News & Current Affairs

July 17, 2009

Wikipedia painting row escalates

Wikipedia painting row escalates

Georgina Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire ascribed to Sir Joshua Reynolds, circa 1759-1761. © National Portrait Gallery

Work by Sir Joshua Reynolds was among those uploaded to Wikipedia

The battle over Wikipedia’s use of images from a British art gallery’s website has intensified.

The online encyclopaedia has accused the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) of betraying its public service mission.

But the gallery has said it needs to recoup the £1m cost of its digitisation programme and claims Wikipedia has misrepresented its position.

The NPG is threatening legal action after 3,300 images from its website were uploaded to Wikipedia.

The high-resolution images were uploaded by Wikipedia volunteer David Coetzee.

Now Erik Moeller, the deputy director of the Wikimedia Foundation which runs the online encyclopaedia, has laid out the organisation’s stance in a blog post.

‘Empire building’

He said most observers would think the two sides should be “allies not adversaries” and that museums and other cultural institutions should not pursue extra revenue at the expense of limiting public access to their material.

“It is hard to see a plausible argument that excluding public domain content from a free, non-profit encyclopaedia serves any public interest whatsoever,” he wrote.

He points out that two German photographic archives donated 350,000 copyrighted images for use on Wikipedia, and other institutions in the United States and the UK have seen benefits in making material available for use.

Another Wikipedia volunteer David Gerard has blogged about the row, claiming that the National Portrait Gallery makes only £10-15,000 a year from web licensing, less than it makes “selling food in the cafe”.

They honestly think the paintings belong to them rather than to us
David Gerard
Wikipedia volunteer

But the gallery insists that its case has been misrepresented, and has now released a statement denying many of the charges made by Wikipedia.

It denies claims that it has been “locking up and limiting access to educational materials”, saying that it has been a pioneer in making its material available.

It has worked for the last five years toward the target of getting half of its collection online by 2009. “We will be able to achieve this,” said the gallery’s statement,”as a result of self-generated income.”

The gallery says that while it only makes a limited revenue from web licensing, it earns far more from the reproduction of its images in books and magazines – £339,000 in the last year.

But it says the present situation jeopardises its ability to fund its digitisation process from its own resources.

Legal issues

The gallery has claimed that David Coetzee’s actions have breached English copyright laws, which protect copies of original works even when they themselves are out of copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery now says it only sent a legal letter to David Coetzee after the Wikimedia Foundation failed to respond to requests to discuss the issue. But it says contact has now been made and remains hopeful that a dialogue will be possible.

A spokeswoman also said that the two German archives mentioned in Erik Moeller’s blog had in fact supplied medium resolution images to Wikipedia, and insisted that the National Portrait Gallery had been willing to offer similar material to Wikipedia.

National Portrait Gallery

The gallery said the row could prevent it putting more of its collection online

The gallery also explained how David Coetzee was able to obtain the high resolution files from its site. They were made available to visitors using a “Zoomify” feature, which works by allowing several high resolution files to be seen all together.

It claims Mr Coetzee used special software to “de-scramble” the high-resolution tiles, allowing the whole portrait to be seen in high resolution.

The British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies has backed the National Portrait Gallery’s stance.

“If owners of out of copyright material are not going to have the derivative works they have created protected, which will result in anyone being able to use then for free, they will cease to invest in the digitisation of works, and everyone will be the poorer,” it wrote in an email to its members.

But the Wikipedia volunteer David Gerard accuses the gallery of bureaucratic empire building.

“They honestly think the paintings belong to them rather than to us,” he wrote.

Advertisements

August 12, 2008

Spotlight on Egypt’s marriage crisis

Spotlight on Egypt’s marriage crisis

Ghada Abdelaal with her book Ayza-Tgawwiz

Abdelaal’s story started as an online log – now she’s working on a sitcom

“I want to get married” is a perfectly normal thing to say for a young Egyptian man. But when a girl says it in such a conservative society – let alone writes a book with that title – she is making a political statement.

“Girls are not supposed to be actively seeking something, a girl simply exists for someone to marry or divorce her,” says the author of the top-selling book, Ghada Abdelaal. “To say she wants something is seen as impolite.”

The book started as a blog, before it was spotted by an Egyptian publisher and printed as a series of comic sketches in which flawed and failed suitors knocking at her parents’ door.

A paranoid policeman, a hirsute fundamentalist, a pathological liar and other hilarious caricatures portrayed in sparkling Egyptian vernacular.

Marriage anxiety

The veiled, softly-spoken Abdelaal is a sharp and witty observer of social incongruity in Egypt, a feisty spirit trying to tear up stifling tradition.

They ask young girls here when they are three or four, who would you marry… they implant the idea your only purpose in life is to get married
Ghada Abdelaal

She says her target is not Egyptian men but a tradition known as “gawwaz el-salonat” (living room marriage), where a stranger is brought to the family home and the daughter must decide whether to marry him on the basis of this brief encounter.

“People who go for a picnic need to know each other a little longer than that – let alone make a lifelong commitment.”

The book’s popularity – it is in its third print run with a sitcom in the offing – reflects a widespread anxiety in Egyptian society. More and more young people cannot afford to get married.

Although the book focuses on finding Mr Right, she acknowledges finding an affordable flat remains an almost insurmountable obstacle. Many young people stay engaged for years before they can save up enough money.

“By the time they actually get to live together, they are already tired of each other,” says women’s rights activist Nihad Abou El Qoumsan. This causes the unusually high rate of divorce among the newlyweds in Egypt, she says.

Such is the impact of property prices on the marriage crisis, a popular talk show has invited engaged couples to join a draw to win a flat.

A new apartment will be given away by a wealthy businessman every day of the fasting and holiday month of Ramadan, in September. Huge numbers have registered.

Sexual frustration

Some describe it as a social time bomb. Religious customs mean there is no sex before marriage. So how do young people react to this situation?

I don’t think people who harass women on the street are necessarily single, or necessarily sexually frustrated
Anthropologist Hania Sholkamy

Sociologist Madeeha al-Safty of the American University in Cairo believes one consequence is sexual harassment of women and rape reaching unprecedented levels in Egypt.

“If you are frustrated, there is the possibility that you take it out [through] violence.

“Some people choose the safer way in moving towards a more religious attitude – not necessarily extremism, but it might reach the point of extremism,” she adds.

But anthropologist Hania Sholkamy hesitates to link the problems of sexual harassment and rape to the marriage crisis.

“I don’t think people who harass women on the street are necessarily single, or necessarily sexually frustrated. There are many millions of people who are extremely frustrated, but they do not harass women.

“I think the issue is one of violence and gender disparities, pure and simple.”

Gender disparities is a theme running throughout Abdelaal’s book, from the provocative title questioning the woman’s passive role in a traditional society to the way children are brought up.

“They ask young girls here when they are three or four, who would you marry… they implant the idea your only purpose in life is to get married.

“Even after she goes to school they tell her that a girl’s only future is in her husband’s home. So what happens when a girl for any reason cannot get married. Should she set fire to herself?”

Blog at WordPress.com.