Archive for May, 2019

UK MPs elect John Bercow as new Speaker of the House of Commons

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

Monday, June 22, 2009

Following the resignation of Speaker Michael Martin, which took effect yesterday, members of the House of Commons, the lower house of the British Houses of Parliament, today elected John Bercow as the new Speaker of the House.

The three rounds of voting were held as a secret ballot of all Members of the Commons. Each round eliminated from subsequent rounds any candidates with less than 5% support, with the winner to be the candidate who, in any round, achieved a simple majority of the vote. This was a new system for electing the Speaker, and the first time that the Speaker has been elected by secret ballot.

In the first round of voting, there were 10 candidates: Margaret Beckett, Sir George Young, Ann Widdecombe, Sir Alan Beith, John Bercow, Richard Shepherd, Sir Michael Lord, Sir Patrick Cormack, Sir Alan Haselhurst, and Parmjit Dhanda. All candidates made brief speeches in the chamber at 13:30 UTC (14:30 BST) immediately before the vote.

Four candidates were eliminated by this round — Cormack, Dhanda, Lord, and Shepherd — leaving six candidates to go forward to the second round of voting.

Results of the first round
Candidate Votes
Beckett 74
Beith 55
Bercow 179
Cormack 13
Dhanda 26
Haselhurst 66
Lord 9
Sheperd 15
Widdecombe 44
Young 112

In the second round, Widdecombe was eliminated, leaving five candidates to go forward to the third. All candidates apart from Bercow and Young lost ground. Young gained more votes than Bercow, but Bercow remained in the lead.

Results of the second round
Candidate Votes Change from round 1
Beckett 70 -4
Beith 46 -9
Bercow 221 +42
Haselhurst 57 -9
Widdecombe 30 -14
Young 174 +62

In the third round, all remaining candidates except two, Bercow and Young, withdrew from the contest, after an appeal to do so from the Father of the House, Alan Williams. This appeal was motivated by the length of each round of voting, which required 600 ballot papers to be printed, marked, and counted.

Results of the second round
Candidate Votes Change from round 2
Bercow 322 +101
Young 271 +97

In both the first and second rounds of voting, one ballot was spoiled. Although the ballot was secret and the identity of the person whose ballot it was could thus not be confirmed, John Mann, MP for Bassetlaw, claimed it was him. “None of them have got a strong reforming agenda,” said Mann. “Some of the speeches were shocking, after what we have been through recently.”

After confirmation by a unanimous acclamation, with no “noes” voiced, John Bercow became the Speaker-elect for the 157th Speaker of the House of Commons. In accordance with tradition, he was physically dragged to the chair. At 19:31 UTC (20:31 BST) he delivered a 5 minute speech, paying tribute to the other candidates, before sitting in the chair itself. In that speech he paid tribute to his mother, pointing out that she had taken a keen interest in proceedings.

He also said: “I want just to say this about the responsibility of the office. The Speaker has the responsibility to immediately and permanently cast aside all his or her previous political views. I said it —”. Here he was interrupted by members anticipating the end of his sentence, and calls to “come and join the Labour Party”. He resumed “I said it and I meant it. My promise to this house is to be completely impartial, that is what it’s about. I will do my best faithfully, honourably and respectfully to do my best in the months ahead.”

His first three acts as Speaker-elect were to call upon the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the Leader of the Opposition David Cameron, and the leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg to speak. Brown and Cameron both commented upon Bercow’s hobby of playing tennis, with Brown observing that Bercow had now permanently taken the position of umpire. The Prime Minister said that on the matter of Bercow’s casting aside of his past political views, “some of us thought you had done that some time ago”. Cameron also pointed out that Bercow was the first Jewish Speaker to be elected by the House in its history.

Cameron and Clegg both reminded Bercow of the comments made by Parmjit Dhanda, who had said in his candidacy speech earlier that afternoon: “All of the 10 (candidates) is capable of doing the job but … do we all really get it? Do we understand the level of crisis out there. Do we understand the level of public’s anger.”

Bercow’s election as Speaker elect remained subject to Royal Approbation. This was not given in person by the Queen.

At 20:51 UTC (21:51 BST), the Lords Commissioners assembled on the Woolsack in the House of Lords, and summoned the House of Commons via Black Rod, who in turn summoned the Commons at 20:54 UTC (21:54 BST). The clerk of the House of Lords read the Royal Commission, authorizing the Lords Commissioners to speak in the name of the Queen. At 21:01 UTC (22:01 BST) the Lord Chancellor Jack Straw, spoke for the Lords Commissioners and declared Bercow to be the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Bercow’s first act as Speaker, after returning to the Commons and formally notifying it of events in the Lords, at 21:06 UTC (22:06 BST) was to call upon the Leader of the House, Harriet Harman. She proposed a motion, carried by acclamation without dissent, for the Commons to call upon the Queen to elevate the previous Speaker, Michael Martin, to the House of Lords. Bercow’s second act was again to call upon Harman, who proposed a motion to adjourn, again carried by acclamation without dissent.

Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s latest film makes Thailand premiere

Monday, May 27th, 2019

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Following a world premiere during the Director’s Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival, the latest film by Thai auteur Pen-Ek Ratanaruang made its Thailand premiere on Tuesday night in a screening for the press and celebrities.

Before the screening of the new film, Ploy, the director and his stars took the rostrum for a question-and-answer session, during which Pen-Ek pulled out a digital camera and took photos of the presenter, the press and the actors.

Ploy is a drama film, about a middle-aged Thai-American couple, portrayed by popular Thai soap opera actress Lalita Panyopas and Pornwut Sarasin, a first-time actor whose day job is working as vice president of Thai Namthip, the distributor of Coca Cola in Thailand. The couple have returned to Thailand for the first time in many years to attend the funeral of a relative.

They arrive at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport at 5 a.m. after a long-haul flight from the U.S., and check in to a hotel. The wife, Dang, just wants to sleep, but the husband, Wit, wants some cigarettes, so he goes to the hotel bar to buy some. There, he strikes up a conversation with a 19-year-old girl named Ploy (17-year-old first-time actress Apinya Sakuljaroensuk), who’s waiting at the hotel for her mother.

Wit then invites the girl to his and Dang’s room, so she can take a shower and relax. This poor judgment by Wit ignites feelings of jealousy and anger in Dang, and causes the couple to review their marriage of seven years.

Lao-Australian leading man Ananda Everingham is in a supporting role as the hotel bartender. As a counterpoint to Wit’s and Dang’s bickering, the bartender engages in an erotic tryst with a hotel maid (model-actress Porntip Papanai) in a nearby room.

The press screening was held at SF World Cinemas at CentralWorld shopping mall in Bangkok. Given the presence of Coca-Cola’s Pornwut in the cast, it was perhaps not a coincidence that cans of Coke Zero, a new soft drink that is just being introduced in Thailand, were being doled out for free.

According to early reviews at Cannes, Ploy contains a high level of nudity and eroticism, which is uncommon for a Thai film, because Thailand has no film-ratings system and instead adheres to a strict censorship code that excises nakedness and sex scenes.

Ahead of its Thailand premiere, Aphiradee Iamphungphorn, co-producer for Five Star Production, said she knew the film would have to be re-edited for Thailand, but “hopefully not more than we can bear.” To get past the censors, Pen-ek created a special Thailand edit of the film, in which the sex scenes are toned down.

Ploy is the director’s sixth feature film since he made his debut in 1997 with Fun Bar Karaoke, which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival. Since then, his films are regularly featured on the festival circuit, and are submitted by Thailand’s film industry for consideration by the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.

Pen-Ek’s latest film is a return to screenwriting, after his previous two films, Last Life in the Universe and Invisible Waves, were scripted or co-scripted by Thai writer Prabda Yoon. It also marks a reunion with leading actress Lalita, who starred in his second feature, 1999’s black comedy, Ruang Talok 69, as well as Porntip, who co-starred in Pen-Ek’s 2001 musical-comedy-drama Monrak Transistor.

Ploy opens in Thailand cinemas on Thursday.

BDSM as business: An interview with the owners of a dungeon

Monday, May 27th, 2019

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Torture proliferates American headlines today: whether its use is defensible in certain contexts and the morality of the practice. Wikinews reporter David Shankbone was curious about torture in American popular culture. This is the first of a two part series examining the BDSM business. This interview focuses on the owners of a dungeon, what they charge, what the clients are like and how they handle their needs.

When Shankbone rings the bell of “HC & Co.” he has no idea what to expect. A BDSM (Bondage Discipline Sadism Masochism) dungeon is a legal enterprise in New York City, and there are more than a few businesses that cater to a clientèle that wants an enema, a spanking, to be dressed like a baby or to wear women’s clothing. Shankbone went to find out what these businesses are like, who runs them, who works at them, and who frequents them. He spent three hours one night in what is considered one of the more upscale establishments in Manhattan, Rebecca’s Hidden Chamber, where according to The Village Voice, “you can take your girlfriend or wife, and have them treated with respect—unless they hope to be treated with something other than respect!”

When Shankbone arrived on the sixth floor of a midtown office building, the elevator opened up to a hallway where a smiling Rebecca greeted him. She is a beautiful forty-ish Long Island mother of three who is dressed in smart black pants and a black turtleneck that reaches up to her blond-streaked hair pulled back in a bushy ponytail. “Are you David Shankbone? We’re so excited to meet you!” she says, and leads him down the hall to a living room area with a sofa, a television playing an action-thriller, an open supply cabinet stocked with enema kits, and her husband Bill sitting at the computer trying to find where the re-release of Blade Runner is playing at the local theater. “I don’t like that movie,” says Rebecca.

Perhaps the most poignant moment came at the end of the night when Shankbone was waiting to be escorted out (to avoid running into a client). Rebecca came into the room and sat on the sofa. “You know, a lot of people out there would like to see me burn for what I do,” she says. Rebecca is a woman who has faced challenges in her life, and dealt with them the best she could given her circumstances. She sees herself as providing a service to people who have needs, no matter how debauched the outside world deems them. They sat talking mutual challenges they have faced and politics (she’s supporting Hillary); Rebecca reflected upon the irony that many of the people who supported the torture at Abu Ghraib would want her closed down. It was in this conversation that Shankbone saw that humanity can be found anywhere, including in places that appear on the surface to cater to the inhumanity some people in our society feel towards themselves, or others.

“The best way to describe it,” says Bill, “is if you had a kink, and you had a wife and you had two kids, and every time you had sex with your wife it just didn’t hit the nail on the head. What would you do about it? How would you handle it? You might go through life feeling unfulfilled. Or you might say, ‘No, my kink is I really need to dress in women’s clothing.’ We’re that outlet. We’re not the evil devil out here, plucking people off the street, keeping them chained up for days on end.”

Below is David Shankbone’s interview with Bill & Rebecca, owners of Rebecca’s Hidden Chamber, a BDSM dungeon.

Contents

  • 1 Meet Bill & Rebecca, owners of a BDSM dungeon
    • 1.1 Their home life
  • 2 Operating the business
    • 2.1 The costs
    • 2.2 Hiring employees
    • 2.3 The prices
  • 3 The clients
    • 3.1 What happens when a client walks through the door
    • 3.2 Motivations of the clients
    • 3.3 Typical requests
    • 3.4 What is not typical
  • 4 The environment
    • 4.1 Is an S&M dungeon dangerous?
    • 4.2 On S&M burnout
  • 5 Criticism of BDSM
  • 6 Related news
  • 7 External links
  • 8 Sources

Ontario Votes 2007: Interview with Family Coalition Party candidate Kristen Monster, Willowdale

Friday, May 24th, 2019

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Kristen Monster is running for the Family Coalition Party in the Ontario provincial election, in the Willowdale riding. Wikinews’ Nick Moreau interviewed her regarding her values, her experience, and her campaign.

Stay tuned for further interviews; every candidate from every party is eligible, and will be contacted. Expect interviews from Liberals, Progressive Conservatives, New Democratic Party members, Ontario Greens, as well as members from the Family Coalition, Freedom, Communist, Libertarian, and Confederation of Regions parties, as well as independents.

United Future announces tax cuts in 2008 for New Zealand

Friday, May 24th, 2019

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The leader of the government’s political partner, United Future and Revenue minister, Peter Dunne has announced that there will be personal tax cuts to go along with the confirmed business tax cuts in 2008.

Peter Dunne’s newsletter, sent yesterday, said: “The business tax reduction proposals I announced with Michael Cullen in the Business Tax Review in July will go ahead from April 2008, and they will be accompanied by personal tax adjustments as well, just as we foreshadowed.” They would be “the first major cuts by either government since 1996.” Peter Dunne was the Revenue minister in 1996 as well.

Finance minister and deputy Prime Minister, Doctor Michael Cullen, said: “Mr Dunne is clearly involved in an important branding exercise for United Future and nothing has changed.”

The Prime Minister, Helen Clark, did not comment.

Before Peter Dunne announced the tax cuts, the Government had denied any tax cut proposals until November/December when they could see a clearer picture.

Dunne said that the tax cuts would come in the form of rate cuts and threshold movements.

Cullen said that if tax cuts were offered then they will be for everyone, including those in the low to middle income ranges.

New Zealand First, another political partner of the government, claimed credit in its annual convention on Sunday that they were the ones who convinced Labour the value of tax cuts and changing the personal thresholds.

Cullen last week said, when he announced the surplus; “We are engaged in a business taxation review that will almost certainly produce proposals for tax cuts in the business area to come into force on 1 April 2008 . . . and that may have implications for personal tax rates and thresholds, but I can’t give you more information because [it is] not available.”

The business tax is dropping three cents to NZ$0.33.

State schools chief to appeal California High School Exit Exam ban to state high court

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019

Friday, May 19, 2006State schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell has his lawyers working “around the clock” to prepare to ask the State Supreme Court to overturn a lower court judge’s ban on using the California State High School Exit Exam as a graduation requirement, he said today.

“In an effort to seek resolution of this issue as quickly as possible, I have asked my attorneys to appeal directly to the California Supreme Court,” said O’Connell in a prepared statement, “They are working around the clock to prepare those papers, and we expect to file within 24 to 30 hours. This is a remarkably fast turnaround for an appeal of a ruling that was made less than a week ago.”

Most appeals of a Superior Court decision go to an appellate court first.

Last Friday, Alameda County Superior Court judge Robert Freedman ruled against maintaining the California High School Exit Exam as a condition of graduation for the class of 2006, saying that the law requiring high school students to pass the test is unconstitutional because economically and racially disadvantaged students weren’t offered equal educations and therefore didn’t have an equal chance to pass.

In his statement, O’Connell acknowledged that some students need more help than others, but said the test should stand, anyway: “We know that some students at some schools need extra attention to overcome challenges brought to the classroom and challenges within the schools they attend. We agree those students must have every option available to them to learn the skills on the exam. But I strongly disagree that the remedy for students still struggling to pass the exam is to simply hand them a diploma whether or not they have learned what they need to know.”

Arturo J. Gonzalez, the San Francisco attorney who persuaded Freedman to stop the use of the test, told reporters that Freedman had ruled correctly and that the state should give up and let the students graduate. “There is no basis for the Supreme Court to take diplomas away from 45,000 students who have passed all required courses,” he said in an email exchange with the James Logan Courier. “To do that, they would have to find that Judge Freedman abused his discretion. Given the overwhelming evidence in support of his ruling, I do not think that any of the seven justices will find an abuse of discretion.”

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said he supported O’Connell’s bid to reinstate the test and would “put the full weight of my administration behind reinstating the California High School Exit Exam graduation requirement.”

O’Connell, who wrote the law, wants the requirement to be enforced against this year’s would-be graduates who haven’t yet passed the test and so is set to ask the State Supreme Court to immediately stay Freedman’s injunction to allow the state to withhold high school diplomas as originally planned.. At last count, the ruling affects about 47,000 California Seniors, including about 70 from James Logan High School.

“The decision came as more than 1,100 California high schools prepare for graduation ceremonies,” he said, “It created confusion and uncertainty not only for seniors in the class of 2006 but for juniors in the class of 2007.”

Cynthia O’Brien, who oversees testing at James Logan High School, told The Courier she wants the confusion to end. “If the Exit Exam is going to go forward, then it needs to go forward. If not, then it needs to be cancelled completely,” she said last week.

“Many students now wonder whether they should enroll in summer school or plan to take a summer administration of the exit exam,” he said, “Administrators and teachers are left wondering whether students who need the extra assistance will bother to enroll. And students who should be buckling down to learn the skills they need to succeed in college or the workplace have now been told they can get a diploma whether or not they have those skills.

“It is our responsibility to all of California’s children, especially our disadvantaged and minority students, to equip them with the most basic skills they will need in college, in work and in life,” said Schwarzenegger. “ Postponing the exam graduation requirement will hurt our children in the long run by depriving us of the best tool we have to measure how well schools are doing their job.”

He said he’s budgeted more money to help students pass the test: “My 2006-07 budget will add $7.7 million for three additional administration of the exam and we will also provide $65 million this year to give students at risk of failing the exam the support they need to pass it.”

The high court has 90 days to decide whether to hear O’Connell’s appeal once it’s filed, but could act more quickly if it chooses.

Edmund White on writing, incest, life and Larry Kramer

Sunday, May 19th, 2019

Thursday, November 8, 2007

What you are about to read is an American life as lived by renowned author Edmund White. His life has been a crossroads, the fulcrum of high-brow Classicism and low-brow Brett Easton Ellisism. It is not for the faint. He has been the toast of the literary elite in New York, London and Paris, befriending artistic luminaries such as Salman Rushdie and Sir Ian McKellen while writing about a family where he was jealous his sister was having sex with his father as he fought off his mother’s amorous pursuit.

The fact is, Edmund White exists. His life exists. To the casual reader, they may find it disquieting that someone like his father existed in 1950’s America and that White’s work is the progeny of his intimate effort to understand his own experience.

Wikinews reporter David Shankbone understood that an interview with Edmund White, who is professor of creative writing at Princeton University, who wrote the seminal biography of Jean Genet, and who no longer can keep track of how many sex partners he has encountered, meant nothing would be off limits. Nothing was. Late in the interview they were joined by his partner Michael Caroll, who discussed White’s enduring feud with influential writer and activist Larry Kramer.

Contents

  • 1 On literature
  • 2 On work as a gay writer
  • 3 On sex
  • 4 On incest in his family
  • 5 On American politics
  • 6 On his intimate relationships
  • 7 On Edmund White
  • 8 On Larry Kramer
  • 9 Source

Ontario Votes 2007: Interview with Green candidate Marion Schaffer, Oakville

Saturday, May 18th, 2019

Monday, September 24, 2007

Marion Schaffer is running for the Green Party of Ontario in the Ontario provincial election, in the Oakville riding. Wikinews’ Nick Moreau interviewed her regarding her values, her experience, and her campaign.

Stay tuned for further interviews; every candidate from every party is eligible, and will be contacted. Expect interviews from Liberals, Progressive Conservatives, New Democratic Party members, Ontario Greens, as well as members from the Family Coalition, Freedom, Communist, Libertarian, and Confederation of Regions parties, as well as independents.

Pakistan’s President Musharraf resigns; new elections to be held

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Former President Pervez Musharraf, of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, has vacated the presidential home of Aiwan-e-Sadr after stepping down from the office of President. On Monday Fahmida Mirza, Speaker of the National Assembly of Pakistan, signed and accepted the resignation of President Musharraf.

For 44 years I have safeguarded the country and will continue to do so.

He was accorded a guard of honour before leaving the President’s House. President Musharraf resigned after remaining in power for nine years.

He had been facing impeachment on charges of violating the constitution and gross misconduct. The movement to impeach Pervez Musharraf was an August 2008 attempt by the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Pakistan Muslim League, Awami National Party, and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam to force Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf out of office.

Pervez Musharraf announced his resignation at 13:00 Local time (07:00 UTC) in a televised address to avoid impeachment. In it, Pervez Musharraf explained in Urdu language his reasons for resigning.

“If I was doing this just for myself, I might have chosen a different course,” Musharraf said, early in the speech. “But I put Pakistan first, as always,” he continued. “Whether I win or lose the impeachment, the dignity of the nation would be damaged, the office of the president harmed.”

Just three days ago, the chief spokesperson for Pervez Musharraf denied reports that came out 14 August, 2008 indicating that the president would step down within days.

Before departing, President Pervez Musharraf met with many important figures including General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, the Chief of the Army Staff, and Air Marshal Tanvir Mehmoodand, Chief of Air Staff. President Musharraf says he has no plans to leave the country and will remain with his family in Islamabad.

Chairman of the Senate of Pakistan, Muhammad Mian Soomro, took over as Acting President of Pakistan after the departure of President Pervez Musharraf’s.

The Secretary Election Commission of Pakistan, Kanwar Dilshad, announced on August 22, 2008 that the presidential election will be held on September 6, 2008. The Central Executive Committee of Pakistan People’s Party has nominated the Pakistan People’s Party Co-chairman, Asif Ali Zardari for the post of president of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

U.K. National Portrait Gallery threatens U.S. citizen with legal action over Wikimedia images

Saturday, May 11th, 2019

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

This article mentions the Wikimedia Foundation, one of its projects, or people related to it. Wikinews is a project of the Wikimedia Foundation.

The English National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in London has threatened on Friday to sue a U.S. citizen, Derrick Coetzee. The legal letter followed claims that he had breached the Gallery’s copyright in several thousand photographs of works of art uploaded to the Wikimedia Commons, a free online media repository.

In a letter from their solicitors sent to Coetzee via electronic mail, the NPG asserted that it holds copyright in the photographs under U.K. law, and demanded that Coetzee provide various undertakings and remove all of the images from the site (referred to in the letter as “the Wikipedia website”).

Wikimedia Commons is a repository of free-to-use media, run by a community of volunteers from around the world, and is a sister project to Wikinews and the encyclopedia Wikipedia. Coetzee, who contributes to the Commons using the account “Dcoetzee”, had uploaded images that are free for public use under United States law, where he and the website are based. However copyright is claimed to exist in the country where the gallery is situated.

The complaint by the NPG is that under UK law, its copyright in the photographs of its portraits is being violated. While the gallery has complained to the Wikimedia Foundation for a number of years, this is the first direct threat of legal action made against an actual uploader of images. In addition to the allegation that Coetzee had violated the NPG’s copyright, they also allege that Coetzee had, by uploading thousands of images in bulk, infringed the NPG’s database right, breached a contract with the NPG; and circumvented a copyright protection mechanism on the NPG’s web site.

The copyright protection mechanism referred to is Zoomify, a product of Zoomify, Inc. of Santa Cruz, California. NPG’s solicitors stated in their letter that “Our client used the Zoomify technology to protect our client’s copyright in the high resolution images.”. Zoomify Inc. states in the Zoomify support documentation that its product is intended to make copying of images “more difficult” by breaking the image into smaller pieces and disabling the option within many web browsers to click and save images, but that they “provide Zoomify as a viewing solution and not an image security system”.

In particular, Zoomify’s website comments that while “many customers — famous museums for example” use Zoomify, in their experience a “general consensus” seems to exist that most museums are concerned with making the images in their galleries accessible to the public, rather than preventing the public from accessing them or making copies; they observe that a desire to prevent high resolution images being distributed would also imply prohibiting the sale of any posters or production of high quality printed material that could be scanned and placed online.

Other actions in the past have come directly from the NPG, rather than via solicitors. For example, several edits have been made directly to the English-language Wikipedia from the IP address 217.207.85.50, one of sixteen such IP addresses assigned to computers at the NPG by its ISP, Easynet.

In the period from August 2005 to July 2006 an individual within the NPG using that IP address acted to remove the use of several Wikimedia Commons pictures from articles in Wikipedia, including removing an image of the Chandos portrait, which the NPG has had in its possession since 1856, from Wikipedia’s biographical article on William Shakespeare.

Other actions included adding notices to the pages for images, and to the text of several articles using those images, such as the following edit to Wikipedia’s article on Catherine of Braganza and to its page for the Wikipedia Commons image of Branwell BrontĂ«‘s portrait of his sisters:

“THIS IMAGE IS BEING USED WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM THE COPYRIGHT HOLDER.”
“This image is copyright material and must not be reproduced in any way without permission of the copyright holder. Under current UK copyright law, there is copyright in skilfully executed photographs of ex-copyright works, such as this painting of Catherine de Braganza.
The original painting belongs to the National Portrait Gallery, London. For copies, and permission to reproduce the image, please contact the Gallery at picturelibrary@npg.org.uk or via our website at www.npg.org.uk”

Other, later, edits, made on the day that NPG’s solicitors contacted Coetzee and drawn to the NPG’s attention by Wikinews, are currently the subject of an internal investigation within the NPG.

Coetzee published the contents of the letter on Saturday July 11, the letter itself being dated the previous day. It had been sent electronically to an email address associated with his Wikimedia Commons user account. The NPG’s solicitors had mailed the letter from an account in the name “Amisquitta”. This account was blocked shortly after by a user with access to the user blocking tool, citing a long standing Wikipedia policy that the making of legal threats and creation of a hostile environment is generally inconsistent with editing access and is an inappropriate means of resolving user disputes.

The policy, initially created on Commons’ sister website in June 2004, is also intended to protect all parties involved in a legal dispute, by ensuring that their legal communications go through proper channels, and not through a wiki that is open to editing by other members of the public. It was originally formulated primarily to address legal action for libel. In October 2004 it was noted that there was “no consensus” whether legal threats related to copyright infringement would be covered but by the end of 2006 the policy had reached a consensus that such threats (as opposed to polite complaints) were not compatible with editing access while a legal matter was unresolved. Commons’ own website states that “[accounts] used primarily to create a hostile environment for another user may be blocked”.

In a further response, Gregory Maxwell, a volunteer administrator on Wikimedia Commons, made a formal request to the editorial community that Coetzee’s access to administrator tools on Commons should be revoked due to the prevailing circumstances. Maxwell noted that Coetzee “[did] not have the technically ability to permanently delete images”, but stated that Coetzee’s potential legal situation created a conflict of interest.

Sixteen minutes after Maxwell’s request, Coetzee’s “administrator” privileges were removed by a user in response to the request. Coetzee retains “administrator” privileges on the English-language Wikipedia, since none of the images exist on Wikipedia’s own website and therefore no conflict of interest exists on that site.

Legally, the central issue upon which the case depends is that copyright laws vary between countries. Under United States case law, where both the website and Coetzee are located, a photograph of a non-copyrighted two-dimensional picture (such as a very old portrait) is not capable of being copyrighted, and it may be freely distributed and used by anyone. Under UK law that point has not yet been decided, and the Gallery’s solicitors state that such photographs could potentially be subject to copyright in that country.

One major legal point upon which a case would hinge, should the NPG proceed to court, is a question of originality. The U.K.’s Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 defines in ¶ 1(a) that copyright is a right that subsists in “original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works” (emphasis added). The legal concept of originality here involves the simple origination of a work from an author, and does not include the notions of novelty or innovation that is often associated with the non-legal meaning of the word.

Whether an exact photographic reproduction of a work is an original work will be a point at issue. The NPG asserts that an exact photographic reproduction of a copyrighted work in another medium constitutes an original work, and this would be the basis for its action against Coetzee. This view has some support in U.K. case law. The decision of Walter v Lane held that exact transcriptions of speeches by journalists, in shorthand on reporter’s notepads, were original works, and thus copyrightable in themselves. The opinion by Hugh Laddie, Justice Laddie, in his book The Modern Law of Copyright, points out that photographs lie on a continuum, and that photographs can be simple copies, derivative works, or original works:

“[…] it is submitted that a person who makes a photograph merely by placing a drawing or painting on the glass of a photocopying machine and pressing the button gets no copyright at all; but he might get a copyright if he employed skill and labour in assembling the thing to be photocopied, as where he made a montage.”

Various aspects of this continuum have already been explored in the courts. Justice Neuberger, in the decision at Antiquesportfolio.com v Rodney Fitch & Co. held that a photograph of a three-dimensional object would be copyrightable if some exercise of judgement of the photographer in matters of angle, lighting, film speed, and focus were involved. That exercise would create an original work. Justice Oliver similarly held, in Interlego v Tyco Industries, that “[i]t takes great skill, judgement and labour to produce a good copy by painting or to produce an enlarged photograph from a positive print, but no-one would reasonably contend that the copy, painting, or enlargement was an ‘original’ artistic work in which the copier is entitled to claim copyright. Skill, labour or judgement merely in the process of copying cannot confer originality.”.

In 2000 the Museums Copyright Group, a copyright lobbying group, commissioned a report and legal opinion on the implications of the Bridgeman case for the UK, which stated:

“Revenue raised from reproduction fees and licensing is vital to museums to support their primary educational and curatorial objectives. Museums also rely on copyright in photographs of works of art to protect their collections from inaccurate reproduction and captioning… as a matter of principle, a photograph of an artistic work can qualify for copyright protection in English law”. The report concluded by advocating that “museums must continue to lobby” to protect their interests, to prevent inferior quality images of their collections being distributed, and “not least to protect a vital source of income”.

Several people and organizations in the U.K. have been awaiting a test case that directly addresses the issue of copyrightability of exact photographic reproductions of works in other media. The commonly cited legal case Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp. found that there is no originality where the aim and the result is a faithful and exact reproduction of the original work. The case was heard twice in New York, once applying UK law and once applying US law. It cited the prior UK case of Interlego v Tyco Industries (1988) in which Lord Oliver stated that “Skill, labour or judgement merely in the process of copying cannot confer originality.”

“What is important about a drawing is what is visually significant and the re-drawing of an existing drawing […] does not make it an original artistic work, however much labour and skill may have gone into the process of reproduction […]”

The Interlego judgement had itself drawn upon another UK case two years earlier, Coca-Cola Go’s Applications, in which the House of Lords drew attention to the “undesirability” of plaintiffs seeking to expand intellectual property law beyond the purpose of its creation in order to create an “undeserving monopoly”. It commented on this, that “To accord an independent artistic copyright to every such reproduction would be to enable the period of artistic copyright in what is, essentially, the same work to be extended indefinitely… ”

The Bridgeman case concluded that whether under UK or US law, such reproductions of copyright-expired material were not capable of being copyrighted.

The unsuccessful plaintiff, Bridgeman Art Library, stated in 2006 in written evidence to the House of Commons Committee on Culture, Media and Sport that it was “looking for a similar test case in the U.K. or Europe to fight which would strengthen our position”.

The National Portrait Gallery is a non-departmental public body based in London England and sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Founded in 1856, it houses a collection of portraits of historically important and famous British people. The gallery contains more than 11,000 portraits and 7,000 light-sensitive works in its Primary Collection, 320,000 in the Reference Collection, over 200,000 pictures and negatives in the Photographs Collection and a library of around 35,000 books and manuscripts. (More on the National Portrait Gallery here)

The gallery’s solicitors are Farrer & Co LLP, of London. Farrer’s clients have notably included the British Royal Family, in a case related to extracts from letters sent by Diana, Princess of Wales which were published in a book by ex-butler Paul Burrell. (In that case, the claim was deemed unlikely to succeed, as the extracts were not likely to be in breach of copyright law.)

Farrer & Co have close ties with industry interest groups related to copyright law. Peter Wienand, Head of Intellectual Property at Farrer & Co., is a member of the Executive body of the Museums Copyright Group, which is chaired by Tom Morgan, Head of Rights and Reproductions at the National Portrait Gallery. The Museums Copyright Group acts as a lobbying organization for “the interests and activities of museums and galleries in the area of [intellectual property rights]”, which reacted strongly against the Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp. case.

Wikimedia Commons is a repository of images, media, and other material free for use by anyone in the world. It is operated by a community of 21,000 active volunteers, with specialist rights such as deletion and blocking restricted to around 270 experienced users in the community (known as “administrators”) who are trusted by the community to use them to enact the wishes and policies of the community. Commons is hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation, a charitable body whose mission is to make available free knowledge and historic and other material which is legally distributable under US law. (More on Commons here)

The legal threat also sparked discussions of moral issues and issues of public policy in several Internet discussion fora, including Slashdot, over the weekend. One major public policy issue relates to how the public domain should be preserved.

Some of the public policy debate over the weekend has echoed earlier opinions presented by Kenneth Hamma, the executive director for Digital Policy at the J. Paul Getty Trust. Writing in D-Lib Magazine in November 2005, Hamma observed:

“Art museums and many other collecting institutions in this country hold a trove of public-domain works of art. These are works whose age precludes continued protection under copyright law. The works are the result of and evidence for human creativity over thousands of years, an activity museums celebrate by their very existence. For reasons that seem too frequently unexamined, many museums erect barriers that contribute to keeping quality images of public domain works out of the hands of the general public, of educators, and of the general milieu of creativity. In restricting access, art museums effectively take a stand against the creativity they otherwise celebrate. This conflict arises as a result of the widely accepted practice of asserting rights in the images that the museums make of the public domain works of art in their collections.”

He also stated:

“This resistance to free and unfettered access may well result from a seemingly well-grounded concern: many museums assume that an important part of their core business is the acquisition and management of rights in art works to maximum return on investment. That might be true in the case of the recording industry, but it should not be true for nonprofit institutions holding public domain art works; it is not even their secondary business. Indeed, restricting access seems all the more inappropriate when measured against a museum’s mission — a responsibility to provide public access. Their charitable, financial, and tax-exempt status demands such. The assertion of rights in public domain works of art — images that at their best closely replicate the values of the original work — differs in almost every way from the rights managed by the recording industry. Because museums and other similar collecting institutions are part of the private nonprofit sector, the obligation to treat assets as held in public trust should replace the for-profit goal. To do otherwise, undermines the very nature of what such institutions were created to do.”

Hamma observed in 2005 that “[w]hile examples of museums chasing down digital image miscreants are rare to non-existent, the expectation that museums might do so has had a stultifying effect on the development of digital image libraries for teaching and research.”

The NPG, which has been taking action with respect to these images since at least 2005, is a public body. It was established by Act of Parliament, the current Act being the Museums and Galleries Act 1992. In that Act, the NPG Board of Trustees is charged with maintaining “a collection of portraits of the most eminent persons in British history, of other works of art relevant to portraiture and of documents relating to those portraits and other works of art”. It also has the tasks of “secur[ing] that the portraits are exhibited to the public” and “generally promot[ing] the public’s enjoyment and understanding of portraiture of British persons and British history through portraiture both by means of the Board’s collection and by such other means as they consider appropriate”.

Several commentators have questioned how the NPG’s statutory goals align with its threat of legal action. Mike Masnick, founder of Techdirt, asked “The people who run the Gallery should be ashamed of themselves. They ought to go back and read their own mission statement[. …] How, exactly, does suing someone for getting those portraits more attention achieve that goal?” (external link Masnick’s). L. Sutherland of Bigmouthmedia asked “As the paintings of the NPG technically belong to the nation, does that mean that they should also belong to anyone that has access to a computer?”

Other public policy debates that have been sparked have included the applicability of U.K. courts, and U.K. law, to the actions of a U.S. citizen, residing in the U.S., uploading files to servers hosted in the U.S.. Two major schools of thought have emerged. Both see the issue as encroachment of one legal system upon another. But they differ as to which system is encroaching. One view is that the free culture movement is attempting to impose the values and laws of the U.S. legal system, including its case law such as Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp., upon the rest of the world. Another view is that a U.K. institution is attempting to control, through legal action, the actions of a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil.

David Gerard, former Press Officer for Wikimedia UK, the U.K. chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation, which has been involved with the “Wikipedia Loves Art” contest to create free content photographs of exhibits at the Victoria and Albert Museum, stated on Slashdot that “The NPG actually acknowledges in their letter that the poster’s actions were entirely legal in America, and that they’re making a threat just because they think they can. The Wikimedia community and the WMF are absolutely on the side of these public domain images remaining in the public domain. The NPG will be getting radioactive publicity from this. Imagine the NPG being known to American tourists as somewhere that sues Americans just because it thinks it can.”

Benjamin Crowell, a physics teacher at Fullerton College in California, stated that he had received a letter from the Copyright Officer at the NPG in 2004, with respect to the picture of the portrait of Isaac Newton used in his physics textbooks, that he publishes in the U.S. under a free content copyright licence, to which he had replied with a pointer to Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp..

The Wikimedia Foundation takes a similar stance. Erik Möller, the Deputy Director of the US-based Wikimedia Foundation wrote in 2008 that “we’ve consistently held that faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works which are nothing more than reproductions should be considered public domain for licensing purposes”.

Contacted over the weekend, the NPG issued a statement to Wikinews:

“The National Portrait Gallery is very strongly committed to giving access to its Collection. In the past five years the Gallery has spent around ÂŁ1 million digitising its Collection to make it widely available for study and enjoyment. We have so far made available on our website more than 60,000 digital images, which have attracted millions of users, and we believe this extensive programme is of great public benefit.
“The Gallery supports Wikipedia in its aim of making knowledge widely available and we would be happy for the site to use our low-resolution images, sufficient for most forms of public access, subject to safeguards. However, in March 2009 over 3000 high-resolution files were appropriated from the National Portrait Gallery website and published on Wikipedia without permission.
“The Gallery is very concerned that potential loss of licensing income from the high-resolution files threatens its ability to reinvest in its digitisation programme and so make further images available. It is one of the Gallery’s primary purposes to make as much of the Collection available as possible for the public to view.
“Digitisation involves huge costs including research, cataloguing, conservation and highly-skilled photography. Images then need to be made available on the Gallery website as part of a structured and authoritative database. To date, Wikipedia has not responded to our requests to discuss the issue and so the National Portrait Gallery has been obliged to issue a lawyer’s letter. The Gallery remains willing to enter into a dialogue with Wikipedia.

In fact, Matthew Bailey, the Gallery’s (then) Assistant Picture Library Manager, had already once been in a similar dialogue. Ryan Kaldari, an amateur photographer from Nashville, Tennessee, who also volunteers at the Wikimedia Commons, states that he was in correspondence with Bailey in October 2006. In that correspondence, according to Kaldari, he and Bailey failed to conclude any arrangement.

Jay Walsh, the Head of Communications for the Wikimedia Foundation, which hosts the Commons, called the gallery’s actions “unfortunate” in the Foundation’s statement, issued on Tuesday July 14:

“The mission of the Wikimedia Foundation is to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally. To that end, we have very productive working relationships with a number of galleries, archives, museums and libraries around the world, who join with us to make their educational materials available to the public.
“The Wikimedia Foundation does not control user behavior, nor have we reviewed every action taken by that user. Nonetheless, it is our general understanding that the user in question has behaved in accordance with our mission, with the general goal of making public domain materials available via our Wikimedia Commons project, and in accordance with applicable law.”

The Foundation added in its statement that as far as it was aware, the NPG had not attempted “constructive dialogue”, and that the volunteer community was presently discussing the matter independently.

In part, the lack of past agreement may have been because of a misunderstanding by the National Portrait Gallery of Commons and Wikipedia’s free content mandate; and of the differences between Wikipedia, the Wikimedia Foundation, the Wikimedia Commons, and the individual volunteer workers who participate on the various projects supported by the Foundation.

Like Coetzee, Ryan Kaldari is a volunteer worker who does not represent Wikipedia or the Wikimedia Commons. (Such representation is impossible. Both Wikipedia and the Commons are endeavours supported by the Wikimedia Foundation, and not organizations in themselves.) Nor, again like Coetzee, does he represent the Wikimedia Foundation.

Kaldari states that he explained the free content mandate to Bailey. Bailey had, according to copies of his messages provided by Kaldari, offered content to Wikipedia (naming as an example the photograph of John Opie‘s 1797 portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft, whose copyright term has since expired) but on condition that it not be free content, but would be subject to restrictions on its distribution that would have made it impossible to use by any of the many organizations that make use of Wikipedia articles and the Commons repository, in the way that their site-wide “usable by anyone” licences ensures.

The proposed restrictions would have also made it impossible to host the images on Wikimedia Commons. The image of the National Portrait Gallery in this article, above, is one such free content image; it was provided and uploaded to the Wikimedia Commons under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation Licence, and is thus able to be used and republished not only on Wikipedia but also on Wikinews, on other Wikimedia Foundation projects, as well as by anyone in the world, subject to the terms of the GFDL, a license that guarantees attribution is provided to the creators of the image.

As Commons has grown, many other organizations have come to different arrangements with volunteers who work at the Wikimedia Commons and at Wikipedia. For example, in February 2009, fifteen international museums including the Brooklyn Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum established a month-long competition where users were invited to visit in small teams and take high quality photographs of their non-copyright paintings and other exhibits, for upload to Wikimedia Commons and similar websites (with restrictions as to equipment, required in order to conserve the exhibits), as part of the “Wikipedia Loves Art” contest.

Approached for comment by Wikinews, Jim Killock, the executive director of the Open Rights Group, said “It’s pretty clear that these images themselves should be in the public domain. There is a clear public interest in making sure paintings and other works are usable by anyone once their term of copyright expires. This is what US courts have recognised, whatever the situation in UK law.”

The Digital Britain report, issued by the U.K.’s Department for Culture, Media, and Sport in June 2009, stated that “Public cultural institutions like Tate, the Royal Opera House, the RSC, the Film Council and many other museums, libraries, archives and galleries around the country now reach a wider public online.” Culture minster Ben Bradshaw was also approached by Wikinews for comment on the public policy issues surrounding the on-line availability of works in the public domain held in galleries, re-raised by the NPG’s threat of legal action, but had not responded by publication time.