawyers Farrer and Co "to enable public discourse on the issue". According to the article,
"Photographs of works of art are protected by copyright in the UK, but not in the US, where Coetzee lives. All the creators of the original images are long since dead, but the photographs were only taken for the NPG as part of a £1m digitisation project in the last couple of years".The gallery says it isn't suing Wikipedia and affirmed its willingness for the site to use low-resolution images. Loss of revenue from copyright fees for the high-resolution versions is not huge but would be noticed: the projected gross revenue from fees in 2008/9 was over more than £339,000.
The IPKat reflects on the fact that the issues here are reflected widely within not only copyright but other IP rights: tensions exist between (i) the need to respect and protect creativity, (ii) the entitlement of the public to gain access to and to exploit works that enter the public domain and (iii) the protection of investment that might not otherwise be made in activities such as the creation of high-resolution images, which incur a cost that the investor may not be able to recover. Merpel says, it seems that Mr Coetzee, by downloading images of pictures from the NPG and popping them into a wiki archive, is literally a human "photo copier".
Further reading and background material on Wikinews
Comment by Amanda Harcourt on some of the finer points of copyright law here