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Posted on Wed, Mar 2, 2011 : 9:33 a.m. and Ann Arbor's Argus Camera

By Edward Vielmetti


Crossed forks mark Camera-Wiki's split from Camerapedia. is a non-commercial encyclopedia of the world's cameras. From the latest in digital technology to hand-made pinhole camera, it works to collect and document photographic technology.

Ross Orr from Ann Arbor is one of the Camera Wiki editors, and a number of his photographs of cameras from the Ann Arbor based Argus Camera are in the collection.

Ann Arbor's Argus Camera

One of the better-developed parts of Camera-Wiki is the collection of information about the Argus Camera Co. and its line of brick-shaped modern 35mm rangefinder cameras that popularized the 35mm film format. The first Argus camera, the Argus A, went on sale in 1936 at a price of $12.50 and was manufactured in buildings on the Old West Side of Ann Arbor.

Henry Gambino's essay on The Argus Museum: Ann Arbor's Hidden Treasure describes the Argus Museum, a free and non-commercial collection of some of the company's cameras on display at 535 W. William St. in Ann Arbor. More information is in Gambino's book "Argomania: A Look At Argus Cameras and the Company That Made Them," published by Aeone Communications in 2005 and available at the Ann Arbor District Library.

Camera-Wiki's origins is a non-commercial fork of Camerapedia. It was built over the span of about a month, with a small team of volunteers reconstructing the wiki and its image database in response to the sale of Camerapedia to Wikia, a commercial wiki hosting company controlled by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. The tale from the inside is of hastily written late-night perl scripts crawling through the Camerapedia database to reconstruct the site and of coordinated action to rebuild the photo pool and form a new community dedicated to a non-commercial effort.

The challenge of running a wiki is not only that you have to maintain a large collection of encyclopedic content, but also that you have to keep a pile of funky software running. The enticing trade is to accept advertising on your wiki pages in exchange for "free" hosting. The hosting company gets your community's sweat equity, unless they rebel en masse and go and build their own sandbox.

When a project is said to "fork," it means that two separate sets of individuals go their separate ways, each with a complete copy of the project that they had previously been working on together. Like a divorce, a fork can be very messy, with hard feelings and a lot of work to reconstruct services which had been previously been shared.

Some notes on wiki and copyright

Camera-wiki is an interesting illustration of how a variety of copyright practices play out online.

All of the text in the original Camerapedia was licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, which explicitly allows for individuals to re-use and modify text. This gave the Camera-Wiki organizers the rights to replicate the entire original text of Camerapedia and continue to modify it, without infringing upon any of the rights of the original authors.

All of the photos in the original Camerapedia are hosted on Flickr, a photo sharing service owned by Yahoo and used by a number of organizations including Rather than copying contributors' photos into its own database, both Camerapedia and Camera-Wiki rely on contributors adding their photos to a Flickr photo pool with the intention that adding their photo to the pool will convey the right to use their photo in the encyclopedia.

Photographers taking photos of cameras for an encyclopedia is perhaps a perfect world to refine a copyright policy. By incorporating photos hosted on Flickr, the wiki organizers take advantage of Flickr's robust mechanisms for photo sharing and copyright handling and don't have to build all of those themselves. At the same time, the process allows photographers to contribute their copyrighted photographs to the encyclopedia without assigning all rights to those photos to anyone who happens along who would like a copy.

The net result is that a devoted and technically skilled team could take the whole original encyclopedia and remake it as their own, without infringing upon any of the rights of the photographers who contributed to the original. It's an odd but compelling example of how wiki works in ways that are mysterious to traditional expectations of copyright.

Edward Vielmetti used to work in the Argus Building. Contact him at