Museum image fees - a call to arms (ctd.)

October 5 2017

Image of Museum image fees - a call to arms (ctd.)

Picture: Tate

Further to my post on excessive reproduction fees charged by UK museums, here's some more image fee daftness. Tate will even charge academics to use an image in a lecture. For one free lecture, given by an academic, the fee is £20 (see above). If you want to give the same lecture more than once, it doubles to £40 (but that fee only buys you one year's use). If you were giving a lecture for which people paid an entrace fee (but for which you might not be paid yourself), then the fee is £30 (or £80 if you give the lecture more than once).

All of which is excessive. A single lecture could end up costing hundreds of pounds to assemble. 

Defenders of the practice (well, the one that I've heard from) say, 'but Tate state in their Creative Commons licence that image use is free for academic lectures'. But not so fast. First, that only applies to lower resolution images, which is really quite limiting. Why can't we talk freely about the detail in paintings? And second, look at the restrictions:

Use it in a Non-Commercial (NC) context only. The image can be used only in contexts that are free from monetary gain or commercial value. Images cannot be used to sell or promote something; they cannot be used in or on something that is charged for or associated with money; nor can they be used in advertising or design contexts. Images cannot be used by commercial companies, charities or organizations that charge entrance fees, membership, or subscription to a service.

Not everyone who gives a lecture for educational benefit is an academic. I regularly give lectures (for which I am not paid) for things like the Art Fund, museum 'friends' groups, or other similar events to help raise money for good causes. Of course, people pay to buy tickets to my lectures, so these count as 'charged entry' in the eyes of Tate, and you'll have seen that Tate has no sympathy for charities. Tate may say they cut academics a break, but they give no concession to 'educators' in general. What mean spiritedness from a public institution.

I've also heard tales of how institutions like Tate are wilfully ignoring the realities of digital life. In the old days, an academic lecture was just something you gave to students physically, with a projector. Now of course they can be distributed and stored online. But again, not so fast. That's a publication nowadays, for which you must pay.

One person working to publish an academic book got in touch to give another case of museum intransigence on this issue:

I am currently working on a book for a UK University press who publish their academic books online under an open-access policy i.e. they publish them digitally online and offer them free of charge. I have been picture researching a jacket image for them for an academic text, and wanted to use a painting by an out-of-copyright artist which is in the National Martime Museum’s collection. Despite the fact that the book is not actually sold, and that the nature of the book means that in the absence of a crystal ball, I have no idea what the ‘print run’ might be i.e. how many people might download it (free of charge), I could not persuade them to acknowledge that the book was ‘academic’ - it didn’t fit their institution’s assertion that academic books can only be academic if there is a print run of ‘less than 1,000 copies’. They therefore quoted us their commercial rate of £350+VAT. Needless to say, we had to refuse.

Some of those defending museum's charging practice point out that if you ring up and ask nicely, they'll often let you use an image for free. But - again! - not so fast. Another absurdity I've heard about is museums saying they are unable to give discounts to small print runs or academic journals because of something called the Public Sector Information Directive. This 'PSI', say museums, means that publicly-funded institutions are not allowed to offer preferential rates to any clients and instead must apply standard rates to everyone. So don't bother asking for a discount. 

And in any case, just imagine how much museum staff time is wasted dealing with individual enquiries from academics wanting to give a lecture? The whole system is an absurd aste of everyone's time and money. Which brings me onto this 2016 Smithsonian report on opening access to museum images published in 2016. The report makes many points in favour of open access, not least brand awareness and saving staff time, but also cites this unarguable conclusion from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation:

A recent Andrew W. Mellon Foundation study, “Images of Works of Art in Museum Collections: The Experience of Open Access, a Study of 11 Museums,” found that among the museums studied, none that enforced copyright restrictions made any significant surplus or profit against their expenditures. It concluded, “real and perceived gains far outweigh the real and perceived losses for every museum in the study that has made a transition to an open access approach.”

It really is time to extend the principle of free museum entry into the digital sphere. 

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