by Gwyn Headley
It’s rare for a picture library to make the national news, but that’s what the National Portrait Gallery managed today.
In March this year a Wikipedia administrator appropriated three thousand high-resolution images from the NPG website and published them to Wikipedia.
The NPG contacted Wikipedia and asked for the removal of the images. Wikipedia ignored the request. So the NPG issued a lawyer’s letter.
A spokesman for Wikipedia, an amazing and wonderful resource which I use daily, eventually deigned to respond — in one of the most arrogant, high-handed, dismissive, patronising, offensive, overweening blogs I have ever had the pleasure to read.
The National Portrait Gallery, the repository of Britain’s heritage of people paintings, is derided as an antiquated, fusty old dinosaur of an organisation, hopelessly out of touch with spiffy new C21 ways. It wants to CHARGE for images, ferkrissake!
The comments are a joy, by turns placatory and inflammatory.
And what it all boils down to is this: should everything be free, or should we pay for people’s work?
To which, I guess, everyone at heart would share the same response: everything should be free for me, but I want to be paid for my work.
The Wikipedia / NPG confrontation is a no-brainer; it’s straightforward theft, it’s illegal, and Wikipedia should cease and desist instantly. No argument. Being British, the NPG is unlikely to pursue for damages.
But what I cannot understand is how Wikipedia got its hands on 3,000 hi-res images from the NPG (which, frankly, charges an awful lot of money for the use of its images, so it is no saint either) in the first place? Nor can I understand why it needs them — the NPG has indicated that it is happy to allow Wikipedia to display small lo-res copies of the images, which is all you need on a web site. Why on earth would Wikipedia want to hold on to this stolen property?
And does the NPG have no security? If anyone downloads a hi-res image from fotoLibra, they pay for it. We know all about it. How could the NPG have let three THOUSAND expensive hi-res images slip through their fingers? Or were they hacked?
I think we should be told.