Wikipedia’s photographic testimonies of Argentina’s history might be lost

Wikimedia Argentina would like to express their concern at the draft law presented by deputy Liliana Mazure. The mentioned draft law proposes the extension of copyrights on photographs from the current 20 years from the date of publication, to 70 years from the death of its author.

Instead of favoring the work of professional photographers- over that of publishers or large media businesses, for instance- the amendment, which would apply retroactively,  threatens hundreds of thousands of historical photographs that would go back to private domain. A photograph of Gardel taken in the 30’s could become discretionary property of an heir, who would decide whether or not it can be reproduced, at what cost and on which terms.

Mazure’s proposal does not even contemplate exceptions or consider the case of photographs that belong the cultural and historical patrimony of the country and its people. The amendment is intended to bring copyrights on photographs to the same level as musical compositions or plays. However, a photograph is something of very different nature.

The existing law, which establishes copyright protection for 25 years from the date of the picture being taken, or 20 years from its first publication, complies fully with the times approved in the Berne Convention. The photographs are work for which their authors have obtained reasonable revenue already. Extending property to 70 years after the author’s death, means that heirs will gain profit at the expense of people’s right to access culture. It is not just the author of the photograph we are talking about, but the relatives of the person who shot the picture: even if these people were unaware of their property rights, the photographs would still cease to be of public domain.

The project involves the privatization of photographs which are currently of public domain. Photographs portraying all of the events of the 20th century -the urban landscapes, tango, railways, sports, national rock, Peronism, the military dictatorships and the struggle of Human Rights organizations, the Malvinas War – would no longer be freely available .

Wikipedia would have to delete the vast majority of historical photographs of the 20th century: their mere exhibition without consent of the new copyright holder would be a criminal offence. The amendment would affect not only Wikipedia: the General Archives of the Nation would become illegal, and 40 million Argentines would be denied access to their historical memory.

We call on the deputies and senators of the nation to seriously consider the damage that would result in the proposed amendment. Cultural heritage should be protected over individual gain.

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