News and notes
New General Counsel hired
On February 4, Sue Gardner announced the hiring of Geoff Brigham as General Counsel to the Wikimedia Foundation. The General Counsel is in charge of the Foundation's day-to-day legal issues. According to the job description, the General Counsel is responsible for "maintaining and developing the legal and contractual infrastructure required of a US-based nonprofit foundation which operates internationally; maintaining and developing policy and legal defenses relevant to the operation of a Top 10 multilingual information website created via the efforts of a broad, international volunteer community; [and] advising the Wikimedia Foundation and the global Wikimedia movement on ethical and mission-driven policy positions."
The office was created in 2006 (Signpost coverage: "Foundation hires Brad Patrick as general counsel and interim executive director"). In July 2007, Mike Godwin was hired for the position. Godwin handled legal affairs for the project for three years, dealing with several high-profile disputes, before leaving the project last October for undisclosed reasons. In late October, human resources firm m|Oppenheim was charged with finding a replacement for Godwin. Sue Gardner noted the challenge to recruit a person who "can handle a broad range of legal issues including the legal defense of our projects in an international context, an array of matters related to policy and regulatory compliance, issues such as privacy, and helping us with the challenges of opening a new office in India." m|Oppenheim talked to "hundreds of connectors and candidates" for the position, and around 12 short-listed candidates were interviewed.
English- and French-speaking Geoff Brigham received his law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington DC, and a BA in Political Science and French from the Indiana University in Bloomington. Prior to the appointment, Brigham was for nearly eight years Deputy General Counsel of eBay, where he handled legal affairs in 15 countries. Before that, Brigham was the Assistant US Attorney in Southern District of Florida, Senior Liaison Legal Officer in Paris, Federal Appellate Attorney, Associate with Finley, Kumble, Wagner et al., and Judicial Law Clerk. Wikimedians have been welcoming him to the Foundation on the Foundation-l mailing list.
Echoes of the NPG public domain controversy: Reuse of Google's gigapixel art reproductions debated on Commons
Detail of Dirck Hals
' Fête champêtre (below), derived from the Google Art Project's reproduction
Dirck Hals: Fête champêtre ("Garden party"), 1627 (Rijksmuseum Amsterdam)
After the launch of the Google Art Project last week, which hosts very high-resolution images (up to more than 10 gigapixels) of famous artworks from galleries and museums around the world, a debate ensued on whether and how to upload those that show public domain works to Wikimedia Commons.
It was discussed whether Google's terms of services permit such reuse, whether it would still be legal under copyright in case of the lack of such permission, and whether it might offend cultural institutions that are collaborating with Wikimedia or could intend to do so.
Witty lama, who has long been known for his work on such GLAM relationships (Galleries, libraries, archives and museums) and in December took up a fellowship position at the Wikimedia Foundation, strongly advised against copying the reproductions: "Of course, legally and ethically the community and WMF's position remains that you can't copyright a PD artwork merely by making a faithful reproduction of it (cf. Bridgeman v. Corel). However, from a pragmatic point of view the advantages of having a dozen gigapixel images of important paintings (as awesome as that would be) would, IMHO, be outweighed by the blow this would deal to our reasonably good-standing in the cultural sector these days."
Apart from the diplomatic concerns, the images also present technical challenges, their full resolution exceeding the 65536 x 65536 pixels maximum of the JPEG specifications and the 100MB file upload limit on Commons. Dcoetzee announced that he had started to download and archive some of the images in full resolution, and has already uploaded three of them in a somewhat lower resolution to Commons (File:Giovanni Bellini - Saint Francis in the Desert - Google Art Project.jpg,File:Pieter Bruegel the Elder- The Harvesters - Google Art Project.jpg, File:Van Gogh - Starry Night - Google Art Project.jpg). The full 1.6 gigapixel version of one image, Starry Night, has been uploaded to the Internet Archive.
Recalling the 2009 legal threat of the UK's National Portrait Gallery (NPG) against Dcoetzee for similar uploads of reproductions of public domain paintings (Signpost coverage: "Copyright threat"), Witty lama strongly criticized him for the new uploads: "Didn't we learn anything from the NPG fiasco, especially you Derreck!?" David Gerard retorted "Yes: we learnt to stand up to odious and reprehensibly fraudulent claims of copyright on public domain works. ... Derek did nothing wrong and is doing nothing wrong." Dcoetzee said that the three images were just a "sample" and that he planned "no further uploads for a while, just gathering data on local storage". He also indicated that the legal concerns from the NPG case do not apply to museums in the countries like the US where the public domain status of faithful reproductions of 2D public domain artworks is more clearly established than in the UK.
It was also debated whether Wikimedia projects have a need for such high resolutions at all. Dcoetzee defended their usefulness, pointing to an essay titled "Why we need high-resolution media". The newly created category "Google Art Project" already contains a few detail images that were excerpted from Google's reproductions (one of them currently being used in the article Tudor rose). The version of Pieter Bruegel the Elder's "Harvesters" uploaded by Dcoetzee (see above), while reduced to 280 megapixels from Google's 4.5 gigapixels, compares favorably to a previously uploaded high resolution version (3.6 megapixels) from another source, allowing the viewer to recognize grazing cattle in the background or the facial expressions of the harvest workers in the foreground.
Logo of the new newsletter
In other GLAM-related news, a monthly newsletter titled "This month in GLAM" has been started on the Foundation's Outreach wiki. Among various other items covered previously in the Signpost, the first issue records the following events for January:
News in brief
- A "social history" of the Russian Wikipedia: Maryana Pinchuk (m:User:Buickmackane) and Victoria Doronina (User:Mstislavl), who around the end of September started an eight-week research project under the Foundation's Community fellowship program to develop methods for writing histories of Wikimedia projects (Signpost coverage), have drafted an (English-language) "attempt of a social history" of the Russian Wikipedia. It depicts the project's history as defined by a continuous struggle between "Allowists" and "Restrictors" (user groups with differing attitudes towards the necessity of strict rules, similar to the Inclusionists versus Deletionists antagonism on the English Wikipedia), which they attribute to the high "uncertainty avoidance" observed for Russia in sociologist Geert Hofstede's framework for assessing culture. Other aspects of Russian culture that shaped the numerous conflicts and affairs recounted in the text include nationalism and the fact that "the subject of homosexuality is still taboo". On the other hand, the project has dealt with issues familiar to English Wikipedians, such as large-scale sockpuppet abuse and a case of a closed mailing list used to coordinate actions against other users, described as "very similar" to the English Wikipedia's Eastern European mailing list case of 2009.
- Decreasing editor-to-reader ratio: User:Benjamin Mako Hill, a member of the Wikimedia Foundation's advisory board, has published a blog post about "Editor-to-Reader Ratios on Wikipedia" with a "back of the envelope estimation on the proportion of users that are editors", based on the WMF's statistics. Between February 2008 and December 2010, the resulting graph shows "a 42% decrease in the proportion of readers who edit at least five times a month". He said that the "discrepancy between rising readership and stable or sinking editorship should raise major concern". In a related blog posting ("Wikipedia loves editors: 2011 campaigns?"), board member Sj suggested using banners like those of the fundraiser to invite contributors, drafted by WikiProjects to indicate their specific needs. As reported earlier, the 2010-11 fundraiser campaign was intended to include banners (after reaching its financial goal) "to ask people to contribute - not financially, but with their knowledge. We will target readers, and encourage them to become editors", but Sj indicated that while "some general-purpose 'discover Wikimedia' banners were run the first week of January", they were "soon overtaken by preparations for the (wickedly fun) 10th anniversary celebrations."
- Professionalization of chapters: User:notafish has started a series of blog posts titled "Wikimedia Chapters: We Want to Hire Someone, Where Do We Start?" (part I, part II), drawing on her perspective as a board member of Wikimedia Germany, the oldest of the around 30 Wikimedia chapters (founded in 2004), which currently has around 12 employees: "In the constellation of Wikimedia Chapters, it is the only one with such a strong presence of staff at all. Other chapters have hired people, but no other chapter, as far as I know, has more than 3 permanent employees."
- South African chapter being founded: According to a press release, efforts to found a South African Wikimedia chapter (the first on the continent) are well underway. Kerryn McKay, who is director of the non-profit African Commons Project and is working on the founding of the chapter, said it "started with a kick-off workshop last September that pulled together Wikipedians from around the country. We are now finalizing the by-laws and are awaiting approval from the Wikimedia Foundation," and expect the chapter to be operating in the second quarter of 2011.
- History of Wikipedia in India: On his blog, Wikimedian Gautam John has posted "Thoughts on Wikipedia in India", among other things including the history of the Tamil Wikipedia and that of the Indian Wikimedia chapter.
- Log of general Wikimedia IRC meeting: A log of the February 5 Wikimedia meeting on IRC (attended by community members and some Foundation employees and trustees) has been published. Topics included ways to preserve the momentum shown in the many local meetups that celebrated Wikipedia's tenth anniversary, Wikipedia's "gender gap", possible changes in the Foundation's identification procedures for volunteers that would extend the mandatory identification to all OTRS volunteers and retain the identification data at the Foundation, a planned extension of the "Wiki Loves Monuments" contest held by the Dutch chapter last year, and Wikimania 2012 bids.
- New Global Development staff positions: The Foundation's Global Development Department has announced the hiring of Asaf Bartov (from Wikimedia Israel) as "Head of Global South Relationships", and a contract extension of Egypt-based Moushira Elamrawy to serve as "Chapter Relations Manager". As explained by Chief Global Development Officer Barry Newstead, the new positions replace the initially planned "Chapter Development Director" and "seek to enhance WMF's relationships with and support of chapters and other groups/individuals in the movement". Together with Newstead, both will attend two m:IRC office hours on February 11, at 15:00 and 22:00 UTC.
- 500 featured article milestone: With Nick-D's Bombing of Singapore (1944–1945), the Military history WikiProject has reached a total of 500 featured articles in its scope. This was a major goal set more than a year ago by the coordinators of the project.
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