Museum image fees - how to avoid paying them

December 19 2017

Image of Museum image fees - how to avoid paying them

Picture: Louvre

Those of us campaigning for UK museums to abolish image fees are often told by institutions; 'well, we waive fees for academic publications'. But actually making sure your publication qualifies as academic for 'free' images means you have to know how to game the system. 

One AHNer (a distinguished art historian and former national institution curator) has sent in this handy guide on what you must do:

Rule 1: Never fill in the online form until you have phoned up or emailed the Head of the Photographic / Images Licensing / Rights and Reproductions departments. Write on official letter paper and then scan that in to the relevant head of image rights department.

Rule 2: Once you have secured a fee-waiver from one top institution (i.e. NG London or the BM or the Royal Collection), use their name and reputation relentlessly to persuade other institutions to follow suit. As you get more fee waivers, add those names into your letter. This nearly always works. Major public institutions and those with a professed desire to promote their collections via scholarship and research, do not like the prospect of being shamed in front of their peers.

Rule 3: Be politely persistent until recalcitrant (or greedy) institutions give that fee waiver on academic grounds; if these image departments dig their heels in, say that you very reluctantly you will have no option but to write to the Director of Chair of Trustees. Always be prepared to do that, and follow up. Always be firm but polite, and never let go until you secure the fee waiver.

Rule 4: Use every relevant senior contact you have and also use a big name to get your way (i.e. in my case - my top boss, or a museum director or a leading professor that you know will support you).

Rule 5: Be politely steely and never give up. It is a battle out there and not for the faint-hearted or un-initiated.

As you can see, it's an expensive and time-wasting rigmarole for all concerned. Employing staff to read and decide on such requests costs museums money. And so they then need to charge fees. Catch 22.

But the main point here is this; image fees are disproportionately paid by those who don't have the right connections. Just one more reason why the whole system is a hustle. 

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