Wikimedia Israel, the local branch of online free information service Wikipedia, has published some 28,000 pre-Israel photographs taken in and around the region which would eventually become the Jewish state.
The images provide snapshots of life in the area. As they are all over 50 years old, the photos are copyright free and available for use by everyone, the organization said.
“These photos, which tell the history of the people who lived in this region between the years 1900-1946, are accessible for search, study, research, and use by the Israeli public and throughout the world,” Wikimedia said in a statement announcing the publication of the images earlier this month.
The images are on the Wikimedia Israel website (Hebrew).
Wikimedia Israel said it had tried over the years to contact various organizations that maintain archives in order to look into the possibility of presenting the photos via Wikimedia Commons, thereby significantly broadening their exposure.
“We were surprised to discover that in some of the bodies there were no partners for creative thought to increase the use of the photos,” the media organization said. “It is of great importance to release content whose copyright has certainly expired.”
Under Israeli law, copyright for images lasts for 50 years.
The photos were garnered by sifting through publicly available material in the state archives, the Government Press Officer, the Jewish National Fund, the Palmach archive, and the archive of the Moshe Sharett Heritage Society.
“We hope that this will encourage these and other organizations to release their own archives,” Wikimedia said.
The Association of Israeli Archivists in a letter to its members and the media, criticized Wikimedia for what it said was its cavalier method in obtaining and publishing the photos, the Calcalist website reported.
“Wikimedia’s ‘sting’ operation involves a variety of legal and professional offenses, including concern of infringement of intellectual and property rights, breach of signed agreements with donors, blatant failure to give credit, and erasure of the archival context,” the AIA said.
“Wikimedia is not the one that over many years sought, found, persuaded, transferred, collected, organized, serialized and scanned the 28,000 photographs it has uploaded to the Web,” it added. “It is not the one who is the signatory to various agreements with donors and creators and is not the one currently exposed to the legal risks stemming from the possible infringement that the ‘operation’ created in the rights of the owners of the work and other rights.”
In publishing the images Wikimedia Israel said it was acting under the mission statement of its parent organization, the international non-profit organization Wikimedia Foundation which states “Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.”
Michal Lester, executive director of Wikimedia Israel, insisted that the organization’s actions were perfectly legal.
“We were very conservative and careful, and issued only photos that were in the public domain,” she said.
“We in no way infringed on copyright. The photos released were up to 1947, before the foundation of the state and according to Israeli law considered to be in public domain. Photos up to 1967 are in public domain but we were concerned that perhaps some were not catalogued correctly. We didn’t want to take any chances because we didn’t want to cause harm to these bodies. We simply wanted to bring to the public that which belongs to it.”