01 February 2010

Britain Loves Wikipedia - And About Time, Too

One of the important roles of museums and galleries is education: helping the public to discover and explore the masterworks in their collections. So you would have thought that they would be only to happy to have images of those works exposed in the greatest online gallery of them all, Wikipedia. And yet there has been a certain resistance to this in some quarters, thanks - of course - to a crazy obsession with "copyright".

That's doubly misguided: we're talking about old works here, so the idea that copyright should be operative on their images, is nuts; but it's also perverse, because it stops people from finding out about what's on offer in museums, which is against their best interests.

Against that rather sad background, I obviously applaud this initiative:


‘Britain Loves Wikipedia’ is a month-long competition and series of events to be held in participating museums nationwide from 31 January 2010. People from all ages, backgrounds and communities can take part in the competition, which encourages the public to photograph the treasures of our nation’s museums and galleries, actively involving them in digitally recording the collections. All of the photos entered into the ‘Britain Loves Wikipedia’ competition will be made available under a free license on Wikimedia Commons, and can then be used to illustrate Wikipedia articles.

It's just sad that this hasn't been happening automatically, everywhere.

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13 comments:

David Gerard said...

It's an ongoing effort to liaise with museums and get them to see the benefits of getting their stuff out there. It also doesn't all have to be done tomorrow. Each success opens future successes. The hard part is how not to mess things up for the museums in the process. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:GLAM

glyn moody said...

@David: thanks - I hoped you might provide some context...

David Gerard said...

:-) The key thing in such liaisons is that Wikipedia is the 900lb gorilla. We have a lot of power to mess things up and have to be careful not to.

Museums are too often told by their government benefactors "we'll give you this much money only if you ruthlessly squeeze your collection for every penny" and never mind the mission statement. The people in the museums are often torn between wanting everything available and survival.

So every effort that works is a happy happy joy thing and makes others possible.

Our genius of this stuff is Liam Wyatt of Wikimedia Australia, who has worked at museums for years and put together the GLAM-WIKI event: http://www.wikimedia.org.au/wiki/GLAM-WIKI

The National Portrait Gallery example really is the exception. Even other museums regard them as batshit insane.

glyn moody said...

@David: sounds hopeful...

Hedgie said...

My understanding is that museum's attitudes started changing under the Thatcher and Major governments, when museums were cash starved (universal free entry ended as well during this period).

Museums started exploiting photographs of their objects for commercial gain.

Of course the majority of items in collections are out of copyright, so museums strictly controlled access to photography, creating a monopoly for their own photographs.

Complicated this was the rise of the idea of the museum as a commercial brand - licensing out the museum's name as well as its photography.

The V&A took a lead in this and I think today has the largest and most successful licensing operation in the world.

However, in recent years the VA has also pursued a very open policy of public photography in the galleries, proving it is possible to create a balance between the two approaches.

glyn moody said...

@Hedgie - thanks. Yes, that's broadly my impression, too.

Rob said...

It means the museums get to put their works online for free, without having to pay for photographers who would then expect either to own to the copyright (back to the problem) or be paid for a buyout.

Cynical but true :-)

glyn moody said...

@Rob: yes, but I would argue that photographers shouldn't be able to own a copyright in a photograph of something in the public domain (unless it were a consciously *creative*, not a factual one).

So this seems the perfect solution.

David Gerard said...

It's A Tricky One (tm). Under US law, a "slavish reproduction" of a PD work is PD. No "sweat of the brow." No ifs or buts.

A 2D photo of a 3D work will likely be copyright. A 3D reproduction (data, wireframe or 3D printed blog) will likely not be.

The legal position in the UK is unresolved. Anyone who claims either way is underinformed or attempting to push a view. At present it exists in a state of legal quantum uncertainty.

Wikipedia's position as 800lb gorilla comes (2) from popularity but (1) from US law being quite unambiguous on this point.

As I noted, we really don't want to mess things up for the museums, because museums are fundamentally good. So taking things slowly and gently is entirely fine. Lots of aggrieved geeks demand everything be released yesterday, but I submit that taking it slowly is working quite well, establishing a standard and - and this is the important part - making the custodians of these objects *want* them released.

This leads to copyright tags such as "Museum x asserts copyright on this representation in x country and releases it under CC-by-sa; under US law it is public domain". Comical! Fun! Gives the CC-by-sa the status of a request rather than a demand; but, as I noted, this whole thing is an exercise in what you get when you ask nicely.

(And if you ever want to become a copyright geek, hang around Wikimedia Commons for a while - you'll become an expert whether you like it or not ...)

glyn moody said...

@David: thanks, useful

Liam said...

@david - very good summary of the Wikimedia stance on this issue and also thank you for your kind words about me. You are a scholar and a gentleman :-)

Valentin Villenave [France] said...

Britain hasn't always loved Wikipedia, unfortunately... :-)

glyn moody said...

@Valentin: no, indeed - but the view seems to be that the NPG were the exception, fortunately...