Exclusive Wikimedia Foundation says it's standing behind Wikipedia contributor Derrick Coetzee in his defence against legal threats from the National Portrait Gallery.
But Coetzee has been stripped of administrator privileges, which leaves him unable to comply with the Gallery's request, El Reg has learned.
This leaves Coetzee directly in the line of fire, at risk from a lawsuit that could be a test case for public domain rights. Rather than supporting him, Wikipedia appears to have used the contributor as a shield. Coetzee has been obliged to fend for himself for legal representation.
In April the Gallery demanded that Wikimedia remove over 3000 copyrighted images of public domain artworks. Coetzee had downloaded the images from the NPG website and uploaded them to the Wikimedia Commons. The organisation didn't respond. On Friday, the Gallery wrote to Coetzee personally. In exclusive correspondence with The Register, Coetzee explained that he cannot comply.
"As a consequence of the conflict of interest resulting from legal pressure, my administrator rights on Wikimedia Commons were temporarily revoked, so that I can't even delete files."
Wikimedia Foundation did not respond to the NPG's original takedown request in April 2009, so the NPG is pursuing Coetzee directly. Coetzee is now being represented pro bono by attorney Fred von Lohmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The case revolves around differing usage rights permitted by US and UK copyright laws. Under UK law, photographs of public domain artworks can be copyrighted. But under US law, the photographs cannot be copyrighted and retain the public domain status of the original artwork. El Reg has previously given extensive coverage to this issue. The Gallery asserts the files were downloaded from their server in the UK, so UK law applies. Wikimedia is located in the US, so they are asserting protection under US law. As Coetzee lives in Seattle, he could not be extradited for mere civil offences, so the NPG could have difficulty prosecuting him in a UK court.
But the NPG's complaint goes beyond copyright.