A letter from WMIL to the Board of Trustees regarding the deletion of images from Commons under URAA
Dear Board of Trustees,
As you might know, there was a discussion on Wikimedia Commons regarding the Golan v. Holder copyright case, where the copyright status of a massive amount of non-US images was changed from public domain to copyrighted. The conclusion of the discussion was that there was indeed a problem with such images, but that they would be deleted on a case-by-case basis. The actual effect is not only that masses of public domain images be deleted from Commons (with the burden of proof lying on the uploader), but also millions of PD images waiting to be uploaded to Commons which are now in limbo. This will certainly hinder or eliminate many GLAM partnerships around the world and, again, deprive Commons of millions of images, many of them historically important or iconic.
The reason behind the community decision was that, since Commons’ servers are located in the United States, all public domain images must specifically be in the public domain in the United States, regardless of their status in any other country. The Foundation's legal team issued a legal position, which did not actually take any position but gave the pertinent legal arguments. It is clear however that the community was in fact trying to legally protect the Wikimedia Foundation from lawsuits, therefore it stands to reason that the Foundation should specifically address where it stands on this issue.
We believe that Wikimedia's position is not just to interpret the current legal status, but to act and change it.
In light of this, we implore you to speak out and act in favor of uploading public domain images to Commons that are not necessarily PD in the United States, whether by allowing it directly, or making other arrangements to allow such uploads without risking legal backlash. Millions of images are at stake. This is possibly more than the amount of content that would be at risk had PIPA/SOPA passed, and the Foundation made its position on PIPA/SOPA very clear. It goes without saying that blocking access to public domain images on Commons goes against the stated aims of our movement and deals a severe blow to its legitimacy.
This is a similar case to PIPA/SOPA, and the Foundation can and should do everything in its power to allow the use of these images in the Commons and making them available to the public. Clearly the community is starting to delete these images reluctantly, thinking it protects the legality of all Wikimedia projects, but this only has to be true if the Foundation stands on the sidelines. We believe that should the Foundation get involved, as with the PIPA/SOPA case, the matter will be resolved quickly.
It should be noted that we the volunteers, both in Israel and in other countries, are doing the utmost to obtain official documents that make it clear that the relevant images are in the public domain. However, this can only be done for images owned by governments. For images owned by individuals the process is next to impossible, and is no different from the process of asking every individual to release copyright on any image. As we are frantically looking for all sorts of solutions, we expect the Foundation to act on the behalf of the entire community and by extension, the public.
This brought our chapter, as well as other chapters, to rethink about the operation of Commons, and to seek alternatives. We may be forced, if this issue is not properly addressed by the Foundation, to consider moving the images to alternative servers located in other countries.
Thank you in advance,
—Wikimedia Israel Board