Wikimedia Sweden Found Guilty of Violating Artworks Copyright

Is this the beginning of the end of freely distributed content?

The Wikimedia Commons logo.

Wikimedia Sweden has been found guilty of violating copyright laws by providing free access to a database of images of artworks without securing the artists’ consents.

AFP reports that the non-profit, which was declared guilty on Monday, April 4 by Sweden’s highest court, had been sued by Sweden’s Visual Copyright Society (BUS), which represents painters, photographers, illustrators, and designers.

Wikimedia, part of Wikipedia, hosts a database of photographs available for public use free of charge under the Creative Commons licenses, on the condition that authors are duly credited.

Sweden’s highest court argued that while individuals were permitted to photograph artwork on display in public spaces, it was “an entirely different matter” to make those photographs available for unlimited use in a free database.

“Such a database can be assumed to have a commercial value that is not insignificant,” the court stated. “The court finds that the artists are entitled to that value. It is not relevant whether or not Wikimedia has a commercial aim.”

The amount that Wikimedia will have to pay BUS in damages will be announced at a later date.

“We are naturally very disappointed,” Wikimedia’s Swedish operations manager Anna Troberg told the Local. “We view this as an anachronistic and restrictive interpretation of copyright laws. It also runs counter to recommendations from the European Court of Human Rights.”

In a statement on the ruling, Wikimedia Sweden argues that “The Supreme Court’s decision shows that we have a copyright law that is behind the times and insufficient faced with the digital reality we all live in.”

It also noted that, following the sentence’s argument, tourists who take selfies next to artworks and landmarks and then share them across social media platforms could be considered to be breaking copyright laws too.

Meanwhile, BUS pointed out that Wikimedia had refused to sign a licensing agreement that “would have cost several thousand kronor per year” and “chosen to spend hundreds of thousands of kronor on lawyers’ fees” instead.


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