Wikimedia Israel reaches deal with photo archives after feud

Open access platform apologized for how it handled secret image-mining operation last year.

14th Regiment Coast Battery, Royal Artillery, Haifa, Photographer: Zoltan Kluger  (1896–1977) (photo credit: ISRAEL STATE ARCHIVES)
14th Regiment Coast Battery, Royal Artillery, Haifa, Photographer: Zoltan Kluger (1896–1977)
Wikimedia Israel, the Association of Israeli Archivists and the National Library of Israel agreed to a cooperation deal this week, months after a bitter fight broke out over Wikimedia’s activities.
The agreement, announced by Wikimedia’s Israel chapter on Monday, is designed “to reconcile the differences between the parties and to assure future cooperation,” Wikimedia said in a statement.
A disagreement between the open-access platform and a variety of Israeli institutions came to a boil in November last year, when Wikimedia announced it had “reclaimed” around 28,000 images it said were copyright-free.
But the move, which it did surreptitiously using website-crawling software – and in many cases programs to remove watermarks – infuriated many of the institutions. Wikimedia said that it was merely operating within the bounds of Israel’s copyright law, which stipulates a copyright period of 50 years.
While the National Library and the Government Press Office cooperated with Wikimedia, it said it was forced to work surreptitiously to mine photographs from Israel’s State Archive, the Zionist Archives, the JNF archive, the Palmah archive and the Moshe Sharett Heritage Society.
In its statement this week, Wikimedia apologized for its conduct last year.
“We regret the situation that resulted from lack of communication between the archives and Wikimedia Israel,” it said Monday. “Different world views and organizational culture hindered and impaired the dialogue and distorted the understanding of the intentions of both the archives and Wikimedia Israel.
“This is not how the affairs should have been conducted,” the statement added. “Wikimedia Israel wishes to apologize to anyone who found themselves injured as a result... now, we wish to turn to a new path and open a clean page in the relations between the sides.”
For its part, the Association of Israeli Archivists also apologized, for “the poor responsiveness of the archives to the requests of the Wikimedia team to place its materials in the public domain.”
Last year, after Wikimedia revealed its secret operation, the Association of Israel Archivists said it “behaved like thieves in the night, creating a distorted impression that there is a world war between the archives and Wikimedia, a misrepresentation that was intended to portray it as having saved treasures from the ‘rich’ in favor of the ‘poor.’”
But this week, the National Library, the Association of Israel Archivists and Wikimedia said that they would “cooperate moving forward in order to upgrade and expand the free access to archival materials, especially those in the public domain.”
The three institutions have agreed to a number of steps, including increasing materials in the public domain, establishing a team of representatives from all three bodies, soliciting archival materials from other sources, and working together to digitize, upload and integrate images into Wikimedia projects.
A spokesman for the National Library told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that “our policy is always to open access to the treasures of Jewish and Israeli culture to the greatest extent possible – within the limits of copyright law and the right to privacy, of course.”