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.

September 6, 2008

Poland’s finest to rock Wembley

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Poland’s finest to rock Wembley

Bajm

Bajm were popular across Eastern Europe before the Iron Curtain fell

Eight of Poland’s top pop and rock acts perform in front of a 10,000-strong crowd at Wembley Arena on Sunday. Billed as the biggest ever Polish music event on foreign soil, what does it mean for Britain’s Polish community?

Crowds of adoring fans will pack Wembley Arena on Sunday to see their favorite superstars perform to a full house.

But it will not be Madonna, Oasis or Jay-Z entertaining more than 10,000 people.

Bajm and Lady Pank may be largely unheard of in the UK but are household names in Poland, where four million viewers are expected to watch the London Live show’s highlights on state channel TVP2.

Tabloid hellraiser

Described as Poland’s answer to Pink Floyd and Red Hot Chili Peppers, their albums have sold three million copies.

Alongside Bracia’s modern grungy-rock and Natalia Kukulska’s soulfull R’n’B, the show even has its own tabloid hellraiser in Doda, who has posed for Playboy and courted controversy by spitting on stage.

Stanislaw Trzcinski, president of promoter STX Records, said: “This is like the O2 Festival, except for Polish music.”

Natalia Kukulka. Photo Wojciech Wojtczak
Performing at Wembley is a great honor
Natalia Kukulska

Guests on stage include Jan Tomaszewski, the goalkeeper whose heroics at the old Wembley Stadium in 1973 helped secure a 1-1 draw to send Poland to its first World Cup at England’s expense.Mr Trzcinski said: “The name Wembley brings back happy memories for Polish people and it remains a special place, so it was the perfect location.”

Kukulska, 32, has performed with tenor Jose Carreras and duetted with British R’n’B star Lemar at the Sopot festival in Poland in 2005.

She said: “Performing at Wembley is a great honor. I hope I will draw energy from the people who have played there in the past.”

After picking up influences of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston during a year in the US, she blended them with her own style to sell 2.5 million records at home.

Free tickets

“I’m very excited because this is the first time a lot of artists from Poland are performing abroad together,” she added.

Costing almost £1m to stage, the event has been advertised on 30 London buses and is being beamed back to Poland in high definition, thanks to a 100-strong production crew. Tickets were free to those who registered.

More than one million people voted in an internet talent competition giving bands the chance to perform on a second stage outside the arena, where they will be joined by top acts from the UK and Ireland’s Polish communities.

The show’s arrival reflects the remarkable influx of Poles into Britain.

After the Second World War, the Polish Resettlement Act allowed around 200,000 people to remain in the UK. They were mainly Polish troops, who had fought alongside the British, and their dependents.

By 2001, the census recorded just 60,680 Polish-born people living in Britain.

But since Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004, those numbers have swollen to the 405,000 estimated by the government last year, although the numbers arriving has dropped in recent months.

Appetite for rock

At least 100,000 settled in London, with many basing themselves around established Polish communities in western districts like Hammersmith.

There, the Posk cultural centre boasts the largest library of Polish books outside Poland, a gallery, restaurant and 350-seat theatre.

Supermarkets across Britain have started stocking Polish goods and delicatessens have sprung up in many towns.

THE PERFORMERS
Doda
Bajm: Six-piece rock outfit, formed in 1978, their 13 albums all went gold or platinum
Wilki: Hard-rock band, named “Wolves”, have performed in New York and London
Doda (pictured): Daughter of an Olympic weightlifter, gave up athletics to be a pop tearaway
Natalia Kukulska: Began singing aged seven and sold 1.5 million records as a child star
Kayah: Was a backing singer before her solo career in soul, jazz and R’n’B took off
Bracia: Their grunge-rock style made this band – “The Brothers” – favourites with younger fans
Monika Brodka: Her soulful voice was inspired by her idols Erikah Badu and Lauren Hill
Lady Pank: These punk survivors formed in 1982, playing 400 gigs to promote their debut album

But Piotr Grzeskiewicz, station director at Hammersmith-based Polskie Radio Londyn, said there had been little to feed young migrants’ appetite for rock and pop.

“Hundreds of thousands of Polish people in Britain have limited access to modern Polish culture and this is their best opportunity in many years to see some really big Polish bands,” he said.

Organizers hope many Britons will be at Wembley.

However, Mr Grzeskiewicz said: “The language barrier is huge. Only a few of these bands have played abroad and usually only for Polish fans.”

Warsaw-based bank PKO BP financed the event to promote its central London branch, which opened last December to cater both for migrants and British businesses investing in Poland.

Branch manager Katarzyna Cal said the move demonstrated the growing confidence in Poland’s economy and the number of investors keen to do business in the country.

Meanwhile, Dr Jan Mokrzycki, chairman of the UK’s Federation of Poles, admits he prefers the classical works of Chopin to today’s rock.

Vibrant

But the 75-year-old said the event would help build understanding between the established and newly-arrived Polish communities.

Initial tensions between the groups are diminishing, said the dental surgeon whose mother – a former Nazi concentration camp detainee – brought him to Britain in 1948 to escape communism.

“A combination of their youth, enthusiasm and education and our knowledge of the laws and customs of Britain is helping integration,” said Dr Mokrzycki.

“Cultural events of the old community have been traditional, forged from our experiences of pre-war Poland, so involve mostly classical or folk music.

“The new culture is vibrant with jazz and pop and it’s important younger people have access to that.”

August 26, 2008

Huge statue of Roman ruler found

Huge statue of Roman ruler found


Marcus Aurelius ruled over the empire for 19 years

Parts of a giant, exquisitely carved marble sculpture depicting the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius have been found at an archaeological site in Turkey.

Fragments of the statue were unearthed at the ancient city of Sagalassos.

So far the statue’s head, right arm and lower legs have been discovered, high in the mountains of southern Turkey.

Marcus Aurelius was portrayed by Richard Harris in the Oscar-winning 2000 film Gladiator and was one of the so-called “Five Good Emperors”.

He reigned from 161AD until his death in 180AD.

In addition to his deeds as emperor, Marcus Aurelius is remembered for his writings, and is considered one of the foremost Stoic philosophers.

The partial statue was unearthed in the largest room at Sagalassos’s Roman baths.

The cross-shaped room measures 1,250 sq m (13,500 sq ft), is covered in mosaics and was probably used as a frigidarium – a room with a cold pool which Romans could sink into after a hot bath.

It was partially destroyed in an earthquake between 540AD and 620AD, filling the room with rubble. Archaeologists have been excavating the frigidarium for the past 12 years.

The dig is part of wider excavations at the ruined city, which was once an important regional center.

Imperial gallery

Last year, the team led by Prof Marc Waelkens, from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, uncovered fragments of a colossal marble statue of the emperor Hadrian in the rubble.

This month, the researchers found a huge head and arm belonging to Faustina the Elder – wife of the emperor Antoninus Pius.

Archaeologists now think the room hosted a gallery of sculptures depicting the “Antonine dynasty” – rulers of Spanish origin who presided over the Roman Empire during the second century AD.

Foot of Marcus Aurelius statue (Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project)

The emperor wore army boots decorated with lion skins

Early on 20 August, a huge pair of marble lower legs, broken just above the knee, turned up in the debris.

They also found a 1.5m-long (5ft-long) right arm and hand holding a globe which was probably once crowned by a gilded bronze “Victory” figure.

But it was the giant marble head which identified this statue as the young Marcus Aurelius. The colossal head, which is just under 1m (3ft) in height, is said to bear his characteristic bulging eyes and beard.

Prof Waelkens said the pupils were gazing upwards “as if in deep contemplation, perfectly fitting of an emperor who was more of a philosopher than a soldier”.

He added that this was one of the finest depictions of the Roman ruler.

The emperor wore exquisitely carved army boots decorated with a lion skin, tendrils and Amazon shields.

The torso was probably covered in bronze Armour filled inside with terracotta or wood. When the niche’s vault collapsed in the earthquake, the torso would have exploded.

Bath complex

The statue of Hadrian was found lying halfway down in the frigidarium‘s rubble.

This initially led archaeologists to think it had been hauled in there from another part of the huge bath complex, perhaps to remove its gilded bronze armour, or to burn the huge marble pieces to make cement in a nearby lime kiln.

However, they now think sculptures of Hadrian, his wife Vibia Sabina, another Roman emperor Antoninus Pius, his wife Faustina the Elder, and Marcus Aurelius all once adorned niches situated around the room.

There were three large niches on both the western and eastern sides. The fragments of Hadrian’s statue were found near the south-west niche.

The front parts of two female feet were discovered in the opposite niche, on the room’s south-eastern side.

Arm and hand of Marcus Aurelius (Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project)

The remains of a globe can still be seen, cupped in the right hand

The archaeologists now think these belonged to a colossal figure of Vibia Sabina, who was forced into marriage with the homosexual Hadrian at the age of 14.

Remains of the statue depicting Faustina the Elder were found further along, on the eastern side.

In the opposite niche, they found the front parts of a pair of male feet in sandals, which could belong to her husband, Antoninus Pius – who succeeded Hadrian as emperor.

The experts suggest Antonine emperors occupied niches on the western side of the room, while their spouses stood opposite, on the east side.

Five good emperors

After the discovery of Faustina and her male counterpart, the archaeologists guessed the north-western niche would contain a colossal statue of Marcus Aurelius – the longest-surviving successor of Antoninus Pius.

The discovery on Wednesday confirmed this prediction, and suggests the north-eastern niche may contain remains of a statue depicting Faustina the Younger, Marcus Aurelius’s wife.

Archaeologists will get the opportunity to excavate this part of the room next year.

Lower legs of Marcus Aurelius statue (Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project)

The statue of Marcus Aurelius stood in the north-western niche

Despite his philosophical leanings, Marcus Aurelius had to spend much of his reign fighting Germanic tribes along the Austrian Danube where, in  180AD, he died in nearby Carnuntum.

The part of Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator was one of Richard Harri’s last roles (the actor died in 2002). Although much of the storyline is fictional, it is set against an historical backdrop of the imperial succession from Marcus Aurelius to his son Commodus.

While Marcus Aurelius is considered, along with Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian and Antoninus Pius, as one of Rome’s Five Good Emperors, Commodus’s reign was marked by internal strife, cruelty and conspiracies.

Commodus took part, naked, in gladiatorial battles – which he always won. Opponents, whose lives were apparently spared, would eventually submit to the emperor.

He was murdered in 192AD – not by a general called Maximus, but by an athlete named Narcissus, sent by conspirators to strangle the megalomaniac emperor in his bath.

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