Monday, July 20, 2009

Wikipedia May Be a Font of Facts, but It’s a Desert for Photos; New York Times, 7/20/09

Noam Cohen via New York Times; Wikipedia May Be a Font of Facts, but It’s a Desert for Photos:

"At a time when celebrities typically employ a team of professionals to control their images, Wikipedia is a place where chaos rules. Few high-quality photographs, particularly of celebrities, make it onto this site. This is because the site runs only pictures with the most permissive Creative Commons license, which allows anyone to use an image, for commercial purposes or not, as long as the photographer is credited...

Last winter the German Federal Archives released 100,000 low-resolution digital copies under a license so they could appear on Wikipedia. Recently a Wikipedia user, Derrick Coetzee, downloaded more than 3,000 high-resolution photographs from the British National Portrait Gallery — to serve, in essence, as the head shots for important historical figures like Charlotte Brontë or Charles Darwin.

The gallery threatened legal action against Mr. Coetzee, saying that while the painted portraits may be old and thus beyond copyright protection, the photographs are new and therefore copyrighted work. The gallery is demanding a response by Monday from Mr. Coetzee, who is being represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In an e-mail message on Friday a gallery spokeswoman, Eleanor Macnair, wrote that “contact has now been made” with the Wikimedia Foundation and “we remain hopeful that a dialogue will be possible.”

But none of this has made much of an improvement in Wikipedia’s photography. Any gallery of hideous Wikipedia photographs would include the former N.B.A. star George Gervin, who is standing stiffly in a suit in a shot that is cropped longer and thinner than would be typical even for a basketball player. The unrestricted photograph came from the office of Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who has been cut out of it.

As in Mr. Gervin’s case, the government is a prime source for public domain photographs...

“To me the problem is the Wikipedia rule of public use,” Mr. Avenaim said. “If they truly wanted to elevate the image on the site, they should allow photographers to maintain the copyright.”"

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