Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Wikimedia and the Tower of London poppies

It can't be easy trying to maintain the high standards on Wikimedia Commons. (This is the place where people can upload their own photographs for future use on Wikipedia and elsewhere, and where all content needs to be freely released for personal and commercial use. But it's also where copyright ownership and the laws of each country need to be scrupulously upheld.)

Images that don't meet these requirements sooner or later are liable to be deleted, but only after discussion and consensus emerges.
Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red (8)
Taken and uploaded by MercerMJ (Creative Commons by SA 2.0)
Currently in use on Wikipedia, but for how much longer?

This week a big debate erupted on Wikimedia after more than 250 images of Paul Cummins' magnificent poppy installation at the Tower of London in 2014 were put forward for deletion (see this link). Other images that people have taken and uploaded of his currently touring "Weeping Windows" installations (co-created by theatre designer, Tom Piper) are also proposed for removal.

This means that this Wikipedia page could soon lose all its photographic content, and with it the ability for the world's greatest free encyclopaedia to visually communicate the impressive work of Derbyshire artist, Paul Cummins. Is this acceptable? Well, actually, yes it possibly is. Or at least that's what has been put forward by the proposing editor.

My own rather poor photo of Paul Cummins' poppies on tour,
here installed at Derby's Silk Mill Museum in
 a temporary installation entitled "Weeping Windows".
Who owns the right to release this image? Me? The artist? Or both?
The argument put forward for deleting all these photographs is that Wikimedia's own policies prevent it from accepting any uploaded image unless the uploader has the right to do so. They also have to agree to release that image for use under a Creative Commons licence, which allows it to be used for both non-commercial and commercial purposes. (I doubt anyone would ever get rich on any of my photographs, so I'm not too bothered, personally.)

But do I have the right to photograph a temporary artwork created by another people like Paul Cummins (and then to freely release that image for others to use) when the artistic content isn't mine to give away in the first  place, and I don't have their permission?

Well, the policies of Wikimedia apparently say "No", and so photos are routinely listed for deletion and a public discussion on the right ways to implement those policies then takes place. Usually within a week, a consensus will emerge and the decision is then rapidly implemented either to 'Keep' or to 'Delete'.

It doesn't matter about the quality of the image under discussion - it's the content that counts, and any breach of copyright (dependant upon the country it was taken in) has to be recognised and acted upon. This includes consideration of each country's own laws on 'Freedom of Panorama' as well as copyright and 'Derivative Works', and all can be very technical. In this instance, that freedom to publish a photograph of a public place in Britain appears to be irrelevant, but concerns relate instead to the artists' right not to have images of their temporary art installation made available on Wikimedia and Wikipedia for all to see and use without their explicit consent.

So the numerous pictures taken by ordinary people like me of Paul Cummins' amazing poppies may soon disappear from Wikipedia. That would be a great shame,  but it may well be the right thing to do.

Of course, if the copyright owning artist were to  give  their formal permission for images of their work to be released under a Creative Commons Share Alike licence without any restriction on personal or commercial use, then that's another matter. . . 

Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red
Tower of |London. Image credit: Deror_avi;
Creative Commons Share Alike Licence 3.0
But getting those permissions within Wikimedia's ridiculously short 7-day time period is unlikely to happen. Yes, these images can always be restored if permission is retrospectively given, but  sometimes I think we act too hastily on relatively contentious matters like this.

So, rather than moan about Wikimedia's over-conscientious rules, I decided to take action myself. Late on Sunday I sent Paul Cummins an email via his website, asking if he'd be willing to consider granting permission, either for particular images currently in use to  remain online, or for all such images of his work to remain and be available under that creative commons licence. But Paul's a busy man (now mapping where all 888,246 poppies have ended up around the world). So whether he thinks it's worth taking time out to reply to some nerdy Wikipedia editor and to navigate through Wikimedia's image licensing process  remains to be see. I hope he will

Personally, I think Wikimedia needs to sort out its act. It needs to make its interface with the public on image rights much simpler to navigate; it can't expect ordinary organisations, artists and other individuals to understand and wade through its complex permissions process, and it  needs to find an effective way to give more time to editors willing to undertake to make contact and  negotiate with a copyright holder over permissions for images to remain there. Perhaps it needs a 'Defer deletion' process whereby images identified for deletion are held back and not automatically removed until some agreed time-period - perhaps between one and three months - has expired. In reality, an image can sit unchallenged on Wikimedia for many years, but then someone spots and challenges it and we're all suddenly expected to be able to resolve any issues within seven days. Laughable, if you want to try to contact the holder of rights within an image, but that's how it works at present. Trying to do get permission once an image has been deleted is pointless as you can't show the person the image in question, even if it can be restored by a Wikimedia administrator! And don't you dare go on holiday - ever!

I don't confess to fully  understanding the intricacies of how Wikimedia volunteers manage these complex processes and, in doing so, defend not only this amazing resource's reputation, but also the rights and interests of individuals. (I used to call them 'WikiNazis' because of what I saw as their heavy-handed implementation of those rules and summary deletion of images that I and other photographers had innocently taken and uploaded for use on Wikipedia.) But rather than insult these volunteers, they should really be thanked. They're mostly doing a fine job in identifying issues and raising concerns.

Maybe the way things are handled could be done differently, but its only by volunteers being vigilant and careful that can we be sure both Wikimedia and Wikipedia's reputations remain in a good state, that people's copyright interests are appropriately defended, and that the fifth most popular website in the world continues to provide information and images for everyone to use in a fair and legal manner, whoever and wherever they are.

In a future blog post I hope to be able to look in further detail at the interpretation of the relevant laws and how consensus is reached by debate amongst Wikimedia/Wikipedia editors, and some of the different responses and views that are being made right now on this issue.

Meanwhile, here's my email sent to Paul Cummins via his website on 10th September 2017:
Hi Paul  I'm a former member of staff at Derby Museum with a close connection to the Derby Silk Mill, and I adored the display of your work there last summer. I'm retired now, but I contribute a lot of my time to improving articles on Wikipedia (like this one and this one). Thousands of people have photographed your work, and quite a few have been uploaded to illustrate articles on Wikipedia about the different venues your poppies have visited. 
Unfortunately, every one of them is about to be permanently deleted, unless you are prepared to step in to prevent this from happening. The problem is that any picture uploaded to Wikimedia (which holds images on behalf of Wikipedia) requires photographers to permit commercial use of that image. But because you have published a restriction on commercial use on this page (, and because they were part of a temporary installation, not a permanent one, every single image of your poppies on Wikipedia has been proposed for deletion, primarily to protect your interests and to conform with UK law. If you're ok with this, you need do absolutely nothing. 
But if you would like Wikimedia/Wikipedia and others to be able to use photos of your work for decades to come, you really need to step in right away and give your explicit permission now. This could either be for selected images - or all of them - to remain on Wikimedia for both non-commercial and for commercial use. It's only with the consent of you, the copyright holder, that photographs of temporary installations like yours will be allowed to remain on Wikimedia. Please let me know your general view on this. I might be able to hold off total deletion of every image of your work on Wikipedia until we can sort out how to best to arrange for your formal permission for a selected few (or all?) of those pictures to remain and to be used. It would be a real shame if the all the Wikipedia articles about your work were to be devoid of any image for many decades to come. (Including this one about you: 
 If you don't step in to stop deletion, this is precisely what will happen.  Kind regards  Nick Moyes Derby (-former Senior Keeper of Natural Sciences at Derby Museum; winner of Derby Arts Festival for ceramics, 1996; Wikipedian)
And here's the story of those poppies in Paul's own words:

Where are the individual poppies now? Follow this link to learn more.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Women in Red

I attended my first Wikipedia 'Editathon' this year.

Newnham College, Cambridge University
Called 'Role Models', it was held at Newnham College, one of only two all-female colleges at the University of Cambridge. It was timed to coincide with activities for International Women's Day on March 8th and Wikipedia's own Women's History Month.

It was a fascinating learning experience, so I thought I'd set down my impressions of the day and make a few suggestions for  improving editathons in the future.

Dame Carol Black with Roger Bamkin
If you exclude the event I helped organise back in 2011 at Derby Museum for GLAM-Wiki, this was my first real editathon.

I'd been asked to help out by event organiser, Roger Bamkin (User: Victuallers), who has tons of experience in organising similar events. But what was initially a general invitation to assist by taking a few official pictures of the event, soon turned into a request for me to produce a video of the day, carry out interviews with a range of attendees. And even that later transmogrified into a request to prepare a video for showing in Montreal at the 2017 Wikimania Conference. No pressure then!  (see video below)

Doug Taylor ran introductory classes,
every hour, on the hour.
With only basic DSLR recording equipment, and no experience of being on the question-asking side of the camera, I felt rather at sea. But, hey, it's great to have a challenge of learning knew skills.

The first thing I did was buy a low-cost lapel microphone. I chose a £15 Boya Lavalier microphone on Amazon, which I thoroughly recommend. Had I not acquired this useful bit of kit, none of the videos would have been of much use, such was the level of enthusiastic background noise on the day. (A shotgun microphone I had borrowed form a work colleague for use on a backup video camera failed to produce anything like the same sound quality, and collected far too much ambient noise)

Format of the day
The event started with a welcome from Dame Carol Black, the Principal of Newnham College, plus a few words by Roger.

In one half of the room we then had Doug Taylor from Wikimedia UK who ran hourly introductory sessions for beginners new to editing on Wikipedia.  His style was both enthusiastic and engaging, and he was assisted by Marianne Bamkin who operated the laptop which was projected for everyone to see)

In the other half of the room we had tables and a number of laptops supplied by Newnham College for people to work on. Luckily many had also brought their own, too.
People could drop in at any time during the day, and these included academic staff, support staff and a number of really interesting Cambridge alumnae who came for the whole day. In addition, there were also a number of established Wikipedians like Clem Rutter, Charles Matthews, RubbishComputer, Deryck C and others.

The majority of people who attended had never edited a Wikipedia article before, but had come armed to make their mark and to help-redress the male-female imbalance in Wikipedia articles. Many focussed on articles about current or ex-Cambridge University women achievers. One alumna who came to learn (but might also merit an article in her own right) was Elizabeth Hodges - who, we understand, was first female surgeon commander in the Navy.

I was able to record interviews with a number of people during the day - some being brand new to editing, others being established Wikipedians. One of them (a retired biology technician with the Human Genome Project) gave a particularly insightful account of how that project shared their data via Wikipedia. Some of her words appear in the video below).
Registering school users on Wikipedia

I would observe the following:
Good Points:
  • The day was enhanced by having an introductory talk on editing Wikipedia every hour for all newcomers to editing.
  •  Most attendees had their own mobile devices and soon got to grips with understanding the basics of making and saving their first edits.
  • A Wikipedia Admin was present to help school groups create new accounts for each student.
  • It was very rewarding to be able to talk with and to assist people completely new to editing Wikipedia
  •  Seeing young schoolchildren attending and getting stuck in to editing alongside somewhat more elderly participants was delightful.
  • A photo of each person we interviewed was taken of them holding an image release form.
  • 70 new editors were trained during the event.
Ideas for the future:
  • Capture and record the Usernames of everyone attending. With either a blackboard or register, this would enable organisers not only to assess achievements made on the day, but also visit new users, check their work, and offer help or encouragement in the weeks that follow).
  • Encourage users not only to sign in, but to write down names of articles they are working on.
  • Avoid having the same room for introductory lectures and personal editing. (especially important if you want to interview and record people!)
  • Clearly display the WiFi name and password
  • Provide every brand new Wikipedia editor with a "What do I do next?" leaflet to take away.

The day ended with an invitation to join Dame Carol Black as her guests of honour at 'high table' in the beautiful surroundings of Newnham College. All in all - a wonderful, but tiring day!
Roger Bamkin chatting with Newnham
College staff at formal dinner. 

And here's the video I eventually produced for showing during a Women in Red presentation at the Wikimania Conference in Montreal:

Yes, it was a great event!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Adobe Premiere Elements - activating H.264 and MPEG components in old versions

This blog post explains how, as late as 2017, it's still possible to obtained an encoder activation key for older versions of Adobe Premiere Elements.

Some years ago I purchased Adobe Premiere Elements (ver 1), which served me well for home video editing from my miniDV video recorder on Windows XP. Unfortunately my new DSLR camera produces MP4 format files, and these are not compatible with that version of Premiere. I needed a low cost solution for my unpaid work with Wikipedia, so I purchased an unused version of Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements version 7 from eBay.

Component Activation window in Premiere Elements 7.
My computer is now a 64-bit Windows 10 laptop, so it was a relief that the program installed from the CD disk without any difficulty.
So, I spent some time editing my first 15 minute video sequence and familiarising myself with some of the changes, only to then encounter a total inability to save it in anything other than AVI format. Neither saving as MPG nor H.264 encoding would work as a popup appeared for each one, telling me that that an unlock key was needed to activate the encoder.

To get this code, one simply needed to copy an inordinately long string of letters and numbers from that popup, follow the given link to an Adobe webpage, and paste it in so you could then retrieve an activation key which Premiere needed in order to proceed. (This is on top of the original serial number needed on first install.)

First problem: The link is no longer functioning (

A search online quickly identified a new url for Adobe encoder activation: (

Encoder activation page - but it would not recognise the product
Second problem: Whilst the activation page looked to be the answer, it did not recognise the long string of characters given to me from the popup in Premiere Elements. It simply reported "Error: Invalid Encoder Product ID."

A more exhaustive search of Adobe-related discussion forums showed that:
a) numerous people are still searching for a solution
b) many experts simply tell users search for assistance that "Premiere Elements 7 is no longer supported", so go buy a new version.
c) some advisors have suggested users try downloading and installing a trial version of a new version of Premiere Elements in case that resolves the problem (but no-one seems to report having any success)
d) deep within the bowels of the internet, there lurks a solution to unlocking and activating these essential encoders!

THE SOLUTION: Trial and error with innumerable Google keyword searches finally yielded up this little gem on Adobe's own website: 

This page works!

Simply paste in the long character string given to you by the Premiere popup when you try to save and output a file. As at March 2017 the page shown above generates a fully functional key for your individual computer. You then just paste this back into the Premiere popup and click 'OK'. You can use the same page for activating the MPEG encoder within Premiere Elements 7, and for activating the H.264 encoder, although you will be given separate text strings for each one. Bingo! 

Leave a comment to tell me and others how you get on, and whether you found this useful!

Activation code successfully shown (blanked out here)

A typical 'cri de coeur' for software that people
think can't now be used, but which can

Finally, if you've arrived at this page, desperately searching for solutions to related problems, these pages might also be of some interest: