Saturday 11 July 2009

Photo copyright: you say 'original' and I say 'slavish'

On Friday the National Portrait Gallery sent a letter of claim to a certain Derrick Coetzee, an American software developer at Microsoft. The NPG complains that Coetzee has uploaded more than 3,300 of their photos to Wikipedia. Coetzee does not deny that since joining Wikipedia in 2003 he has found it ‘strangely addicting’.

This unbridled enthusiasm for the internet’s favourite encyclopedia gives rise to an interesting jurisdictional poser for copyright lawyers. While under US law straight photos (‘slavish copies’) of out-of-copyright paintings are not deemed sufficiently original to become new copyright works (Bridgeman v. Corel), the UK position remains unsettled. The NPG say that because the servers on which their website is hosted are based in the UK, the downloading ‘technically’ took place on the eastern shores of the pond.

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