Copyrights and Wrongs

A couple of cracking good (as the Brits say) copyright dustups are in the news lately.

First, there’s this: “John McCain Apologizes To Jackson Browne, Settles Dispute Over ‘Running On Empty.'”

Browne sued McCain, the Republican National Committee, and the Ohio Republican Party  over a web ad that “used the well-known Democrat’s 1977 ‘Running on Empty’ as its soundtrack. The ad criticized Barack Obama’s energy policy.”

And all this time I assumed “Running on Empty” was John McCain’s presidential campaign song.

Then, from our Transatlantic Copyright Infringement bureau, there’s this donnybrook from the United Kingdom: “Legal row over National Portrait Gallery images placed on Wikipedia.”

The Guardian reported last week:

The National Portrait Gallery has threatened legal proceedings for breach of copyright against a man who downloaded thousands of high-resolution images from its website, and placed them in an archive of free-to-use images on Wikipedia.

Wikipedia volunteer and Seattle resident Derrick Coetzee uploaded the portraits, all of which are available in low resolution on the NPG website and all of which are all in the public domain. But as the New York Times reported:

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.

Beyond that, the Times story noted, Wikipedia overall is a “desert for photos.” That’s largely 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.

There’s no indication in the news reports I’ve seen that such credit accompanies the Wikipedia images from the NPG.

In the end, this is about money, of course. The gallery told the Guardian that

it would be happy for the online site to use low-resolution images but was “very concerned” about loss of revenue from copyright fees for the high-resolution versions, which form a significant part of its income.The projected gross revenue from fees in 2008/9 was over more than £339,000.

Welcome to the future of intellectual property. As Christopher Caldwell recently wrote in his Weekly Standard piece “Steal this eBook”:

The Internet is an evolving human creation. It is a cultural phenomenon, a set of behaviors. What etiquette and what law prevail there will depend on how we transfer our old common-sense understandings from the physical world into cyberspace.

Your transfer goes here.

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2 Responses to Copyrights and Wrongs

  1. Great minds think alike (see my blog items on Browne 7/21 & National Gallery 7/16). “Redneck Friend” and “The Pretender” are two tunes from the Jackson Browne discography that were better suited to the McCain campaign, though the lawsuit does leave unsettled an issue bound to re-appear–the conflicting legal boundaries of commercial speech and political speech.

    Regarding the Wikipedia suit, England’s Copyrights, Designs & Patents Act of 1988 allows for copyrighting reproductions of works of art, whereas U.S. copyright laws do not. Wonder if Wikipedia volunteers will attempt to edit the National Portrait Gallery’s complaint?

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