Culture is our business

Root Event

6. Werkleitz Biennale Common Property / Allgemeingut
Culture is our business
DE 2003 / 2004
Straßenkämpfe in Berlin. Online-Verkauf der Firma Corbis. copyright des Corbis Wasserzeichens bei Corbis

In 1989, Bill Gates founded the company Corbis, which is today one of the world’s biggest image archives whose significance is based on the acquisition of large photo archives with historically important pictures (i. a. the Bettmann Collection). In 1999, the storage of the more than 70 million reproductions was transferred from New York City to a subterranean limestone gallery in Pennsylvania. Roughly ten percent of the collection have been digitised; the pictures were watermarked and then published on the company’s Web site. After buying an image, the watermark is removed and the image is released for use. Many of the historical pictures, though, have for a long time already been common property resources according to international law. This also applies to the pictures shown on the Web site of the German Revolution of 1918/19 by the Berlin photographer Willy Römer. They came into the possession of Corbis as prints via the Otto Bettmann Collection; their original negatives are stored in a small, privately run archive in Berlin.

Under the WIPO Agreement from 1996, an agreement regulating the handling of digital information, a law was put into effect that protects the security functions of data (so-called rights control systems). For this reason, many of Corbis’ images can today be copyrighted, because the watermark embedded in them is protected by copyright. Thus, the watermarks inextricably link together a work and its terms of use.

Culture is our business, Ines Schaber 2003/2004