Lawyers for The National Portrait Gallery in London have fired off a letter to the powers that be behind the Wikipedia encylopedia Web site, warning that England's copyright laws were breached when an individual downloaded more than 3,300 high resolution images of drawings, paintings and photographs from the Gallery's database and uploaded them into an archive of free-to-use images on Wikipedia.
Derrick Coetzee, the volunteer Wikipedia uploader who did the deed in March 2009, also uploaded the letter from the Gallery's counsel threatening suit for copyright infringement. Reproductions of works of art are not copyrightable in the U.S. where Coetzee resides, but such photos may be copyrighted under English law, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
The Wikimedia Foundation did not remove the images, despite being asked to do so by the Gallery's attorneys in April 2009.The Gallery's attorneys claim that Coetzee circumvented the technical measures put in place to protect the high resolution images. Though ordering in their letter that Wikipedia immediately expunge the purportedly purloined images from its Web site, the Gallery's attorneys left open the virtual door of possibly permitting Wikipedia to feature low resolution copies of the Gallery's exhibits.
Created in 2001, Wikipedia, a multi-lingual free-content based encyclopedia, boasts nearly 3 million articles and more than 850,000 uploaded files on its site as of July 15. The National Portrait Gallery dates back to 1856 and includes among its founding trustees former Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and the Gallery's prime mover, the 5th Earl Stanhope.You can look it up at Wikipedia, but would be better off going to the Gallery's own Web site, www.npg.si.edu.