Mar 8, 2010

Civil disobedience 1: Chihuly's photos on Commons

For a while now I wanted to showcase some interesting images deleted from Wikimedia Commons due to copyright paranoia. For those unfamiliar with our modern copyright laws, not only a lot of photos on the net are copyrighted and you cannot reuse them - but a lot of objects CANNOT BE LEGALLY PHOTOGRAPHED. For example, almost the entirety of modern art, even if it is on public display, cannot be photographed.

First case:

1) Three photos of mine of a decorative sculpture in the foyer of Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, US.


Commons deletion discussion: here

Summary: modern art is copyrighted by artists (in this case, Dale Chihuly), that includes photos of it. There is no freedom of panorama in United States. This means that you cannot take pictures of Mr. Chihuly's works and share them with others, no matter how much you'd like to advertise his wonderful creations.

Outcome: photos will be deleted from Commons collection, which will entitle their removal from various articles, such as on Mr. Chihuly and Phipps Conservatory. Note how the copyright that is supposedly protecting the artists is in fact hurting them, in this case limiting the informative content of the primary reference work about them.

Current use examples:

Expect them to disappear soon.

Solution: wait 70 after Mr. Chihuly's death (unless copyright is retroactively extended, again...). Or contact him and ask for permission (assuming he is still the copyright holder and haven't sold the rights to that particular sculpture to the Gardens). Unfortunately, this is quite time consuming, and few Wikimedia volunteers take care of that, when so many other tasks need doing. I have done it myself a few times in the past, and on occasion managed to save an image or two, but it is a time consuming task (communicating with real person, with no guarantee they'll bother to reply, and then having to convince them to give permission to release the photos under a free license - which is likely a concept they've never heard of - and then have fun explaining why Wikimedia needs the commercial-use-allowed one... (because our ethics requires we explain to them what the free license we need entitles in detail...)). Compared to that, categorizing some images or translating descriptions is so much easier... sigh.

So Mr. Chihuly's article on Wikipedia will soon be gutted of all images of his works. Feel free to tell me how this benefits him :)

Note: This blog post is by no means intended as a jibe against Mr. Chihuly (who is almost certainly unaware of how the law is "protecting him"), nor against Wikimedia Commons (which being a non-profit organization on a donation budget cannot really risk being sued by somebody, with all the costs it incurs). It is however intended a a jibe against the current copyright system, showing how it is hurting all of us - artists and the public, both of which it claims to protect.

In the coming months, I intend on covering other media deletions from Commons (and maybe a few examples of when images were saved). Stay tuned,
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Voice of the Prokonsul by Piotr Konieczny is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.