Last Monday, nearly four months after Wikimedia Israel’s extraction of nearly 28-thousand public-domain photographs from archives affiliated with the State of Israel and the Zionist movement, an agreement was finally reached to reconcile the differences between the parties and to assure future cooperation.
The archives from which the photographs had been extracted last November (the State’s Archive, the Zionist Archive, the JNF Archive, the Palmach Archive and the Moshe Sharett Heritage Society) questioned the legitimacy of Wikimedia Israel’s move and demanded an apology for the misuse of their websites. They agreed, on the other hand, to enhance access to public-domain material stored in their archives and to further cooperation with Wikimedia Israel.
Following the agreement, Wikimedia Israel released a statement saying it “regrets the situation that has resulted from lack of communication between the archives and Wikimedia Israel”. The statement further says that “different world-views and organizational cultures harmed the dialogue and distorted the understanding of the intentions of the archives and of Wikimedia Israel”. The statement ends by saying that “this is not how the affairs should have been conducted, and we wish to apologize to anyone who sees themselves offended by the move”.
The agreement calls for better access to public material, while maintaining better sensitivity, and “respecting the rights of those who deposited the material and the Israeli law”. In addition, Wikimedia Israel offered its help in the effort to digitalize the material and make it more accessible. This should serve not only Israelis, but also people throughout the Middle East, who could find interest in historical photographs taken decades ago in neighboring countries and territories.
The Israeli law stipulates a copyright period of 50 years for photographs taken before 2008. When the Israeli copyright law was redrafted in 2007, the then newly-established Wikimedia Israel managed to convince the lawmakers not to apply the copyright extension retrospectively, in order to allow the gradual release of historical images from the British Mandate era and the early years of statehood to the public domain. Nevertheless, many of these images are “locked-up” in archives, and archives’ managements were reluctant to cooperate with Wikimedia Israel and make them accessible.
In November 2018, after receiving legal advice, Wikimedia Israel took the initiative and used crawlers to extract thousands of public-domain images from the archives’ websites. This move, which was not coordinated with the archives, naturally led to condemnations on their behalf. The agreement and Wikimedia Israel’s statement are meant to restore good relations and promote cooperation with the major local archives.