Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Alchemist and The Astrologer


This picture 17th century painting "The Alchemist" is public domain via creative commons and free for our use and discussion. Cornelis Bega's only other existing painting of a scientist "The Astrologer" is proprietary.  I'd have to pay the British National Gallery for rights to use it in the Internet on a yearly basis. I checked and it's $225 for three years on an Internet homepage, not including VAT which itself is a whole other discussion.  This annoys me deeply. It's the same artist, same time frame; drastically different licensing. In my opinion, ironically (or hypocritically) it is antithetical to the stated mission of the National Gallery: promoting access to art. 

I'd prefer to show The Astrologer because it more closely relates to one of my favorite analogies: computers are to computer science what telescopes are to astronomy. The point being that computer scientists don't study computers any more than astronomers study telescopes. They are both exploring something else more fundamental.

Use of The Astrologer image is denied to me by the greed of a foreign gallery and it's associated government for extorting an imaginary "Value added tax" for a value created centuries ago. Fortunately, Alchemy serves as a satisfactory proxy in lieu of the more aprapos 17th century astronomer for adding a little bit of classy art to my presentations and media related to computer science. So... it gets used and shared, while The Astrologer gets ignored in obscurity.

There is some deeper point to be made here about open source software and the open innovation model. But I'm going to leave that discussion for a different time and place. Set all those great points aside. At least we should be able to share and discuss 400 year old art without some thug with a lawyer extorting money. They didn't make the art, why are they demanding my money to be able to show it to others?