The dispute between Mannheim's Reiss-Engelhorn Museums and Wikimedia sets a new precedent for copyright on the Internet. More precisely, it is about the digitization of works in the public domain. The case was prompted by a photograph of a painting by Richard Wagner taken by the in-house photographer of Mannheim's Reiss-Engelhorn Museums. According to the Stuttgarter Zeitung, the image was published in a book in 1992 and thus found its way onto Wikimedia Commons through a user. The Reiss-Engelhorn Museums in Mannheim then resisted the use of the photograph by their in-house photographer without permission. Wikimedia counters that the painter has been deceased for more than 70 years and the painting is therefore in the public domain, and takes the view that a photograph of it would not be protectable. The image is still available on the Wikipedia page, and reference is made to the museum's warning with a corresponding statement on the page.
The case has now led to a lawsuit by the Reiss-Engelhorn Museums against Wikimedia, whereby the court must clarify not only for this case, but fundamentally, whether reproduction photos of copyright-free paintings may also be used freely. Further details can be found, among other places, in the report on the lawsuit at iRights.info.
When digitizing and using public domain works, some legal aspects have to be considered, as public domain content is not free of rights. The guide "Digitization of Public Domain Works by Libraries" by Dr. Till Kreutzer, published (2011) by the University Library Center of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia (hbz), provides assistance in this regard.
As the case described above shows, the current copyright law no longer adequately fulfills its function. In response to the third initiative of the Internet & Society Collaboratory (2010-2011), a Berlin group of experts has developed a set of rules for creative goods as a Berlin thought experiment. On August 27, the concept paper was published under the title "Guidelines for a Copyright for the Digital World in the Form of a Regulatory System for Creative Informational Goods." More information on this project can also be found here.
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