A new bill introduced by Deputy Liliana Mazure seeking to extend the intellectual property of images up to 70 years after artists’ deaths would prohibit the public dissemination of many iconic images from from the Twentieth Century. Basically, databases such as Wikipedia or even the National Archives would have to give up a major part of their image repertoire which, according to Patricio Molina, secretary of Wikimedia Argentina, could have dire consequences in terms of the nation’s cultural patrimony.
In an interview with The Bubble, Molina explained Wikimedia Argentina’s views on this bill.
The Bubble: What exactly does Liliana Mazure’s bill implicate? What kind of images would be affected by it?
Molina: The bill would extend the current 20-year period [before an image becomes public domain] following the publication date to 70 years after the death of the author. Worse: if approved, the law would have a retroactive nature. This means that thousands of this century’s images which currently belong to the public domain would become private. We would have to eliminate a considerable amount of our photos, which carry a major historical weight, since publishing any of them would be considered illegal. A photo of Gardel taken in 1930 would no longer be copyright free. And neither would be the photos taken under the military dictatorship. They would simply disappear, along with a piece of our country’s history. This law’s effect would be nothing short of cruel.
The Bubble: Who would be affected by the law?
Molina: The law would affect all of the Wikimedia chapters since we wouldn’t be able to collect images for the Wikimedia Commons. It could also harm us on a financial level since our activity would be considerably reduced. But further than Wikimedia and other web sources, the law would return all of the National Archive images back to the private domain. Circulating those images would then be illegal.
The Bubble: Due to its retroactive nature, it’s understood that the law would eliminate an important part of the Twentieth Century’s historical file. What about contemporary images? They wouldn’t be available for the next 70 years…
Molina: That’s right, Mazure’s Law would create an information gap for the future. From the day it’d be approved and up to 70 years in the future, there wouldn’t be any images available to share. Basically, the law would create a cultural deficit.
The Bubble: What is the current legislation regulating the distribution and reproduction of images by Wikimedia Argentina?
Molina: Each project has established its own internal policies. This means that Wikipedia Spanish and English do not run by the same rules. Aside from those policies, the dissemination of images is ruled by the current Argentine Law of Intellectual Property (Law 11.723). According to this law, an image becomes public domain 20 years after its publication or 25 years after its production date. Because of this we have managed to gather a huge cultural arsenal. Currently we count over 10,000 images in our repertoire, most of which are representative of our past and history.
The Bubble: The deputies supporting Mazure’s bill argue it would protect artists’ rights and thus be beneficial to them. What are your thoughts on that?
Molina: I imagine only a few people can benefit from this kind of law. Yes, certainly, it might be useful for graphic reporters as they would get financial recognition for their work for a longer period of time. It would certainly benefit publishers, and artists’ heirs as well. But there’s a backlash: their work might not be shared on the same scale. It might not have the same impact. Take for example that famous picture of Che Guevara. The author, Alberto Korda, could have been well compensated thanks to a law of this kind. But do you think the photo would have been so popular, so massively circulated? I’m not so sure. The way I see it, the people supporting this bill are completely ignorant of copyright issues. Deputy Mazure doesn’t seem to understand the colossal impact that such a law would have. Either she doesn’t get it, or she’s simply ignoring it.
The Bubble: Is there any way to counteract the bill? Are any actions being taken by Wikimedia or other organizations?
Molina: Several organizations, both public and private, have joined Wikimedia Argentina in the battle against such legislation. With their support, we’re looking for new ways to educate people on the matter and hopefully get them to see the issue clearly. Patricio Lorente, president of the Wikimedia Foundation, has been leading a campaign against this bill on several social media channels. What impact will it have? We don’t know for sure. The bill has already received preliminary approval. We can only hope it won’t go all the way.