Wikipedia, the free-to-use online encyclopedia, has issued an official response to the National Portrait Gallery (NPG)’s claim that one of its users breached UK copyright by publishing high-resolution digital photographs of the gallery’s paintings.

The NPG has threatened legal action over 3,300 images captured by one of the gallery’s ‘specialist’ photographers, hired to take pictures of paintings for the gallery’s website.

The gallery said it is ‘very concerned’ at the potential loss of licensing income from the ‘high-resolution’ files that it claims were taken from its website without permission.

Speaking to Amateur Photographer, an NPG spokeswoman claims that a Wikipedia user misused imaging software that is designed to zoom-in on images that appear on the gallery’s website – photos not readily available for download to members of the public.

She said the user was able to circumvent normal restrictions on downloading high-resolution files by deconstructing the pictures, and then rebuilding them.

Responding to the copyright legal threat, the Wikimedia Foundation – which is based in the United States – said in a statement: ‘The Wikimedia Foundation does not control user behaviour, nor have we reviewed every action taken by that user.

‘Nonetheless, it is our general understanding that the user in question has behaved in accordance with our mission, with the general goal of making public domain materials available via our Wikemedia Commons project, and in accordance with applicable law’.

The NPG said it has not received a direct response from Wikipedia following a lawyer’s letter it sent last week.

Picture: Portrait of Julia-Margaret Cameron © National Portrait Gallery