Gallery Threatens To Sue Wikimedia Admin Over Portrait Uploads

An Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer is representing an English American man threatened by London’s National Portrait Gallery for uploading images of its collection to Wikipedia.

The gallery is upset that Wikipedia admin Derrick Coetzee grabbed over 3,000 photographs of its portrait collection, converted them to hi-res and uploaded them to Wikimedia Commons, a repository for public domain and freely licensed works.

The gallery asked Wikipedia itself to remove the images, without success, so instructed its lawyers to contact Coetzee last week; he has posted the communication. The foundation argues it’s not responsible for user behaviour, and anyway: “It is our general understanding that the user in question has behaved in accordance with our mission, with the general goal of making public domain materials available via our Wikimedia Commons project, and in accordance with applicable law.” EFF’s Fred von Lohmann is now representing Coetzee.

Whilst the creators of the portraits themselves (and, therefore, the owners of their copyright) are long deceased, the case concerns the gallery’s photographs of the paintings, which it argues have separate and active copyright. One might argue that’s a disingenuous logic – though the original paintings are, to all intents, now in the public domain, by virtue of hanging in a gallery, the government-funded gallery’s claim works against the notion that they should equally be in the public domain in the digital world. It’s that which Coetzee and von Lohmann are likely to argue.