The price of reproductions

April 12 2012

Image of The price of reproductions

Picture: British Museum

Here at Philip Mould, we're putting together our new catalogue. One of the pictures we'll include is a late Titian portrait of an admiral, which was admired by Van Dyck in Italy. He did a little drawing of it, above (bottom right hand corner), which is now in the British Museum. To reproduce this image at no more than a 1/4 page, the BM will charge us £330 plus vat. Now I know we're in the trade, and that we should certainly pay for reproductions. But in a world where many museums are liberalising their copyright policies, and even allowing free reproductions, isn't £330 plus vat a bit steep?

Update - a lively debate on this. A reader writes:

Re: The cost of reproductions, I can't help but think that it's a case of 'the biter bit' - it seems a lot of money to me, not being 'in the business', but no doubt this cost will be added in to the unimaginable asking price of your Titian - which your gallery website is far too coy to reveal, as far as I can see. This is usual 'market practice' I suppose but you are often concerned about knowing costs and if a public gallery were to purchase the picture no doubt you would insist on us knowing how much it (we) paid (?). 

As you admit commercial dealers cannot complain being charged market rates, ie. what the market will pay. However, for museums to charge other museums or students and similar, such fees is nigh well criminal.

Our insurers don't like us putting prices on our website, or in our window, for fairly obvious reasons. Obviously, if the picture was sold to a public institution, one would expect that institution to state what they paid for it.

Another reader writes:

You wrote on 12th April about the BM charging for the reproduction of an image of a work in their collection which was out of copyright. It is understandable that institutions should try to raise more money at a time when public grants are under pressure. However, the BM and similar institutions are publically funded and have been supported by donations and bequests from people who expected their gifts to be freely available to everyone.

You and your readers may recall the case of Derrick Coetzee, a Wikipedia contributor, who was threatened with legal action by the National Portrait Gallery for uploading images to Wikipedia.

Personally, I think that if a picture is in a public collection, then its image right is too. Non-commercial use should therefore be free. There should be a charge for commercial use; the question is, how high should it be?

Update II - a reader writes:

It seems to me you and your readers are being unfair to the British Museum in this matter, not perhaps in questioning the sum of 330 pounds plus VAT, but in implying that the BM charges scholars and students. It does not. For reproduction in a scholarly publication, of an image that already exists (i.e. no new photography is required) the British Museum provides images within 48 hours, by email, free of charge. As a publicly funded institution they do indeed make their gifts freely available to those furthering research and knowledge, as one of your readers demands.  

Those making money from the use of their images - whether publishers of art books or dealers - should of course pay a fair rate. It is not for me to say what that fair rate is. But I do feel that those of us, like myself, who have benefited in the past and who continue to benefit from the British Museum's extremely benign permissions to reproduce in a scholarly context should make clear that they are a model to be imitated. Attacking the innocent is not the way to improve the situation. Rather we should support them and praise them.

For the record, I certainly wasn't attacking the BM, nor suggesting they shouldn't charge dealers like me, merely discussing the specific cost of a reproduction. Regular readers will know that I am bursting with praise for any institution that offers free images for scholarly use. I should also add that for scholarly publications, we here at Philip Mould are happy to provide images free of use from our own image archive

There is obviously some confusion about the BM's pricing policy, for when we reproduced the same Van Dyck drawing for a loan exhibition catalogue, we were charged, albeit a reduced rate. And another reader writes:

I have a book chapter... coming out soon which cost me about £400 for three images, only half-size. I refused to get one image from the BM as they obviously were charging way over the top. By contrast I have another essay with two NG pics in press- but they considerately waived the fee.

Here is the BM's image use policy.

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