Reusing images of Italian cultural heritage from Wikimedia Commons will become more difficult

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Can you reuse images of the Italian cultural heritage in public domain published on Wikimedia Commons for commercial purposes? According to the new Italian National Plan for the Digitization of Cultural Heritage (Piano Nazionale di Digitalizzazione, PND) images can be published on the Wikimedia projects, but to reuse them for commercial purposes you need to ask for permission and pay a fee. This is a restriction to public domain and a misuse of our Wikimedia projects, which are collaborative repositories meant to freely provide content, also for commercial purposes.

The new PND – under review until June 30th, 2022 – for the first time explicitly refers to Wikimedia Commons in its Guidelines for the acquisition, circulation and reuse of cultural heritage reproductions in the digital environment (page 28) and it states:

“The download of cultural heritage reproductions published on third-party websites is not under the control of the public entity that holds the assets (e.g., images of cultural heritage assets downloadable from Wikimedia Commons, made “freely” by contributors by their own means for purposes of free expression of thought and creative activity, and thus in the full legitimacy of the Cultural Heritage Code). It remains the responsibility of the cultural institution to charge fees for subsequent commercial uses of reproductions published by third parties.”

In spite of a clear support to open access, FAIR data, collaboration, co-creation and reuse, the guidelines of the PND want to turn all images of Italian cultural heritage in public domain available on Wikimedia Commons into non commercial (NC) images with the new label MIC BY NC (MIC stands for the Italian Ministry of Culture). According to an Italian administrative norm (Codice dei beni culturali e del patrimonio), Italian monuments and collections under public domain can be photographed for non-commercial purposes, while the commercial uses are allowed only with a preventive authorization and the payment of a fee to the institutions managing that site or collection.

The system can’t work and it is unsustainable

The application of this kind of fee by the Ministry of Culture and cultural institutes on commercial reuses of Italian cultural heritage images on Wikimedia Commons is unrealistic (especially if the re-users are based outside Italy), complex and expensive to manage (for handling permissions and payments). Furthermore this system follows an outdated business model that aims at making money on heritage digitization instead of opening it up to reuses, as the European policies suggest (ref. open government, open data, open science).

Wikimedia projects are exploited and sabotaged

The fee charged on the reuse of Wikimedia content exploits our free infrastructure and the work of volunteers and donors and goes against our principles of free knowledge, openness and reuse. Furthermore it is in contrast with the thousands of authorizations collected by Wikimedia Italia in ten years of history of Wiki Loves Monuments and the engagement of Italian GLAMs committed to provide their public domain heritage with open tools accessible for all purposes without fees.

What is being done and what can be done

Wikimedia Italia sent an open letter to representatives of the Italian government, calling out not to add restrictions on images of cultural heritage in the public domain licensed under an open license on Wikimedia projects. We will keep asking that, to push our country to align to international standards on openness and civil society participation to the conservation of its own heritage.

Help us raise our voice: let us know if you have similar issues in your countries and how you have been dealing with that. If you are a volunteer on Wikimedia Commons, let us know if and how the community could help supporting our requests.

Learn more about the current situation here.

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