The neuron that wasn’t

When René Magritte once painted a tobacco pipe in the late 1920s, he added the subtitle “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” to it in order to emphasize the difference between physical objects and their representation.

The painting is now housed in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and still under copyright, with no freely licensed version in sight before Public Domain Day 2038.

So how to illustrate a Wikipedia article about such an artwork then? Some language versions, e.g. English, Russian, Tamil and Hebrew, resort to “fair use images“, but this concept exists in only some jurisdictions and, consequently, is implemented in only some Wikimedia projects (e.g. not on Wikimedia Commons). Another alternative is to have no visual representation of the artwork, as is the case, sadly, for the French version and most other versions.

A further option is to create something that contains enough elements of the original to instantly remind viewers of it, but is distinct enough to steer clear of copyright violation or plagiarism charges. This is more work but can also be more fun than copying. Relevant examples include this parody in use on the Korean Wikipedia and today’s Open Access File of the Day, a scientific version that depicts a neuron that isn’t.



December 2008 issue image from PLoS Computational Biology, accompanying the following paper: Cuntz, H.; Forstner, F.; Haag, J.; Borst, A. (2008). Friston, Karl J.. ed. “The Morphological Identity of Insect Dendrites”PLoS Computational Biology 4 (12): e1000251.doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000251PMC 2588660PMID 19112481. Used in The Treachery of Images and PLoS Computational Biology on the English Wikipedia.


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