Ripping people off or a genuine business? Commercial Licensing on out of copyright artworks

Ripping people off or a genuine business? Commercial Licensing on out of copyright artworks

Copyright linked to an artist’s work lasts their lifetime plus 70 years after their death. The controversy begins when ‘old’ artwork falls out of copyright because photographic representations are still in demand for a variety of uses and continue to be licensed and used commercially.

How do picture libraries get away with charging for images when there is no official copyright owner? Are they allowed to make money off these images and keep it for themselves? Some believe that if it is a new photograph of the artwork then they own the copyright and can therefore charge accordingly. This is not the case. Current law leans toward the fact that the digital representation of artwork needs to be different in some way to say it’s a licenced work in its own right.

Many picture libraries are playing fair and allowing the images in question to be used license free, some libraries receive money but only if the images are for commercial use, some libraries continue to license the images.

One Capture client in the US offers their ‘old’ art images free of charge but US museums receive additional funding, so they are under slightly less pressure than UK museums to create revenue streams.  In the UK, the GLAM industry (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums) need the extra income, so may well behave differently. Money going into this cultural sector needs to come from somewhere, and UK museums are currently free to visit.  What would visitors prefer, free admittance or free licensing of ‘Out of Copyright’ works?

A UK based Capture client offers free ‘Out of Copyright’ licenses to students and academics. However, they do take a different view if the licensee is making money from its use, perhaps within a corporate advert. In this instance Capture’s Digital Asset Management system can help. It identifies different types of users and sets relevant permissions, for example, academics can download high resolution ‘Out of Copyright’ images free of charge. This remains a grey area as there is a general assumption that academic image use should be free, but publishers, even of academic books are considered ‘commercial organisations’.

What can we do to force this issue? Could we walk into a museum and take photographs freely and sell them to a publisher? Perhaps this would be a way to provide images for free, or imagine creating a new crowd sourced website asking museum visitors to send in high quality images of paintings.

GLAM institutions in the UK are currently under financial pressure, with the decline of state funding, soaring art market prices and public spending cuts, their ability to maintain and develop their collections is under threat.  There is a very great need for these institutions to generate other revenue streams whilst still being able to offer out of copyright art work affordably.

Capture does offer ways to help its customer derive value from its precious content whilst still ensuring that its usage is legal and appropriate.  This includes housing images, storing and managing user databases, hosting larger files, monitoring and assessing image quality and metadata work for searches. 

Many Capture clients are in business to make profit, although in the case of cultural institutions this is generally reinvested to fund further digitisation and keywording.






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