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Wikimedia UK: Supporting free and open knowledge

#Internaut Day – can we learn to stop worrying and love the internet?

August 23rd, 2016 by John Lubbock

Photo of the NeXTcub used as the first web server. The label reads “This machine is a server. DO NOT POWER IT DOWN!!”. On display at the science museum london. – Photo by user:geni GFDL CC-BY-SA 4.0

The public internet turned 25 today, which means it’s on its third unpaid internship, still living with its parents and has become a cynical nihilist with little hope for the future of humanity.

‘The Web took off without regard for borders at all’, said Tim Berners-Lee on the 25th anniversary of the idea for the Web’s conception in 2014. In fact, for the pioneers of the public internet, this liberation from state control (especially coming just after the end of the Cold War) was part of the great promise of the internet, a promise that it has not always been able to live up to.

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

— John Perry Barlow, “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” (1996)

Wikipedia still stands as one of the lasting legacies of this period of internet idealism, which seemed to fade in the wake of the Dot Com Bubble and the new political reality of a unipolar world order plagued by small wars and the fear of terrorism.

I think it’s worth repeating that out of the top 100 most popular websites in the world Wikipedia is the only one run by a charity. Its founding principle, to give everybody free access to the sum of all human knowledge, sounds idealistic to us now, it was only 15 years ago that the site was first created.

So can we still be optimistic about the internet given the problems it is plagued with and the negative impacts it has on many people’s lives? Absolutely, as Werner Herzog’s new film Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World seems to suggest.

Herzog is a somewhat otherworldly figure, who delights in a kind of innocent awe at the possibilities of human potential. If you’ve not seen his film Cave of Forgotten Dreams, it is very good, and Lo and Behold seems to offer a kind of companion piece, juxtaposing the liminal nature of the Chauvet Cave paintings, the oldest extant human visual art in the world, with the bizarre Jungian subconscious which we have digitised in constructing the internet.

The New Statesman worries that Herzog is becoming a meme of himself, getting in the way of his subject matter. This cynicism seems to me reflective of the malaise with which we regard the internet now, with all its faults. People feel that we have lost something human by intertwining human destiny so closely with technology, and that is understandable, but feels like nostalgia to me. Herzog suggests in a Vice interview that we should think of the internet as we think of the Chauvet Cave paintings, not as something separate from our humanity, but as part of it, a representation of what is already inside of us.

So what does that make Wikipedia? Like the invention of writing, it takes the knowledge inside all of us and structures it, makes it editable, reviewable and verifiable. We are beginning to structure this knowledge in more and more complex ways that require huge amounts of data and processing power to create new tools which will allow us to better understand what we are, and how we can be better humans. In this respect, Wikidata holds great possibilities for the future analysis and structuring of knowledge. Who knows what kinds of technological or human progress it will allow us to make? It was impossible to see back when the first ARPANET intranet link was established in 1969.

“Kleinrock, a pioneering computer science professor at UCLA, and his small group of graduate students hoped to log onto the Stanford computer and try to send it some data. They would start by typing “login,” and seeing if the letters appeared on the far-off monitor.

“We set up a telephone connection between us and the guys at SRI …”, Kleinrock … said in an interview: “We typed the L and we asked on the phone,

“Do you see the L?”

“Yes, we see the L,” came the response.

We typed the O, and we asked, “Do you see the O.”

“Yes, we see the O.”

Then we typed the G, and the system crashed …

Yet a revolution had begun”“

It’s understandable why we are so cynical when we are constantly bombarded with terrible news, especially after the promise and potential which seemed to fill the 1990s with hope. Or perhaps it just felt that way because I was a child, who knows?

My most inspiring teacher at school once told me that the difference between being a sceptic and a cynic is that a cynic has already made their mind up. I think that this kind of cynicism is unhelpful, though probably inevitable at different points in history. For long periods of the Middle Ages, many people believed that the world had reached its final age and there were therefore few possible social or technological innovations worth striving towards. Then the Renaissance happened, which led to the Enlightenment and scientific revolution and here we are now.  

Poststructuralist critic Frederick Jameson famously said in 2003 that “it has become easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”. This kind of thinking was also evident in Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ hypothesis, that liberal capitalist democracy was the only political structure possible after the end of the Cold War. But this is just a lack of imagination, and we can do better. The internet is our imagination visualised, uploaded to the world’s networks, and we can query that imagination, we can use it as a repository to create new artworks and new ideas.

The internet is in a period of flux greater than ever before, as new digital communities come online, and we try to find a language for us all to communicate in. There are serious problems in making these systems work, but we have to resist cynicism and imagine how it could work and how amazing it could be if we are ever to achieve that potential greatness.

How did Werner Herzog learn to be a filmmaker? He read the entry for filmmaking in an encyclopedia and it told him everything he needed to get started.

Wikimedia UK AGM

August 12th, 2016 by Lorna Campbell

This post was written by Lorna Campbell and originally posted on her website.

On Saturday I went along to my first Wikipedia AGM in Birmingham.  It was a really interesting event and it was great to meet so many dedicated Wikimedians and also to see more than a few familiar faces. Martin Poulter has put together a Storify of tweets and pictures from the event here Wikimedia UK AGM 2016.

Selfridges Birmingham

The event featured an inspiring keynote on The Open Movement by Andy Mabbett who highlighted the importance of linking Wikimedia initiatives to both Open Government and national heritage organisations and who argued that we need to  do more to welcome people to the open community and communicate why openness is important to everyone.

Andy’s talk was followed by a workshop on Wikidata and a walk around the local area to take photographs for Wikimedia Commons.  Who’d have thought a photography safari of Digbeth could be so fascinating? 🙂 I just need to remember to upload some of the pictures I took to the Commons.

In the afternoon we had a fascinating series of lightning talks, one of which covered the brilliant Wiki Loves Monuments photography competition which will take place in the UK again later this year.

Of course the highlight of the day was the UK Wikimedian of the Year Awards.  Martin Poulter was a very worthy winner of the individual UK Wikipedian of the Year award; Navino Evans, one of the developers behind the fabulous Histropedia timeline tool, received an Honourable Mention; and I was delighted that the OER16 Open Culture Conference won Partnership of the Year.

The AGM concluded with the Board meeting and I was honoured to be voted onto the Board as a new Trustee of Wikimedia UK.  The University of Edinburgh already has a strong relationship with Wikimedia UK and I hope that I can make a positive contribution to nurturing the development of a supportive and mutually beneficial relationship between Wikimedia and the education sector.  Gill Hamilton, of the National Library of Scotland stepped down from the Board, so I’ll also be doing my best to fill her shoes as the Scottish representative on the Board, though it’ll be a hard act to follow!

With Josie Fraser, Wikimedia UK Trustee and #OER17 Co-Chair

Access All Areas: how can Wikimedia contribute to increasing Open Access publishing?

August 8th, 2016 by John Lubbock
Image by Danny Kingsley & Sarah Brown, CC BY 4.0

Image by Danny Kingsley & Sarah Brown, CC BY 4.0

It’s a normal part of an academic’s duties to be asked to peer-review papers for academic journals, something they do as part of their salaried position at a university. Equally, publishers rarely even pay the academic who writes the article, as Hugh Gusterson explains:

‘I get paid nothing directly for the most difficult, time-consuming writing I do: peer-reviewed academic articles. In fact a journal that owned the copyright to one of my articles made me pay $400 for permission to reprint my own writing in a book of my essays.’

Academic journals used to not make much money, but in recent years have been taken over by for-profit companies like Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley-Blackwell. These companies now make very good profits, as they are in a position to charge a lot for access to their content. Erik Engstrom of Elsevier is the third highest paid chief exec in the FTSE100. He earned £16.18m last year.

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 11.32.58

A recent review of the benefits of Open Access publishing found ‘several key trends… including a broad citation advantage for researchers who publish openly, as well as additional benefits to the non-academic dissemination of their work.’ The researchers also found that ‘The societal impact of Open Access is strong, in particular for advancing citizen science initiatives, and leveling the playing field for researchers in developing countries.’

So Open Access publishing exists within an Open ecosystem of which Wikimedia is a large part. It supports better knowledge sharing which can help improve Wikipedia and its sister projects by giving readers access to the research used to write Wiki content. There are a number of new initiatives to put pressure on commercial publishers to make more content Open Access, like the Open Access Button, which allows you to search to see if a paper behind a paywall exists for free elsewhere, and to contact the author directly if not. The Directory of Open Access Journals helps academics make informed choices about the journals they submit to, and Wikimedians track down sources. As of writing it catalogues over 9,000 open access journals.

Within Wikimedia there is also the Wikipedia Library, where you can sign up to get access to some journals and databases that are behind paywalls. There are a number of requirements for you to be able to get access. Elsevier, for example, allows Wikipedians access to its Science Direct database as long as you have a track record of editing and are ‘active in content generation, research, or verification work’.

One of our partner institutions, the Wellcome Trust, has also recently announced that it will embrace Open Access and publish its own open academic journal. According to Ars Technica,

Wellcome Open Research will exclusively feature the research of people funded by the organization, and it will provide open access for anyone to view it—no subscription required. The journal will also have distinctive twists on what constitutes something worth publishing, as well as the peer review process.’

University College London is also launching its own open access journal to publish enhanced digital editions, scholarly monographs and ‘Books as Open Culture Content’. UCL Press launched last year as the UK’s first open access university publisher. Lara Speicher, publishing manager of UCL Press, says that its new online platform ‘demonstrates UCL’s commitment to broadening access to research via open access and digital innovation, and [will] allow for the publication of non-traditional research outputs that are not suited to a traditional monograph format.’’

In the field of scientific publishing, there have been a number of positive developments, with the EU science chief proposing that all research it funds will be free to access by 2020. A UK government study recommended the same in 2012, saying that although it would have short term costs, “In the longer term, the future lies with open access publishing”, which the government should embrace for its obvious benefits. In the UK, the Research Excellence Framework which influences the allocation of £1.7 billion funding for universities now stipulates that research submitted to the REF must be open access.

Challenges to open access publishing remain, as it seems that Elsevier are attempting to buy up OA publications. In May, they announced that they planned to take over the open access archive, Social Science Research Network (SSRN), which now makes them one of the biggest open access publishers. Unfortunately, the signs are not good that Elsevier intends to get with the Open Access programme, as they have started removing content from SSRN, including papers released under a CC license.

One question for the Wikimedia community is how we can systematically use the knowledge made available in open access journals to improve the quality and reliability of Wikimedia projects. There is a WikiProject Open Access page where you can join in the discussion with other Wikimedians and contribute to improving Open Access resources on Wikimedia projects.

We would like to hear any ideas you might have for how Wikimedia UK should engage with open access publishers to use their research to improve content across our projects. Would you like to help run an editathon, or are there any groups doing work on open access publishing we should develop partnerships with? Get in touch and let us know.

#MoreinCommon at Wikimania 2016

July 4th, 2016 by Lucy Crompton-Reid

Wikimania 2016 – group photo by Niccolò Caranti CC BY-SA 4.0

By Lucy Crompton-Reid

I didn’t expect to be crying through much of the opening speech for Wikimania 2016, given by Jimmy Wales in the rather muggy, and very busy, Gym Palace of Esino Lario on the morning of Friday 24th June. As he talked of the inspiring life and tragic murder of his friend Jo Cox MP, he urged us to remember that “Wikipedia is a force for knowledge, and knowledge is a force for peace and understanding.” In the context of the political turmoil in the UK over the past week accompanied by a frightening and shameful increase in racist and xenophobic abuse, I am holding onto that sentiment.

I feel very privileged to have attended Wikimania 2016 on behalf of Wikimedia UK, along with a number of other staff and volunteers. Feeling tense after a delayed flight, I felt myself starting to breathe more deeply as I took in the stunning views of Lake Como on route to the beautiful mountainside town of Esino Lario. My spirits lifted even further when I was given a lift by a local to the tranquil village of Ortanella, where I was staying with my colleagues Daria and Karla in a small, rustic house with a garden full of fireflies.

A view of the countryside near Esino Lario

The small, rustic house shared by Lucy, Daria and Karla from the Wikimedia UK Team during Wikimania 2016 – photo by Lucy Crompton-Reid

Before I arrived at Wikimania, a number of people had said to me that it would be the conversations and connections made outside of and in between sessions that would prove to be the most useful, and enduring. Whilst to a large extent this was true for me, I also learnt a huge amount about the global movement through the scheduled conference programme. As a relative newcomer to Wikimedia, it was great to hear about projects involving the cultural heritage sector and to learn more about the current use and future potential of Wikidata in this context. The session on the ‘coolest chapter projects’ was particularly inspiring. Initiatives such as Wikipedia for Peace in Austria, AfroCROWD in New York, Wiki Loves Theatre in Serbia, WikiNobel in Norway and the People’s Pictures Project in Israel were a reminder of how the best ideas are often the most simple, and the most effective projects don’t have to have a big budget.

With a strong personal and professional interest in diversity and equalities I made a beeline for sessions on the gender gap, the first of which didn’t actually touch on gender at all but was a fascinating insight into the extent to which cultural identity is key to editor motivation.  This was followed by an equally interesting presentation on the gender gap in the global south, with a particular focus on recent activities in India. I also participated in a discussion on Wikimedia and gender, facilitated by Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight, in which the only two people in the room who disagreed with the proposition that gender is the biggest or most important gap on Wikimedia to deal with, were men. I’m not sure what this says about the issue but it felt like an interesting observation.  

It was particularly useful for me to meet with Katherine Maher and Christophe Henner, the new Executive Director and Chair of the Wikimedia Foundation respectively, who discussed the Foundation’s priorities over the next year and the importance of involving Chapters and other Affiliates in the development of a new ten year strategy for the movement.

Jimmy Wales announcing Katherine Maher as the new Wikimedia Foundation ED – photo by Niccolò Caranti CC BY-SA 4.0

At any conference, the social aspects are an important element of forging new friendships that can underpin working relationships, and one of the highlights of Wikimania 2016 was the programme of evening events. Having seen ‘country music’ on Friday’s schedule, I had envisaged an evening of traditional Italian folk music, so was surprised (and admittedly, rather pleased) to find myself line-dancing along to Sweet Home Alabama and other American country music classics. Whilst the rock band on Saturday more than made up for the disappointment at being unable to locate a karaoke machine, and I ended the night dancing alongside staff and volunteers from Wikimedia UK, colleagues from Wikimedia Deutschland and Norway, staff from the Foundation and members of the Funds Dissemination Committee.

Country music and dance at Wikimania Esino Lario – photo by Niccolò Caranti CC BY-SA 4.0

I can’t write about Wikimania, however, without reflecting on the UK’s referendum on EU membership, which of course is still dominating our thoughts and the news. Whilst Wikimedia UK is politically neutral, at a personal level I felt devastated by the outcome, and my shock and dismay at Friday morning’s news cast a shadow over the whole weekend. The spirit of exchange, collaboration and connection which permeated the conference and which is fundamental to the Wikimedia movement felt terribly at odds with the prospect of the UK leaving the EU, and abandoning one of the greatest peace projects of our time.


Chris Keating steps down from the board of trustees after five years

July 2nd, 2016 by John Lubbock

Chris Keating presents Robin Owain with the 2013 UK Wikimedian of the year award. Photo by Rock drum CC BY-SA 3.0

By Chris Keating

In the summer of 2010 I saw a banner on Wikipedia asking me to come along to an event at the British Museum.

“Wikipedia and museums,” I thought. “What a great idea. People should do more of that.”

Little did I know that this would set me off down a path that would see me spending five years as a trustee of Wikimedia UK, a post from which I am finally stepping down next week.

When I was elected to the Wikimedia UK board, we weren’t even a charity. The first task was to sort this out. After many dozens hours from volunteers and thousands of pounds of legal fees later, we finally persuaded the Charity Commission that Wikipedia was a “public benefit” – more difficult than it seems thanks to an arcane point of British law –  and were registered as a charity.

At the same time, we were hiring our first staff and trying to make the best use of an increasing pile of expressions of interests from museums, libraries, universities, and charities. After the first success of the British Museum project, it became clearer and clearer to institutions across Britain that working with Wikipedia was something that they could and should do.

The more contacts we made the more doors seemed to open. The seeds were sown then for many of the Wikimedia UK’s most prominent projects – like our partnerships with Oxford Unviersity, the Natural History Museum and the Wellcome Trust – even if many of them took years more work and discussion before they came to fruition.

New charities often encounter problems, as you go down the path from a bunch of passionate people talking in a pub to being a charity with a six-figure budget and serious responsibilities. I took over as Chair in summer 2012 after the charity encountered some of those problems, and my first months in the role were spent dealing with a string of tense phonecalls with our own Board and with the Wikimedia Foundation, arranging – and then implementing – a review of our governance. There were many lessons to be learned, and I know that the results of the Wikimedia UK governance review were read and used by dozens of other Wikimedia chapters worldwide hoping to avoid falling into some of the same pitfalls.

It’s truly remarkable to think back on how far Wikimedia UK has come in the past five years thanks to the efforts of so many people – everything we do depends on the hard work and commitment of our volunteers and our staff – and it has been a real pleasure and privilege to serve on the Board for so long.

Pride in London – photographer Katy Blackwood on working with Wikimedia UK

June 28th, 2016 by John Lubbock

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan with Pride organisers (Photo by Katy Blackwood CC BY-SA 4.0)

My name is Katy Blackwood. I’m a music photographer, fledgling photo-journalist and writer that has been published in print, worked as a professional and, on Saturday, donated her time and photographs to Wikimedia UK in the name of knowledge and free content.

The event was Pride in London, an occasion surely close to the heart of anybody that values equality, inclusivity and solidarity, whether they are LGBT or not. In such a divisive week for the United Kingdom, it brought together an estimated one-million people to celebrate humans of all cultures and sexualities, highlighted by a triumphant parade.

Working with Wikimedia UK, I attended as a member of the media in order to create high-quality photography of the parade and its build-up. These photos, including some by John Lubbock, have now been released under a licence that allows them to be used, for free, by anyone.

The idea of giving away photographs for free is an alien, even abhorrent concept for the vast majority of professional photographers. ‘It’ll be great exposure’ is a phrase that embodies everything that is wrong with the media and arts today, that our work is not worth paying for. Credit doesn’t pay the bills, and thousands of pounds of camera equipment doesn’t pay for itself.

Naturally, I had my doubts about shooting for Wikimedia. The idea came up last year, as a possible opportunity for me to contribute to Wikipedia again for the first time since I was a teenage girl. Lapsed editors such as myself are common, but unlike then, I now have a professional skill – and felt I could contribute by using it.

The idea of specifically shooting at Pride in London was a more recent development. The issues that Pride highlights – discrimination, homophobia, xenophobia and exclusion to name a few – are fought mostly by non-profit groups and activist blogs.

We wanted to create photographs that allow such causes and bloggers to illustrate their content with high-quality visuals, for use under CC BY-SA 4.0, requiring attribution to myself but otherwise free for use as desired.

Beyond the philanthropy, I am also hoping that my work with Wikimedia UK will be an opportunity to show what I can do as a photographer in new environments. It’s a chance for me to build relationships and see my work used widely. For my ambitions in the field of photo-journalism, Wikimedia’s influence is invaluable, and we are hoping to open doors that will allow me to further my career while volunteering.

Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley as their Ab Fab characters open Pride (Photo by Katy Blackwood CC BY-SA 4.0)

We’re keen to follow-up our success at Pride in London with coverage of other significant events this summer and beyond into 2017. We’re exploring the possibility of working with the UK Parliament to improve Wikipedia’s photographs of politicians and the political process, and we’re hoping to attend more major events as well.

We are hoping that more photographers will come forward to contribute to these exciting projects. Wikimedia UK has expenses available for travel and accommodation, and is keen to support anyone looking to create high-quality images so long as they are happy to release them under a free licence. Please also reach out to us with suggestions of events and topics that we should cover in the future.

I am, fittingly, proud of my work on Saturday – and I hope you like my photographs too. You can check out just my own photos in this category, and I’d love to hear how you use them (you can reach me at katy@katyblackwood.co.uk). You can also view all of our free-to-use photographs from Pride in London 2016 in this category.

Revised three year strategy following consultation

June 22nd, 2016 by Lucy Crompton-Reid
In May, Wikimedia UK ran a community consultation on our draft new strategic framework for 2016 – 19. Thank you to everyone who responded to this, either on wiki, by email or via the mailing list. I really appreciate volunteers and members taking the time to engage with the strategy and we received some very helpful feedback, much of which has been incorporated into the updated framework.

In particular, there were a number of comments about the draft objectives for the third strategic goal for this period, concerning education and learning. This probably reflected the fact that this is the least well developed area for us in terms of delivery and we are still developing our ideas – alongside the community – for how best to work with education and to support learners. Our education meeting in May was very helpful in highlighting past practice and future ideas in this area – the notes from which are here.

Several people raised a concern that by talking about cultural heritage in our outcomes we would be excluding other areas of knowledge, such as science. This was not the intention of myself or the trustees so I have changed the wording of this planned outcome. I have also clarified some of the objectives around advocacy.

There was a hope expressed that WMUK would do more than ‘seek to engage’ volunteers, and that volunteering could be mentioned specifically around developing partnerships and speaking at events. Whilst I feel that the centrality of volunteers does come through in the strategic framework, particularly in our values and operating principles – which remain relatively unchanged from the previous five year organisational strategy – I have updated the strategy to make this implicit intention more explicit.

The new, revised strategic framework was formally approved by the board at their meeting on 10th June. Following this decision, I am now working on the three year business plan, which provides more context for the strategy as well as details of planned priorities and programmes for the three year period, and internal resources including staffing and funding and financial forecasts. The wiki will be updated soon but in the meantime, the revised framework is here.

Thanks again for your interest and your thoughtful responses to the consultation.

Lucy Crompton-Reid

Chief Executive

Supporting our community to create open content: we want your ideas!

June 10th, 2016 by John Lubbock

Spain win the UEFA Euro 2012 championship – photo by Илья Хохлов (via Football.ua) CC BY-SA 3.0

As the summer rolls around, there are so many important cultural events which the Wikimedia community can engage with and create content about. The European Football Championships start this week, and the Olympics aren’t far away either. The festival season is already beginning, and there are hundreds of other cultural events taking place across the UK and the world, from religious ceremonies to elections, the London Comic Con, Pride, or any other kind of commemoration or anniversary events.

Wikimedia UK is hoping to support people who want to cover any notable events to create high quality images available under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license. We have grant funding available for photographers who know how to take great photographs which could be used across Wikimedia projects. We would also be interested to support people who would like to add other content besides photographs. If you are going to particular events, we also may be able to liaise with the organisers to get you accreditation.

You can have a look at some of the featured images Wikimedia UK has helped to create in previous years here.

We normally give project grants up to £250 for expenses. You can refer to the grants application process to get an idea of the kind of projects we support. Projects which address diversity gaps would be of particular interest, or activities which link to our current partnerships with other institutions.

We want to reach out to volunteers and the wider wikimedia community, to support your work and help you to do more. We want to know about your talents and see if we can promote your work in support of Wikimedia projects, so if you have ideas for events you would like to go to and CC content you could produce there, please get in touch with us!


See London events list.

Visit England events.

Global events.

Anniversary and events calendar.

English Heritage events.

Speak up for open knowledge and a free internet: Freedom of Panorama Consultation

June 8th, 2016 by John Lubbock

“Saltimbanques” in Luxembourg’s Theaterplaatz, by Bénédicte Weis (born 1949), will remain under copyright until 75 years after his death. Photo by Lantus, free use.

You can tell Europe to help protect street photography

After last year’s drama in the European Parliament about “freedom of panorama”, the EU is consulting on how the law should change.

Article by Owen Blacker

Think about the state of digital photography 15 years ago, on 22 May 2001 say. It’s about a week after Mark Zuckerberg’s 17th birthday, a few years before Flickr, Instagram is almost a decade away and most people haven’t even heard of DSLR cameras — the first consumer-targetted DSLR, theFinePix S1 Pro, was only launched just over a year earlier.

Obviously, I didn’t pick that date at random — that’s when the Copyright Directive (2001/29/EC) was made, entering into force one month later. That’s when European copyright laws were last set in aspic.

Clearly, then, it’s well past time to update it to account for the Internet era — a time when we’re all creating content, rather than merely consuming it.

Since being elected as an MEP for the German Pirate Party in May 2014,Julia Reda determined to make copyright reform her focus for the legislative session; that November, the Parliament set up a review of the Copyright Directive, for which she was named rapporteur. Reda’s annotated draft report is online and is a great, approachable read for anyone interested in copyright reform — it walks the line between pragmatic and radical very well.

So what’s this “freedom of panorama” thing about then?

One of the more obvious areas where there are differences across the European Union is in something called “freedom of panorama”. This term refers to an exception in copyright law that says that photographs of works permanently in public spaces — buildings and sculptures, for example — do not need a licence from the copyright-holder. The team at #FixCopyright have put together a video explanation here:

Generally, European Union legislation seeks to “harmonise”, to create a common basis of law across the the common market. One of the things highlighted by the debates in the European Parliament last year was the difference in panorama rights across Europe.

Current freedom of panorama rights across Europe. Greens indicate territories with a right to freedom of panorama, with lighter green countries providing FoP only over images of buildings, not other works. Yellow territories have FoP for non-commercial use only andred countries (Belarus, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg and Ukraine) have no FoP in their laws. Grey (Andorra, Monaco and San Marino) have unclear FoP rights. Map byKing of Hearts and others, licensed CC BY-SA.

Here in the UK, I can take a photograph from any public street and know that the presence of a building or item of public art cannot pose any copyright claim — I could sell that photo without issue and I can share it with a Free licence.

In France or Belgium, however, those public works of art have a copyright so, for example, images of the Atomium in Brussels are subject to rights held by the litigious heirs of André Waterkeyn until 2076, a full 70 years after his death; SABAM, the Belgian collecting society, zealously pursues those rights. The image at the top of this article is a photo of the dancing figures in Luxembourg’s Theaterplaatz, redacted to protect Bénédicte Weis’s copyright, valid until 70 years after he passes away. Iceland has restricted panorama rights too — there are no pictures of Hallgrímskirkja on Wikimedia Commons, as it is under copyright there until 2021.

Cross-border publishing confuses matters further — I’m a British citizen in the UK writing this on a website hosted in the Cloud by a company registered in California; the header image is a photo of a work in Luxembourg taken by a German domiciled in Switzerland. This is part of why the EU prefers to harmonise rules, rather than just to apply “country of origin” rules to allow different restrictions to apply in different places.

Panorama from Tower Bridge at dawn, modified to censor some of the buildings that require freedom of panorama. Both the original image and the annotated version are byUser:Colin and licensed CC BY-SA.

But why would I care? Do restrictions on panorama make a difference anyway?

The image rights from public art really are “gleanings from the field” — they are marginal to the creators of new buildings and new art but they’re ofimmense value to the ability to publicly depict and discuss these works.

Wiki Loves Monuments logo, by Lusitana, dual-licensed CC BY-SA and GFDL.

Freedom of panorama allows us all to take and publish photographs of buildings and monuments in public places — as celebrated in the Wiki Loves Monuments competition every year, as well as many books with author-supplied photographs, for example. Without that freedom, full permissions, clearances and royalties need to be negotiated for every video, photo, painting and drawing with potential commercial use.

As merely one example of why this is a big deal, Wikipedia does not accept images unless they can be reused for any purpose. The English Wikipedia’s policy on non-free content explicitly only allows images on licences that meet Wikipedia’s definition of “free” use, disallowing images that are only available for non-commercial use; the Catalan and Italian policies are similar. By comparison, the Spanish and Hungarian Wikipedias have a policy of only using Free images. Wikimedia Commons has a category full of deletion requests that relate to FoP, with over 4500 images having been deleted; there have been nearly 100 images deleted of the Louvre Pyramid alone. There are 221 censored images of European works in the appropriate categories on Commons.

“Non-commercial” restrictions seem like they’re only be a problem for companies who want to make money by selling photographs. But in practice, the distinction between commercial and non-commercial is much more complicated. Sure, you probably won’t actually get in trouble for posting holiday snaps to Facebook (§9.1 of their Terms say you give them permission to use your images commercially and §5.1 says you’ve cleared the rights to do so) but, to quote Julia Reda’s blogpost (with her emphasis) from last year:

It is far easier to transgress the limitations of a non-commercial restrictions than commonly understood. … If there is a consensus on this matter, it’s thatthe realm of commercial usage is entered long before a person makes a profit. You can expect your personal website to be considered commercial if you have advertisements or a Flattr button or other micro-payment service in use, even if you make a lot less money than you pay for hosting your website.

This isn’t even something that creators are calling out for, as Reda wrote in her follow-up piece, many creators’ organisations across Europe were quick to condemn the amended plans to restrict FoP, with the Royal Institute of British Architects among the first to denounce the proposals.

Of the 7 EU countries where architects and visual artists earn the highest incomes, 6 have full and unrestricted freedom of panorama (Luxembourg, the exception, is the second-richest country in the world by GDP PPP). And creators aren’t making these works ignorant of their destination — it is not the public space entering the artist’s atelier, but the artist’s work being presented in a public space.

So what happened last year — and what’s happened since?

The European Parliament building — censored because of France’s lack of panorama rights. Photo taken and censored by Ralf Roletschek, licensed GFDL.

Julia Reda’s original draft report proposed extending freedom of panorama across the Union, butan amendment was made in committee that could have threatened our right to take photographs in Europe if they included buildings or street art that’s still in copyright.

After over 500,000 people signed a petition asking MEPs to reject the anti-panorama amendment, it was defeated overwhelmingly and the final report avoided mentioning freedom of panorama altogether, by way of a compromise.

This was an “own initiative” report from the Parliament, so had no legislative weight itself but in December the Commission outlined its proposals “to broaden access to online content and … modernise EU copyright rules”. These proposals contained several changes — some of which have already been watered down, such as content portability, where they were originally proposing that I could watch BBC iPlayer and Netflix UK when on holiday within the EU but have backed down in the face of pressure from rightsholders. Importantly, though, the Commission has included a consultation on freedom of panorama.

Bonde Palace in Stockholm, the location of Högsta domstolen, the Swedish Supreme Court.Photo by Tmarki, dedicated to the public domain under a CC0 licence.

Since then, proposals have also gone to the Belgian and French parliaments to extend freedom of panorama, though the Swedish Supreme Court made a frankly bizarre ruling that, despite their panorama law, a Wikimedia Sverige website was not allowed to collect together photos of public works of art online. There are certainly problems with the French proposals, which are overly restrictive, but that the French Senate approved a pro-panorama amendment at all is a sign that the mood is changing in the more copyright-conservative countries in the EU.

So what do we need to do now?

For once, this isn’t something where you need to write to your elected representatives. That’s one for another time. But there is a consultation being held by the European Commission; the important thing for now is to be heard.

There is a response form on the EU’s consultation website. Alternatively, there’s an online form from the #FixCopyright team to guide you through the questions.

The EU consultation closes on Wednesday 15 June

Tell everyone you know! Orator, by southtyrolean, licensed CC BY.

If you would like some help with how to respond, there is aresponse guide from Wikimedia, with their answers available to see.

Speak up now to tell the European Commission that street photography is important and brings its own benefits — and, as always, tell everyone you know!

This article is dedicated to the public domain under the terms of the Creative Commons Zero licence. Please translate, copy, excerpt, share, disseminate and otherwise spread it far and wide. You don’t need to ask me, you don’t need to tell me. Just do it!

Share your photos of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves on Wikipedia to inspire the world

June 6th, 2016 by John Cummings
Photo by Elgollimoh, freely licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

A European bee-eater (Merops apiaster) in Ichkeul National Park and Biosphere Reserve, Tunisia. Photo by Elgollimoh, CC BY-SA 3.0.

This blog is also available in French, Spanish and Russian on the Wikimedia Foundation blog.


Yesterday was World Environment Day, the United Nations’ designated day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment.

Many of us know the world faces unprecedented pressure from human activities. The United Nations Environment Programme Global Environment Outlook reports:

The state of global biodiversity is continuing to decline, with substantial and ongoing losses of populations, species and habitats. For instance, vertebrate populations have declined on average by 30 per cent since 1970, and up to two-thirds of species in some taxa are now threatened with extinction.

Education is key to reversing this decline, to find sustainable solutions to the problems we all face and to learn to live sustainably with the rest of the natural world.

Sustainable environmental action hinges on the education of all citizens, from the earliest age, in sustainable development…..No single country, however powerful, can resolve the challenges of our common environment. (Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO)

UNESCO created the Man and the Biosphere Programme “to establish a scientific basis for the improvement of relationships between people and their environments”.  Biosphere Reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal/marine ecosystems or a combination thereof, which are internationally recognized within the framework of UNESCO’s Programme on Man and the Biosphere (MAB). Each Biosphere Reserve promotes solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. Today there are 669 biosphere reserves in 120 countries belonging to a World Network of Biosphere Reserves, all offering us opportunities to explore how to live sustainably.

Photo by Vian and retouched by Iifar, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Carpathian Biosphere Reserve, Zakarpattia Oblast, Ukraine. Photo by Vian and retouched by Iifar, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Wikipedia is where 500 million of us go to understand complex subjects like climate change, biodiversity and sustainability, and give us information about the world around us. It can also foster our appreciation, wonder and empathy with the rest of the natural world through photographs,.

Everyone can contribute to Wikipedia, it gives us the opportunity to share what we know and what we see, in 2015 one trillion photos were created, more than all previous years combined. More people have phones with cameras than ever before and mobile internet is becoming a major education tool for the developing and developed countries.

UNESCO and Wiki Loves Earth have partnered to create Wiki Loves Earth Biosphere Reserves, a competition to create photographs free for everyone to use and to enrich Wikipedia. 10 winning images will be shared on the UNESCO website and social media and will be entered into the Wiki Loves Earth international competition. Wiki Loves Earth competitions around the world have created over 180,000 images of protected natural sites.

If you don’t have access to a Biosphere Reserve you can still be involved by promoting the project, adding the photographs to Wikipedia and using them to teach people about the environment.

To help more people to learn about biosphere reserves, UNESCO have made the official descriptions available under a Creative Commons license, which Wikipedia volunteers will use to create missing articles.

Cormorants at dusk on the pond of Vaccarès, part of Delta du Rhone Biosphere Reserve, France. Photo by Ddeveze, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Cormorants at dusk on the pond of Vaccarès, part of Delta du Rhone Biosphere Reserve, France. Photo by Ddeveze, CC BY-SA 3.0.

UNESCO’s mandate is to build peace in the minds of men and women. Biosphere Reserves are the places where we discover ways to live in harmony with the environment. Wikipedia is where we inspire and teach each other how.

Wiki Loves Earth Biosphere Reserves will run from today until 30 June.

Wiki Loves Earth Biosphere Reserves is created in collaboration by the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Programme, Wikimedia volunteers (special thanks to Navino Evans, Mykola Kozlenko and Romaine), John Cummings (Wikimedian in Residence at UNESCO), and Wikimedia Ukraine.

John Cummings, Wikimedian-in-Residence at UNESCO

The views expressed in this post are not necessarily those of the Wikimedia Foundation or Wikipedia; responses and critical commentary are invited in the comments section below.

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