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Unlike! Historians angry as library archive is shared on Facebook

Legal threats issued as police order photographs to be removed from social network

07 September, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

An image of how the outside of Kentish Town station used to look, which was donated to Camden’s library service by Gillian Tindall

IT is a sure-fire way to get likes, loves and plenty of followers on Facebook: Make web users feel wistfully nostalgic by sharing pictures of the way the world used to be.

But a popular page on the social network that uploads photos of Camden’s past has found itself at the centre of a police investigation and facing legal threats from the Town Hall after it was revealed the images have been taken from the borough’s local studies archives. The pictures appearing on the Camden: A Pictorial History page included photos that eminent historian Gillian Tindall and her photographer husband Richard Lansdowne had donated to Camden Council’s library service.

Their collection shows how areas such as Kentish Town have changed since the 1960s. The prints have been digitised and can be used in exchange for a small fee.

Ms Tindall, author of The Fields Beneath, said: “We were horrified because it was about the copyright and they are owned by archives. The archive needs to make money to remain open and they do so by letting people use their images.”

An investigation at the Town Hall revealed that the photos had been placed on an unsecure web page by a council worker, accidentally allowing anybody to reach them. Of how the collection was amassed, Ms Tindall said: “We were both interested in the geography of the place and changes in north London. We took to taking pictures of things we knew would disappear soon – places like the Bedford Theatre on Camden High Street, funny old shops. I recall there was a row of country cottages with long front gardens between Bayham Street and Camden Street that were going to go, so we photographed them. It was obvious to us in 1963 that they were going to be pulled down, so we photographed them.”

The New Journal contacted the administrators of the Facebook page, who said they had started posting photographs taken by their parents but as the number of people viewing went up they started looking elsewhere for interesting pictures. They said they did not realise the archive’s pictures were copyrighted and as soon as they received warning letters from the borough’s lawyers, the pictures were removed.

Across social media, the draw of nostalgia posts has led to news and magazines sites attempting to draw in new readers and web traffic with memory lane pieces and “listicles” – articles listing things that people might remember. But the carefree sharing of images online has led to complaints about due credit. Two years ago, photo agency Getty became so resigned to the fact that its images were being circulated online without payment that it began allowing them to be used by websites and blogs for free as long as the pictures were embedded with its company logo.

Gillian Tindall

Ms Tindall said she was pleased the pictures had been removed but felt stronger action should have been taken.

“It was not the fault of the archives – Camden Council should have had a far more secure IT system,” she said. “And while Camden Council have taken the right action, we also feel they could have pursued this more energetically.”

A Town Hall press official said they were working to ensure the catalogue is fully secured from now on. “The aim of archives such as this are to provide the best access, advice and information to the wealth of information contained and we would encourage anyone with an interest in Camden and its history, who wishes to access the archives to contact the centre directly.”

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