The Czech senate election in October 2012 has yielded 27 new members of the upper chamber of Parliament of the Czech Republic, who now represent a third of the 81 total seats. Their role is to carry out their voters’ wishes during the next six years, as well as pass, reject or amend the legislature approved by the Chamber of Deputies. The senators thus become an important part of Czech public life, having a considerable affect on the country’s course of events. Their powers often stir up public interest and it is no wonder that Wikipedia editors write biography articles about them.
The written word, however, is barely sufficient in today’s Wikipedia. Wikipedians strive to improve multimedia content to illustrate the subject of every article. In the case of a biography, nothing can be more illustrative than a portrait of a person who is the subject of the article. A natural question arises – how can we gain access to pictures of important people, of sufficient quality and freely licenced?
The same question has apparently been asked a long time ago by Wikimedia Deutschland (WMDE) members, who then managed to run a project that seeks cooperation and takes pictures of the politicians on the actual institution’s premises. In Wikimedia Czech Republic, we happily found inspiration in this successful German project. Our present activies are a direct descendant of the German idea, and we initiated a discussion with the senate of the Czech Republic. We asked them if they would allow us to take pictures of the senators ourselves, or, if they would provide us with their own portraits compatible with Wikimedia Foundation policy.
What were the difficulties to overcome during the negotiations? Coyness and fear in the first place. However, one will never break through if aiming for small goals. Therefore, we decided to aim for one of the highest goals, the Czech senate. The bolder your objective is, the better it serves as a model for further occasions. Moreover, what was the worst that could happen to us, other than being rejected?
A WMCZ representative thus summoned his courage and wrote an e-mail to a public relations officer of the Czech senate, asking them to provide pictures or a room where the senators could be photographed one by one. The letter included an explanation of why only freely usable pictures are tolerable in Wikipedia, and was sent as a request from a Wikimedia Czech Republic official representative. What was the ultimate argument for the success of the project? Not surprisingly, the mass usage of Wikipedia across all generations. Wikipedia has become an integral part of the every-day life and it is the first (often, also the last) site to go to when looking for information on the Internet. The world is slowly evolving to a stage when everything is on Wikipedia and the rest seemingly does not exist. This conclusion is becoming clear even outside the Wikimedia movement.
Contrary to our goal, as a consequence of complicated copyright status of older pictures, we were not able to acquire portraits of all 81 senators. However, it was by no means a failure in the end: WMCZ managed to persuade the senate to release 23 pictures of the newly elected senators and we were given a promise that new senator photos will be released for Wikimedia in the future. This means that WMCZ has established a collaboration with an important state institution, which might prove useful in future. The cooperation with the senate can serve as a starting point for tying new bonds with institutions from both the governmental and non-governmental sphere, a promise potentially interesting for short-term projects or long-running GLAM cooperative programs.
Petr Brož aka Chmee, member of Wikimedia Czech Republic