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Museum sues Wikimedia

Reiss Engelhorn Museum. Source: Wikimedia.

Benjamin Sutton, Museum Sues Wikimedia for Hosting Copyrighted Photos of Its Public-Domain Artworks, 8 December 2015

On 28 October the Reiss Engelhorn Museum (REM) in Mannheim, Germany, filed a lawsuit against the Wikimedia Foundation for making high-resolution images of public domain artworks from its collection available for download. The contested images include photos of works by the Rococo painter Anna Dorothea Therbusch, the Flemish still life painter Alexander Coosemans, and the Dutch Golden Age painter Jacob Ochtervelt, as well as a drawing of Michelangelo’s Moses by Peter Anton von Verschaffelt and Cäsar Willich‘s circa-1862 portrait of Richard Wagner.

While many more photos of works from the REM collection are available on Wikimedia Commons, the institution is seeking the removal of 17 specific images of artworks that it commissioned from its in-house photographer, Jean Christen. The museum subsequently filed an additional lawsuit against Wikimedia Deutschland. Unlike the amateur photos that make up the bulk of the images of works from the REM collection available on the Wikimedia Commons, the institution claims it has copyright to the photos it commissioned from a professional photographer who used a tripod and a special lighting rig. Wikimedia, predictably, disagrees.

“Copyright law should not be misused to attempt to control the dissemination of works of art that have long been in the public domain, such as the paintings housed in the Reiss Engelhorn Museum,” the Wikimedia Foundation’s Legal Director, Michelle Paulson, and General Counsel, Geoff Brigham, wrote in a blog post.

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