13 July 2009

National Portrait Gallery: Nuts

This is so wrong:

Below is a letter I received from legal representatives of the National Portrait Gallery, London, on Friday, July 10, regarding images of public domain paintings in Category:National Portrait Gallery, London and threatening direct legal action under UK law. The letter is reproduced here to enable public discourse on the issue. For a list of sites discussing this event see User:Dcoetzee/NPG legal threat/Coverage. I am consulting legal representation and have not yet taken action.

Look, NPG, your job is to get people to look at your pix. Here's some news: unless they're in London, they can't do that. Put those pix online, and (a) that get to see the pix and (b) when they're in London, they're more likely to come and visit, no?

So you should be *encouraging* people to upload your pix to places like Wikipedia; you should be thanking them. The fact that you are threatening them with legal action shows that you don't have even an inkling of what you are employed to do.

Remind me not to pay the part of my UK taxes that goes towards your salary....


David Gerard said...

This is very annoying in that we have good working relations with many other museums and galleries around the world. The NPG is the outlier here. And this effort on their part could foul up our efforts with others. Lose-lose all around.

I blogged on this:


At the moment we're working out what to do short of total war, because that would actually be bad for Wikimedia, bad for the NPG and bad for culture, no matter who "wins".

I would quite like to defuse it before it hits the mainstream press big time. This requires someone at the NPG who *isn't* the art gallery equivalent of Gen. Jack D. Ripper. Such people appear, unfortunately, to be in short supply there.

David Gerard said...

Oh, and NPG have taken the hi-res images down. So now the *only* place people can see them is on Wikipedia. So it is now a *moral imperative* to keep them up and available, for the sake of culture, and the NPG demanding we take them down goes directly against their remit. They're a government sub-department, too, not an independent nonprofit.

Glyn Moody said...

@David: thanks for that background. The fact that they have taken them down is confirmation of what I was saying: what on earth do they think they role is in this world? Sacred keepers of photographic images?

Dr Grumble said...

The best outcome would have been for this to have been defused but that seems unlikely now.

I think they should give us our taxes back.

Glyn Moody said...

Well, talks seem to be happening. But I agree, as a taxpayer, being unable to use the pix seems unjustified.

David Gerard said...

Talks are indeed happening. This is good.

The root problem is that galleries are told by governments "by the way you have to make up your budget by squeezing your exhibits until the pips rattle." Even though the actual numbers people have managed to extract from the NPG shows their licensing income is barely coming out ahead of costs.

There's a thread on foundation-l (the cross-WMF public discussion email list) and on my blog asking for what people would like to see in a win-win compromise.

*cross fingers*

Glyn Moody said...

Thanks for the update.

Yes, it's the same with the Ordnance Survey: they're told to "make" money, even though by doing so they actually miss the bigger opportunity...